Ruben Navarrette: All turned around on Syrian refugees

SAN DIEGO – Because of mistakes, miscalculations and missed opportunities, President Barack Obama’s foreign policy has gone from bright red lines to little orange cones.

No wonder Obama is trying to change the subject by seizing on the blunders, bluster and blind spots of Republicans. Luckily for the White House, the GOP is only too happy to oblige now that the conversation has turned to the complicated question of whether the United States should follow through on plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next fiscal year.

In September, 73 House Democrats wrote a letter to Obama declaring this figure too low and demanding that the White House accept 100,000 Syrians. After all, said the lawmaker who initiated the letter – Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island – the refugees are mainly “women and children fleeing violence.”

Women and children, eh? Is this a bad time to mention that one of the people who died in a raid by French authorities of terrorist hideouts in Paris was a female suicide bomber?

The State Department has said that “military-aged males unattached to families” make up only 2 percent of the estimated 2,000 Syrian refugees admitted to the United States since the start of the Syrian civil war in March 2011.

So there might be nothing to worry about.

But, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, over 20 percent of all Syrian refugees are military-aged males.

It’s time to worry.

Either the Homeland Security Department is very good at vetting refugees so that fewer “military-aged males” are allowed in, or the Obama administration is again getting cute with language by using the phrase “unattached to families” to skew the numbers. As if a male who was attached to a family would never help organize, or participate in, an act of terror. Where’s the evidence for that?

Still, it is refreshing for the American people to see our president alert and awake when talking about terrorism. He is finally talking tough, making threats and staring down his enemies. It’s too bad that Obama seems to think his real enemies are Republicans – from the more than 30 governors who say Syrian refugees aren’t welcome in their states, to White House hopefuls who the president insists offer nothing more than a “spasm of rhetoric,” to members of Congress who want a moratorium on taking in more refugees and tighter restrictions on who earns that classification.

A moratorium and tighter restrictions seem awfully reasonable. A religious test for refugees, not so much.

I suspect that many Americans agree with the proposition that the United States should let in only those Syrian refugees who are Christian because, as GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz put it after the Paris attacks, “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” Cruz said it’s “lunacy” to continue to admit Muslim refugees because it’s impossible to determine whether their allegiance lies with the Islamic State.

It would be nice to be able to sort through the refugee issue without taking the abominable shortcut of discriminating against the desperate and the downtrodden based on their religion.

Obama was quick to shoot down the idea of a religious test, and even went so far as to insist that Syrian refugees are no more dangerous to the United States than “all the tourists who pour into the United States every single day.”

In recent days, the president has also repeatedly driven home the message that America is a better country than this conversation would suggest, and that it is at moments like this that our national principles must be adhered to.

What just happened? This can’t be the same Barack Obama who, only last summer, seemed to be in such a great hurry to get images of thousands of Central American refugees – the majority of them women and children – off the front pages of newspapers by either hustling them out of the country or dumping them into detention facilities in Texas and New Mexico. Likely concerned about how a humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border would impact Democrats in the midterm elections, that version of the president displayed no interest in adhering to any set of principles or displaying even a little common decency.

There is no doubt that, given how they treat refugees, Republicans deserve a scolding. But Obama lacks the moral standing to deliver it.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is