Heed the lessons of missteps in Iraq

Now-hawkish Republicans rejected President Obama’s call for Syrian airstrikes in 2013.
Now-hawkish Republicans rejected President Obama’s call for Syrian airstrikes in 2013. AP

The world became a lot scarier last week. It’s understandable that governors want to take measures they deem necessary to protect their states. But the stampede by a herd of governors — including Florida’s Rick Scott — to bar the door against Syrian refugees in their states represents a shameful, knee-jerk reaction to the immigration and terrorism crises in Europe.

In responding to the carnage in Paris, the challenge for America’s leaders is to diminish or eliminate the threat — without yielding to the temptation to compromise our own values. So far Mr. Scott and his like-minded state chief executives are failing the test.

America’s values have always included extending a welcoming hand to the victims of large-scale violence elsewhere. When we have failed to do so — think Jewish refugees trying to evade the oncoming Holocaust in Europe before the war — we have regretted our failure.

The United States has admitted about 2,000 Syrian refugees in the past four years because of a strict vetting process, compared to the 1 million that Germany alone will probably receive this year. And President Obama plans to admit a mere 10,000 next year, barely 1 percent of the number in Germany.

Are Mr. Scott and the other governors saying that this is asking too much? To give in to xenophobia would represent a feckless admission that ISIS has succeeded in scaring the bejeezus out of us. It would also give terrorists an opportunity to claim that the leading country of the free world had slammed the door on Muslims.

The answer is not to ban people from coming to America, but to work harder to cut off the threat from ISIS.

The attacks in Paris may prove to be the catalyst that America needed to deal with a growing threat before it wreaks havoc in our own country. But as we do so, U.S. leaders must look to the lessons that should have been learned in the last decade and a half of military engagement in the Middle East. Leaping into Iraq without considering the costs or the consequences — or the wisdom — of our actions has proven to be a mistake, one that we should not repeat in Syria.

As Pat Buchanan’s article on today’s Opinion page makes clear in detail, Republican calls for an invasion of Syria or a declaration of a no-fly zone, which could bring us into a confrontation with Russia and ultimately benefit ISIS, are not well-thought-out. Instead of getting into a shoving match with Russia, we should find ways to work together against a common enemy. Such opportunities come along too rarely.

Mr. Obama’s own strategy may be inadequate, but before rushing to attack him, as most of the GOP candidates did over the weekend, they should recall that in 2013, Republicans and Democrats rejected the administration’s plans to carry out airstrikes against the government of Syria. One of the No votes came from Sen. Marco Rubio, supposedly one of his party’s biggest war hawks, who said he didn’t think the proposed action would work.

Then, in 2014, Congress approved only a temporary authorization for financing and training Syrian rebels. And Congress has never signed off on a measure that would give Mr. Obama the power to wage war against Syria. Shouldn’t that at least be a preliminary step before sending troops to a new theater of war? And if Congress is so eager to defeat the terrorists, shouldn’t it first lift the caps on spending for national security, including for the FBI and Syria?

Keeping America safe may require the destruction of ISIS, not mere containment. But the only plan that will work is one devised by President Obama and Congress — working together — to win ample support from the American people.