On Monday morning, President Obama complimented an unlikely foreign policy strategist—former President George W. Bush.
Speaking at the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, Obama criticized Republicans who suggest that the United States accept only Christian refugees from the conflict in Syria.
“When I hear folks say that, ‘Well, maybe we should just admit the Christians, but not the Muslims’—when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who's fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted—when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that's shameful,” the president told reporters. “That's not American.”
“I had a lot of disagreements with George W. Bush on policy, but I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear about the fact that this is not a war on Islam,” Obama continued, noting that current Republican leaders should follow his example.
The president’s remarks came on the heels of an attack on Paris on Friday, which left more than 120 dead. In the days that followed, much of the debate focused on how the United States should combat ISIS, as well as U.S. refugee policy.
On Sunday, presidential candidate Jeb Bush argued that the United States should “focus our efforts as it relates to refugees on the Christians that are being slaughtered.” His competitor, Sen. Ted Cruz, offered that there is “no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.”
Obama defended the America’s current military counterterrorism strategy.
“What's been interesting is, in the aftermath of Paris, as I listen to those who suggest something else needs to be done, typically the things they suggest need to be done are things we are already doing,” the president said.
The “one exception” to that, the president said, is the suggestion “that we should put large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground.” Obama objected, saying that would be “a mistake.” Without the support of the local population, he argued, the Islamic State would simply resurface.
“And let's assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria, what happens when there is a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there's a terrorist network operating anywhere else in North Africa or in Southeast Asia?”
The president struck back against critics who argued he has not been doing enough on the battle against ISIS, stating that he would not “take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow in the abstract make America look tough.”
“And maybe part of the reason is because every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who's paralyzed or has lost his limbs,” the president said. “And some of those are people I've ordered into battle. And so I can't afford to play some of the political games that others may.”
“Some of them seem to think if I was just more bellicose in expressing what we're doing, that that would make a difference,” Obama said. “Because that seems to be the only thing that they're doing—is talking as if they're tough.”
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.