Last Thursday, President Trump seemed to have a change of heart about the Syrian refugee crisis. Although he has spent much of his presidency endorsing an "America-first" policy that would temporarily halt the U.S. refugee program, he responded to a chemical attack against Syrian civilians by bombing a Syrian airbase. Many have pointed out the hypocrisy: Trump refuses to accept Syrian refugees who are fleeing violence, but did not hesitate to use military force against the regime that is causing them to seek refuge in the first place.
The Trump Administration has so far not had an appropriate response to those who have pointed out the discrepancy between Trump's attitude toward accepting refugees and his sympathetic comments about the children who were harmed by the Assad regime's most recent chemical attack, which killed more than 80 civilians.
Trump's Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said that the United States is "prepared to do more" after Trump's airstrikes against the Assad regime last week, possibly suggesting greater military intervention in the region. However, when asked about Trump's hesitance to accept refugees on NBC's Meet The Press, Haley defended the administration's current policy of keeping refugees out.
“What this president has done is said, ‘Prove to me that you are vetting these people properly. And if you are vetting them properly, then we will resume where we are. But until then, you have to prove to me that these people are being vetted in a way that we’re not putting American citizens at risk,'" Haley said.
In a separate interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, Haley again defended "extreme vetting" of refugees, stating that they pose a risk to American security, even as their own lives are at risk in Syria. She stated that it is "unfortunate" that Syrian children are being threatened by the Assad regime, but that the United States cannot alter its policy.
One of Trump's first acts in office was to attempt to pass an executive order that would temporarily ban citizens from seven predominantly Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. He cited security concerns, and claimed on numerous occasions that refugees are a threat to the country's security. In November, for example, Trump said, "We cannot let them into this country, period. Our country has tremendous problems. We can't have another problem."
Refugees from Syria are now pouring into our great country. Who knows who they are - some could be ISIS. Is our president insane?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 17, 2015
But Trump's rhetoric changed significantly last week when he saw photos of children suffering from a sarin attack in Khan Sheikoun, Syria.
"I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact. Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack," Trump said on Thursday.
These images were still not enough to alter Trump's stance against accepting Syrian refugees, the very people who are at risk of succumbing to these attacks. In response, he launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syrian targets, a decision that could potentially escalate violence between the United States and Syrian allies. While this decision has been applauded by many politicians on both sides of the aisle who support Trump's decision to stand up against Assad's human rights abuses, some, like Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, are calling the action "immoral and hypocritical."
"Does our president not realize that these are the same children he’s twice tried to ban from entering our country?" Murphy said in an op-ed for the Huffington Post.
President Trump's hypocrisy: Drop bombs on Syria, but don't let its refugees into the country pic.twitter.com/1og2kCU9PB— NowThis (@nowthisnews) April 8, 2017
The Trump Administration needs to appropriately respond to this question. If Trump was really moved by the images of children struggling to breathe following the sarin attacks last week, then he must also realize that these children deserve better than to endure further violence in their home country.