Trump has not reconsidered his hard line on Syrian refugees
Some Republicans argued that more forceful action against Assad is the best way to relieve the refugee crisis
In a pair of statements, one a day before and another just after he launched a missile strike against Syria on Thursday, President Donald Trump told Americans that the chemical weapons attack launched by the Assad regime on its own people fundamentally altered his view of the long, bloody conflict.
“It was a slow and brutal death for so many,” Trump said on Thursday night. “Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of god should ever suffer such horror.”
A day earlier, during a press conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah, he described Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s actions as “heinous” and intolerable. “My attitude toward Syria and Assad,” Trump said, “has changed very much.”
But his reversal has shown its limits.
Despite the vocal expressions of concern for innocent civilians caught in Assad’s death grip, Trump has not yet shown a willingness to reconsider his hard line on Syrian refugees. The administration’s initial failed travel ban would have halted their entry into the US indefinitely. Its second crack, tied up now in the courts, would impose a 120-day ban.
Speaking at the news conference before the aistrikes, Trump praised Jordan for taking in refugees and he said any responsible refugee policy would seek to create stability in the country.
“The refugees want to return home,” he said. “I know that from so many other instances. They want to return back to their home. And that’s a goal of any responsible refugee policy.”
In remarks Thursday night, after a shot at the Obama administration, which had publicly supported bringing in refugees but did not launch a unilateral strikea on the Syrian government, Trump argued that this new military action could reverse the ongoing disaster, but made no mention of the refugee crisis.
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically,” said Trump, who had been a vigorous opponent of potential military action against Syria in 2013. “As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.”
Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat and Iraq War veteran, lashed out at what he views as a hypocritical policy.
“So @POTUS cares enough about the Syrian people to launch 50 Tomahawks,” Moulton tweeted, “but not enough to let the victims of Assad find refuge & freedom here.”
Meanwhile, former campaign foe Hillary Clinton offered a qualified approval of the previous night’s action in Syria. But she used Trump’s own words — his reference to “beautiful babies” killed by Assad – against him on the refugee issue.
“I hope this administration will move forward in a way that is both strategic and consistent with our values,” she said at an event in Houston. “I also hope that they will recognize that we cannot in one breath speak of protecting Syrian babies and in the next close American doors to them.”
The progressive veterans advocacy group VoteVets argued that Trump’s decision to unleash 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles in the direction of a Syrian ai base brought with it new responsibilities in the region.
“TelePrompTer sympathies for the dead and wounded are empty when he won’t bring these innocent children and their parents to safety,” retired Major General Paul D. Eaton, a former Iraq war commander, said in a statement. “It is time for Donald Trump to admit he was wrong, and uphold President Obama’s decision to bring in more refugees.”
Republicans, however, in a series of public remarks and interviews on Friday, made no similar requests. Like Trump, many suggested that military strikes and, in some cases, more assertive action to depose Assad represented the best strategy for relieving the refugee crisis.
“I believe that the best way to stop that refugee flow is obviously stability, and that means Bashar Assad leaving,” Sen. John McCain told reporters. “I’m not sure what effect this will have on the President of the United States as far as refugees are concerned.”
Trump loyalist and former transition team member Anthony Scaramucci, in an interview Friday morning with Chris Cuomo on CNN’s “New Day,” called the President “a super compassionate man,” but suggested the White House was unlikely to rethink its policy.
“(Trump) is basically looking at the situation and, being a good intuitive person, (believes) there are potentially bad actors in the refugee community that could end up in the United States,” Scaramucci said.
The much ballyhooed White House evolution on Syria, it seems, will not extend to the would-be refugees caught inside its violent borders.