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World

NATO Allies Grapple With Appropriate Response To Paris Attacks

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And of course, the fight against ISIS is taking time, which is the question we'll consider next because a single passport found in the wreckage of the Paris bombings has triggered a major debate. One of the bombers was identified as Syrian. A fingerprint showed he had registered as a migrant. And so now Americans are hotly debating whether the United States should accept any more Syrian refugees. The United States has so far welcomed fewer than 2,000 of them. There is a plan to allow a few more. Many governors have now said they don't want them. Let's talk about the threat to the United States with Mary Beth Long. She was assistant secretary of defense for international affairs during President George W. Bush's second term and is currently an adviser to NATO. Welcome to the program.

MARY BETH LONG: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How serious is the threat, specifically to the United States?

LONG: I think it's very serious. There's no indication that I have heard of that we shouldn't take ISIS, and video threat to Washington, D.C. in particular, at its word. And even if they determine that the video is false, ISIS has maintained from the beginning that it plans to attack those countries that are attacking it. And certainly the U.S. role is prominent and public.

INSKEEP: We heard Adam Schiff, Democratic congressman, leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, yesterday say sure, there's a threat to the United States, but at least it's not quite as grave as to France because France has this large, disaffected Muslim - mainly Muslim - community, which the United States doesn't quite have. Are you a little less worried about United States than other places?

LONG: No, I'm not. I think it's probably premature to make those kinds of comments since we have not really had a long discussion or even a public discussion about what exactly are the threats that the administration has successfully thwarted. So making comments regarding less or more I think are probably naive at this point.

INSKEEP: Oh, because there have been attacks that we've heard vaguely about that have been frustrated over time. That's what you're saying.

LONG: That's correct.

INSKEEP: Now, let me ask specifically about migrants or refugees coming to the United States. If you're looking at the range of possible threats, possible ways the United States could be struck, are Syrian migrants the first place you'd look?

LONG: I'm not sure they're the first place, but they're certainly one of the first places.

INSKEEP: What do you mean by that?

LONG: Well, we have an awful lot of visitors' visa. We're an open society. We have a tremendous ebb and flow that are above and beyond and don't really rise to the level of scrutiny that refugees do. And if one were planning an attack, or particularly an attack from someone who is coming into the country and not already here, that would be a lot easier to do if you were just visiting from walking across from Canada or on an immigration visa that's a lot less time restrictive. Refugees get a certain amount of scrutiny that other transit individuals don't get. So it's a bit higher threshold.

INSKEEP: So you're saying that if you were an Islamic State plotter and you were trying to get someone into the United States, you probably would not send that person to go and apply for refugee status to the United States. They'd come some other way.

LONG: I wouldn't doubt - I wouldn't discount anything. I think actually one of the things we need to do is - unlike Mr. Schiff's comments - is look at all areas of possible entry into the United States. Refugees is one.

INSKEEP: Now, in fairness, Adam Schiff was not saying there's no threat to the United States. He was simply trying to, in his view, keep it in perspective. Now, let me ask about the more than a dozen governors now who have said, we do not want Syrian refugees - or in some cases, additional Syrian refugees because a few of the governors' states have accepted a few. We don't want any more Syrian refugees is what they have said; this is an unacceptable security threat. Is it your understanding that the governors get to make that decision?

LONG: It is not my understanding that governors get to make that decision. That decision is based - it's an administrative executive decision is my understanding.

INSKEEP: Meaning that it belongs to the president of the United States?

LONG: It does. But ultimately, we are a democracy. It belongs to the people. And they may choose to execute it either through the executive or through the governorships.

INSKEEP: Would you be comfortable - what state do you live in, by the way?

LONG: I live in Pennsylvania.

INSKEEP: You live in Pennsylvania. Would you be comfortable with more Syrian refugees in Pennsylvania?

LONG: I'm comfortable with the U.S. giving Syrian and other refugees additional scrutiny. I want to live in a society that allows and is sympathetic and is empathetic to refugees that are fleeing battles that we are choosing to participate in because there are good and bad sides to it. And they are fleeing the bad side. I do think that the administration has seriously compromised the confidence of the people, including the governors', about how it deals with immigration and refugees. And in this case in Syria, because the president and the secretary of state are furthering the assertion that ISIS had been contained by making arguments that because they were contained in Iraq that the movement is contained - and I think everybody who's listening to the news doesn't buy that. It obviously wasn't contained. It's immigrated physically and literally.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

LONG: To Paris and other places. So on the one hand, saying you're safe because we're going to scrutinize these refugees and we're safe because of containment just doesn't ring solid to the American people or to the governors.

INSKEEP: Well, just in a few seconds, the administration has let in fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees. It's actually going quite slowly. It's not like there's a flood of people coming. Is the administration failing to screen or check out people?

LONG: No, as a matter of fact, I think the administration hasn't made a very good case for the scrutiny that refugees do get. I haven't heard a lot of conversation - and I'm sure that we will - as to whether in this particular circumstance Syrian or other refugees should get more scrutiny than the average refugee. But certainly, as far as people moving in and out of the country, refugees get a lot more scrutiny.

INSKEEP: Mary Beth Long, thank you very much. Glad you could come by this morning. She is a former assistant secretary of defense for international affairs. She served in the administration of President George W. Bush. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.