On September 11 this year, we opened “The McLaughlin Group” with George W. Bush’s remark on liberty from Sept. 11, 2002. “This ideal of America is the hope of all mankind,” the president told the assembled audience on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. “That hope drew millions to this harbor. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.”
Against the backdrop of the Statue of Liberty, Bush’s words offer enduring relevance to America. Because Bush knew that the war on terror had to pursue both physical security and reinforce American exceptionalism. He knew that we had to protect ourselves from attack, while remaining a beacon for human freedom. And he knew that these two demands are mutually reliant. Absent security, American freedom is endangered. Absent freedom, American security is irrelevant.
This understanding is crucial to our thinking about the Syrian refugee crisis. We know that Islamic State terrorists are infiltrating refugee populations, determined to inflict foul atrocities on Americans. We also know that innocent Syrian refugees are suffering terribly. If we remain attuned to Bush’s lesson, we can balance American exceptionalism with America’s security.
First, without hectoring state governors, President Obama should make the moral case for allowing at least 10,000 refugees into the United States. (Quite frankly, we should accept 30,000 refugees). But the president should heavily prioritize admitting orphaned children and mothers with young children. There are three reasons why. First, as Nick Fagge recently reported for The Daily Mail, thousands of Syrian orphans are suffering great hardship. The terrible plight of these children is one that no conservative or liberal should ignore.
Relieving foreign suffering and addressing domestic security are both imperatives, but they are not exclusive ones
Second, Syrian refugee women are often treated inequitably to men, and thus struggle to support their families. As an extension of this, our ability to screen Syrian fighting-age males is inherently limited.
Third, although some female refugees are involved with terrorism, their numbers are minuscule compared with young men.
Of course, this approach isn’t free from moral quandary. As we grant refugee status to wives, mothers, daughters and young boys, we would have to refuse that status to many husbands and sons. We will also have to conduct careful investigations of all refugee applicants, regardless of sex: the Islamic State is determined to strike America. No U.S. policymaker can ignore this reality.
Even addressing immediate refugee needs, resolving the Syrian refugee crisis requires a long-term solution. In that regard, we must not shy away from addressing the crisis at its source: the Syrian Civil War. This requires two further policy changes. First, the United States must push for the establishment of a Syrian safe zone where refugees can find security and support. Second, we must push for Bashar al-Assad’s rapid transition from power, and ensuing political reform in Damascus. Unfortunately, at present, the Obama Administration is unwilling to address these imperatives.
Nevertheless, we must be bold on this issue. And we should be bold. The great power of American exceptionalism is a reality proven by history. Relieving foreign suffering and addressing domestic security are both imperatives, but they are not exclusive ones.
Tom Rogan is a contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.