Representative Ryan Zinke wants us all to know how brave he is. His press office in the Congress seems primarily devoted to reminding people that he served in the military and offering vague descriptions of the duties he undertook during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s so committed to promoting the narrative about his military prowess and personal bravery that, in one of his latest press releases, ostensibly about President Obama’s plan to allow some Syrian refugees to come to the United States, he even saw fit to include this very Congressional line about himself:
Commander Zinke is credited with 72 confirmed captures or kills of enemy insurgents.
He’s such a heroic leader that he’s calling for the US military to ignore schools and hospitals when it bravely bombs enemies in the Middle East.
A real badass, right? A bona fide American hero who would never let yellow, craven fear dictate his position on the issues, right?
Not so much.
It seems Congressman Zinke is so afraid of refugees coming to the United States that he’s spent the past few days since the Paris attacks distorting the evidence and mewling that a relatively tiny commitment to giving aid to refugees who would be thoroughly vetted somehow threatens our national security. Our brave Congressman is so afraid of letting a tiny number of refugees escape a brutal war that he’s shown himself willing to lie and demagogue to keep them from our shores.
Zinke claims, for instance, that the process to vet potential refugees is risky. But, as NPR reports, the reality is that the process is lengthy and demanding:
As you might imagine, all of the vetting, from interviews to fingerprinting, takes a while. On average, officials say it’s 18 to 24 months before a refugee is approved for admission to the U.S.
Zinke also claims that the real danger of allowing refugees to come to the United States is that “most of them are male, most of them are of military age.”
The reality, according to NPR, is entirely at odds with Zinke’s claim. They report:
The administration says half of those who have been admitted are children and about a quarter of them are adults over 60. Officials say 2 percent are single males of combat age.
And, as the Huffington Post notes:
Among the people fleeing Syria, it’s about a 50-50 split between male and female refugees. Almost 40 percent of all Syrian refugees are under the age of 11, and more than half of them are under age 17. About 22 percent are men between the ages of 18 and 59.
So when President Obama argues that Republicans are terrified of widows and orphans, he’s not far off the mark.
It’s also worth noting what France, the nation that faced the latest ISIS attack and a nation often the target of conservative scorn, did, in the wake of the Paris tragedy. It increased its commitment to taking in refugees:
French President Francois Hollande promised to honor his commitment to take in tens of thousands of refugees on Wednesday. He said France would do so despite concerns raised by ultra-right nationalist leaders that refugees might pose a security threat to the country.
“Some people say the tragic events of the last few days have sown doubts in their minds,” Hollande said, but added that it is a “humanitarian duty” to help the throngs of refugees who have landed on European shores after fleeing conflict and hardship in countries like Syria and Afghanistan.
Republicans like Congressman Zinke spend a great deal of their time bloviating on Fox News about the weakness of President Obama, but it’s hard to take such claims seriously when these politicians are cravenly caving into the terror that ISIS wants to generate. ISIS wants the West to turn its back on the Syrian refugees, to terrify us into running from values that should guide us, and to create more hatred and division.
And that’s the real cowardice on display here. The United States, a nation built in part by refugees fleeing political and religious prosecution, a nation that aspires in its rhetoric to be a country that defends human life and freedom, and a nation with a shameful past that includes allowing religious bias and fear of infiltrators to justify turning away refugees facing genocide, surely cannot allow fear mongering and politically expedient ethnocentrism to once again trump our moral obligation to other human beings.
And it’s especially disappointing from Congressman Zinke, who is so devoted to the construction of a narrative about his own personal bravery that he seems unwilling to believe that his fellow Americans have the courage and decency he is so evidently missing.