Writing at The Daily Beast, Justin Miller and Michael Weiss (the latter literally wrote the book on the Islamic State) report:
One of the Paris attackers was supposedly found with a Syrian passport—leading Republican governors here in America to vow to block Syrian refugees from entering their states.
But that passport was a fake, French officials told The Wall Street Journal, which means the governors' freakout over refugees was likely based on a lie.
Weiss and Miller talked to a former ISIS member, who explained:
"There are people who go back and forth to Aleppo or Hama or Latakia or Tartus—you give them $1,000 and a nice photograph, and they'll print you a good passport," Abu Khaled, a former member the Islamic State's internal security service, Amn al-Dawleh, said Monday.
"The guys with the regime are corrupt; they'll give you whatever you want for money," he added.
That's not the only way, though. A reporter for the London Daily Mail purchased an identical passport online for $2,000. German customs agents in September seized a shipment of fake Syrian passports being sold to asylum seekers from countries like Iraq, Libya, and Egypt. (Syrians get automatic refugee status in the European Union.) Many of the forgeries are suspected to come from Turkey.
Updated at 4:00 P.M.: Based on various responses in the comments thread, Twitter, and elsewhere, it's clear my point in talking about the fake passport was far from clear. It's simply this: The fake passport (and others like it) shouldn't have been tough to spot.
As The Wall Street Journal makes clear, we're not talking perfect forgery here:
Short of staff and equipment, Greek police carry out only a simple procedure that involves taking people's data and fingerprints, and sometimes asking them a few questions, before giving them permission to travel onward, deeper into Europe.
Upon his arrival in Leros, the Paris assailant was checked against police databases under his Syrian identity, Greek officials say. Nothing was found. Police on Leros didn't spot that the passport was fake.
That sort of ruse shouldn't be a problem for United States officials to detect, given the strength of its vetting process (which takes a year or more). To the extent that someone wants to deny refugees entry, let them argue straightforwardly for that goal on whatever grounds they they appropriate. But don't lay the blame on the idea that ISIS operatives are masterminds because they might sneak past Greek bureaucrats. As Ronald Bailey noted yesterday, not one single act of terrorism in the United States has been caused by a refugee. [End Update]
To date, the United States has accepted about 1,900 refugees from a part of the world it has done so much to destabilize. The Obama administration has said that it will accept around 10,000 refugees in the coming year even as the overwhelmingly though not exclusively Republican governors of about two-dozen states have said they will refuse to accept any refugees.
There is little doubt in my mind that Barack Obama has been a disastrous president, especially when it comes to foreign policy. Indeed, his only rival is his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose policies he has done so much to continue and even expand. Recall for instance that Obama tripled troop strength in Afghanistan for no gain and that in various ways he has been far worse on civil liberties issues, even going so far as to assert the right to maintain a secret kill list that didn't require any sort of external review. And there is no question that improvised "red line" in Syria he drew in August 2012 helped to speed up all the bad things currently emanating out of the Middle East.
And yet, the level of hysteria, borne out of both general ignorance and partisanship, that is coursing through the Republican Party is as disturbing as Obamas demonstrated incompetence. On Hugh Hewitt's radio show, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is also running for the Republican presidential nod, slammed Obama for not being aggressive enough in propping up Hosni Mubarak in the past and for not bombing the shit out of Syria in the present.
What Cruz counsels is an air war in which U.S. forces will
destroy ISIS. We should use overwhelming air power. To put it in context, in the first Persian Gulf war, we were launching 1,100 air strikes a day. Right now, Obama's launching between 15 and 30. It's utterly ineffective. It's photo op foreign policy. We need massive air power combined with arming the Kurds. The Kurds are our allies. They are fighting ISIS. They are our boots on the ground. And we should stand with France and Europe and utterly defeat ISIS through air power, arming the Kurds, and doing whatever it takes to destroy and defeat them.
Let's leave aside a number of things, such as how Turkey, Iran, Syria, and even the Kurds themselves suddenly get enough arms to protect themselves. While these groups are all in various ways on the same side fighting ISIS, nothing but enmity exists among them. The fantasy of an air-war-only is an old and toxic one. And it's more credible than Cruz's rant about Obama's supposed world view taught to him at Harvard Law (which Cruz also attended, as he never fails to mention):
The view of the elite academy is that America's leadership in the world is fundamentally illegitimate, that it is the product of oppression and hegemony, it is a remnant of an evil imperialism. That is what manifests it in Obama saying we should lead from behind. He believes the world is better off when America recedes from the world and doesn't lead, because our leadership is illegitimate. And if you look at what President Obama has done for seven years, along with Hillary Clinton, it has been to abandon our friends and allies, whether the U.K., whether Canada, whether Israel, and to appease and to show weakness towards our enemies. The reason Obama was not marching with France is because he thinks America shouldn't be leading and shouldn't be winning.
It takes a pretty nimble, self-deluding mind to suggest that Obama has spent his presidency running from foreign intervention. As noted, he tripled troop strength in Afghanistan and pushed to keep troops in Iraq after the withdrawal negotiated by George W. Bush. He's dispatched soldiers all over the place, including to fight Joseph Kony and Boko Haram in Africa, threats which in no way concern American interests. He lobbied incessantly to attack Syria, stopped mostly by the Rand Paul's pushback. Was the Libya intervention stupid because it has America "leading from behind" or because we had no reason to be there in the first place? Cruz seems to think it's the former. Obama has consistently kept money flowing to the Pentagon and he has shown no shyness about droning people in countries with which we are not at war. None of this is to suggest Obama is competent or that any of these things is a good idea. But to portray Barack Obama as some sort of Neville Chamberlain-Meets-George McCovern peacknik is plain nuts.
If Obama has at times acknowledged that the United States should not be in charge and responsible for every conflict every where in the world, good on him. But he really hasn't done that, despite whatever propaganda he fell for and Cruz resisted (he's so smart!) at Harvard.
Any reality-based evaluation of the Middle East in the 21st century would begin with at least considering the idea that the region has not suffered from too little attention from the world's only remaining superpower but from too much.