Rich Lowry's Overwrought Slam on Obama's Call to Admit Syrian Refugees

Committing American boots on the ground is not a morally superior option to taking refugees


National Review has been writing piece after piece hammering calls to admit Syrian refugees. The latest in a slew of columns is Rich Lowry's screed lambasting President Obama for pleading that Americans shouldn't "slam the door in their [refugees] faces." Fumes Lowry:

One wonders when Obama began caring so much about Syrians? If you put those 10,000 Syrian refugees back in their native country, and let them get gassed, barrel-bombed, shelled or shot, would he bat an eye, or would they just be part of the ever-growing casualty count?

The Syrian refugees are most useful to the president as a symbol of his alleged cosmopolitanism and of the supposed backwardness of his opposition.

The fact is that, since our resources aren't limitless, we are constantly slamming the door in the faces of refugees, as the president puts it. According to the World Bank, there were 2.5 million Afghan refugees in 2014; according to the office of refugee resettlement, in fiscal year 2014 we took 758 of them. There were 616,000 from South Sudan; we took 52 of them. There were 410,00 from the Central African Republic; we took 25 of them.

How can the president face himself every day betraying our values by taking so few refugees from these strife-torn countries? The problem with the argument that our values compel us to take refugees is that it isn't subject to any limit.

Far be it for me to defend the author of the festering wound that is Obamacare, but let me make the obvious point that the main impediment to taking in more refugees from Afghanistan, South Sudan and the Central African Republic isn't the president but Lowry and his ilk. Without a doubt, he'd oppose tooth-and-nail even the merest hint of upping America's current refugee levels from anywhere, but especially from such

Syrian Toddler
Abode of Chaos / Foter.com / CC BY

predominantly Muslim countries.

What's more, elementary moral logic would suggest that if there is an option where you can help someone without risking your life and limb — aka taking in refugees — it is preferable to the one where you do face such risks — aka putting boots on the ground, as Lowry seems to be suggesting. Especially given that the odds of success of said option are low and ugly unintended consequences virtually guaranteed.

Indeed, one can turn Lowry's question to Obama on its head and ask him: If you are willing "without batting an eyelid" to risk the lives of America's young men and women to prevent Syrians from being "gassed, barrel-bombed, shelled or shot" then "one wonders" why do you care about the strain on American pocketbooks from a few hundred thousand refugees? Over 4,000 Americans were killed and 30,000 wounded in Iraq. No one can predict what the toll of a ground invasion in Syria would be but it is a virtual certainty that there will be one. By contrast, the risk of an ISIS terrorist sneaking in among the refugees is negligible as Cato's Alex Nowrasteh and I have explained. Hence Americans would come out ahead both in blood and treasure under the refugee scenario than yours.

But what's most odd for someone trying to gain the moral upper hand is the harsh way Lowry talks abut refugees, portraying them as liabilities that will drain America's limited resources rather than assets that will actually generate more. But human beings are not simply mouths who eat; they are also hands and minds capable of making vital contributions. This is true of immigrants in general but especially true of refugees. Emergencies generate a firesale of human talent because among those trying to escape are not just the poor and jobless but also the well educated and urbane.

Indeed, refugees tend to pay back any initial assistance by the host country in droves and then some. America took in about 800,000 boat people after the Vietnam War. Did Americans experience any downside (except for having to endure trashy stories by the New York Times about exploited Vietnamese nail salon workers)?  But if protecting taxpayers is Lowry's concern, how about reviving the Reagan-era plan of having the private sector pick up the tab for the resettlement of refugees?

Lowry is a long-time defender of pro-life causes so surely he can go along with such a life-preserving plan that won't cost American lives, won't strain the American purse, and produce untold riches for the country?

Otherwise how will he "face himself every day"?