Monday, January 30, 2017

Malevolence? Incompetence?


NBC is reporting that the [Trump’s Executive Order on visas and refugees] document was not reviewed by DHS, the Justice Department, the State Department, or the Department of Defense, and that National Security Council lawyers were prevented from evaluating it. [..]

As readers of my work know, I believe in strong counterterrorism powers. I defend non-criminal detention. I’ve got no problem with drone strikes. I’m positively enthusiastic about American surveillance policies. I was much less offended than others were by the CIA’s interrogations in the years after September 11. I have defended military commissions.[..]

[But t]he document is both wildly over-inclusive and wildly under-inclusive. On the over-inclusive side, it will keep tens of thousands of innocent refugees who have been subject to unspeakable violence outside of the protection of the United States on the vanishingly small chance that these people might be terrorists—indeed, to make it impossible for them even to apply for refugee admission if they are Syrian. It will prevent untold numbers of people about whom there is no whiff of suspicion from coming here as students, as professionals, as tourists. It overtly treats members of a particular religion differently from other people.

On the underinclusive side, the order wouldn’t have blocked the entry of many of the people responsible for the worst recent terrorist attacks. There is, in fact, simply no rational relationship between cutting off visits from the particular countries that Trump targets (Muslim countries that don’t happen to be close U.S. allies) and any expected counterterrorism goods. The 9/11 hijackers, after all, didn’t come from Somalia or Syria or Iran; they came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt and a few other countries not affected by the order. Of the San Bernardino attackers (both of Pakistani origin, one a U.S. citizen and the other a lawful permanent resident), the Orlando shooter (a U.S. citizen whose parents were born in Afghanistan), and the Boston marathon bombers (one a naturalized U.S. citizen, one a green card holder who arrived in Massachusetts from Kyrgyzstan), none came from countries listed in the order. One might argue, I suppose, that the document is tied to current threats. But come now, how could Pakistan not be on a list guided by current threat perception?

Put simply, I don’t believe that the stated purpose is the real purpose. This is the first policy the United States has adopted in the post-9/11 era about which I have ever said this. It’s a grave charge, I know, and I’m not making it lightly. But in the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives.

When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you’ve made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.