Elliott Abrams’ conviction for lying to Congress during the Iran-Contra hearings should offer some indication of the neoconservative’s loyalty to the truth. But that setback certainly hasn’t discouraged Abrams from taking shortcuts with facts in the greater interest of scoring dubious points in the right-wing blogosphere.
Yesterday, Abrams took to the website of Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard to accuse President Obama of calling the provision of assistance to Christian refugees “shameful” even “while [the State Department] claims that’s exactly what it’s doing.”
Indeed, Obama did call something shameful, and the State Department does prioritize assistance to persecuted religious minorities, even if Abrams was a bit fuzzy on that point when he declared that “the Obama administration has abandoned Middle Eastern Christians and other minorities during years of violent assaults.”
But Obama wasn’t criticizing that policy, and Abrams appears to be willfully misinterpreting Obama’s words in order to repeat the far-right cliché that the president is anti-Christian.
Obama was, however, criticizing the mainly Republican push to exclude Muslim refugees on the basis of religion. Abrams selectively excerpted Obama’s statement and misrepresented what the president actually said. Here’s what Abrams quoted Obama as saying in the Weekly Standard:
And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution—that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.
And here are the two paragraphs of additional context that Abrams conveniently chose not to quote or paraphrase lest they undermine his highly tendentious thesis:
When Pope Francis came to visit the United States, and gave a speech before Congress, he didn’t just speak about Christians who were being persecuted. He didn’t call on Catholic parishes just to admit those who were of the same religious faith. He said, protect people who are vulnerable.
And so I think it is very important for us right now—particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard—not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.
Indeed, that “dark impulse” is something that Abrams is reinforcing by making the argument, as he did yesterday, that “in the United States and Western Europe, Christian refugees have not become terrorists…” (a factually inaccurate statement, as Jim pointed out yesterday) and by proposing to devise tests to “verify that people who claim to be Christians are indeed Christians—from asking them questions about their religious upbringing, to the fact that Muslims but not most Middle Eastern Christians are circumcised…”
If Elliott Abrams is wondering, which he probably isn’t, about what Obama meant by the “shameful” reactions to the plight of Muslim refugees, he could look at the map of 26 states whose governors have said they won’t accept Syrian refugees. Or he could look at his own suggestion that confirmation of circumcision be used as a litmus test for determining the religion of refugees and who is more or less deserving of asylum protection.
Those are the proposals that Obama was probably referencing when he said “We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”