John McCain

John McCain Blames President Obama for Syrian Refugee Crisis

A week after the harrowing images of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian boy whose dead body washed up on a shore in Turkey, U.S. Senator John McCain took to the Senate floor to blame President Obama’s administration for the Syrian refugee crisis.

“Let’s be clear,” he said, “the current crisis before us is not a migrant issue. It is a mass exodus of refugees who are fleeing conflicts that this administration has refused to address for years.”His comments come as the world watches an increasingly tense and complicated flood of refugees pour across European borders, and as the United.States faces considerable international pressure to take on a bigger role in the crisis.

On Thursday, the Obama administration announced its plans to increase the number of Syrian refugees it accepts from 2,000 to 10,000 during the next fiscal year, and Secretary of State John Kerry was quoted as saying that the president is thinking about raising the overall U.S. refugee resettlement cap from 70,000 to 100,000 in the near future.

But still, in what appears to be political “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, the president is being criticized by nonprofits and other politicians in the global community for not accepting a larger percentage of the 7 million displaced Syrians — and for not accepting them sooner — while also being chastised by a handful of Republican congressional delegates for letting in any of them.

But perhaps no voice is stronger right now than that of John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee.

In a recent speech, McCain didn’t explicitly weigh in on resettling tens of thousands of refugees on U.S. soil, saying only that “these desperate refugees are not only a threat to our security, but a crisis of conscience [challenging] the moral fabric of our nation and the foundation of global leadership.”

Instead, he stuck to what appears to be one of his favorite talking points: blaming Obama for the entire global refugee crisis.

“This crisis didn’t just come out of nowhere, like an earthquake or a tornado,” McCain said. “It’s the predictable result of this administration’s policy of ‘leading from behind,’ as conflicts metastasized in the vacuum created through years of inaction by President Obama and a total lack of American leadership.”

McCain also essentially called Obama a moral hypocrite by pointing out three instances of the president's stating the importance of not turning a blind eye to global atrocity yet doing nothing to stop the conflict in Syria:

Just a few months after the revolution in Syria began in 2011, President Obama issued his Presidential Study Directive, stating: ‘Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.’ He went on to say: ‘Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods.’

In 2013, speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, the President said: ‘Too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale. And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.’

And in a 2013 address to the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama [said]: ‘The] principle of sovereignty is at the center of our international order. But sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye.

“How can President Obama say it is our moral obligation to do what we can to prevent the worst atrocities in our world but refuses to do anything to stop the atrocities that are occurring every single day in Syria and across the Middle East?” McCain asked.
The senator from Arizona has been a vocal advocate for a U.S. military intervention in Syria to stop President Bashar Assad’s war against his own people – particularly after Assad crossed Obama’s intervention-worthy “red line” by using chemical weapons against his own people. McCain was quoted recently as saying that it would only “take a couple of days” for the U.S. to destroy crucial Syrian government infrastructure without putting American soldiers on the ground, but the Obama administration has given no hint it plans to formally intervene.

“Unfortunately, the administration is still ‘considering a range of options’ to respond to” the Syrian crisis," McCain told the Senate this week. “In the meantime, the president and his cabinet officials continue to push through an agreement that legitimizes Iran.”

McCain calls Iran “the patron of the Assad regime” and says the nuclear deal will only increase its regional hegemony. When it comes to Syria, he said, “it is safe to assume that [Iran will continue to] use the billions of dollars in sanctions relief to boost arms supplies...and prop up Assad.”

The senator concluded his emotional speech by saying: “The truth is, there is plenty that could have been done to avoid the devastation unfolding before our eyes – in 2011, in 2012, in 2013, in 2014. And there is still more that we can do today to respond to this growing crisis.”

Millions of Syrians have fled the country in the five years since Assad’s war began, hundreds of thousands have died, and more than a million have been injured. The United Nations reports that at least 4 million registered refugees are living in neighboring Middle Eastern countries – “1,938,999 in Turkey; 1,113,941 in Lebanon; 629,266 in Jordan; 249,463 in Iraq; 132,375 in Egypt; and 24,055 in several countries in North Africa” –and estimates that 63 percent of European asylum seekers in the past two years are Syrians.

Since the crisis began, the United States has brought in 1,500 refugees – a mere 0.03 percent of the total Syrian refugee population.

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser