Questions About Obama’s Syrian Refugee Policy

Sometimes I think following politics is just crazy.  It is as if one is being manipulated by someone for their own purposes, except I’m not quite sure who that person is.

Take the recent controversy over the pausing of Syrian refugees.  The conventional understanding has been that Obama allowed a significant number of Syrian refugees into the country and that Trump wants to reduce or eliminate those refugees.  But this account, while not entirely false, is extremely misleading.  According to David French at National Review, supported by the State Department website, here are the number of Syrian refugees admitted in the U.S. since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011:

Fiscal Year 2011: 29

Fiscal Year 2012: 31

Fiscal Year 2013: 36

Fiscal Year 2014: 105

Fiscal Year 2015: 1,682

Fiscal Year 2016 (the first 10 months): 13,210

So conservative criticism of Barack Obama for recklessly allowing Syrian refugees into the country was unlikely to be true for at least 2011-2014.  And liberal support for Barack Obama for generously admitting these refugees was also false for that same period.  What is going on?  It is as if people become stupid and uninformed when they talk about politics.

Now, it is true that beginning in 2015 and especially in 2016, things changed.  President Obama changed his policy.  And so that is where the current debate makes sense.

But why is there no discussion of the earlier period?  I wonder.  Why did the Obama Administration not admit Syrian refugees during this period?  And if there was no good reason, shouldn’t defenders of Obama criticize him for earlier stinginess?  Similarly, shouldn’t conservatives acknowledge that Obama’s earlier policy was better than his later policy?

Perhaps there is an explanation for these changes.  It may have something to do with the number of refugees leaving Syria.  Still, nearly 4 million refugees left Syria in 2014, followed by nearly 5 million refugees in 2015.  So it is not clear that admitting only 105 in 2014 was appropriate behavior.  Perhaps the Obama Administration’s action are explained by the problems that emerged in Europe from accepting refugees.  But if so, then one should view the policy not as about generosity to the Syrians, but as assistance to Europeans.