In issuing his executive order immediately banning refugees and hundreds of thousands of Muslim travelers from the United States, President Trump claimed he wanted “to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals.” In fact, national security experts across the political spectrum say his order does just the opposite. Calling for the order to be rescinded, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and over 100 other former senior government officials and military service members who served both the Obama and Bush Administrations are saying the executive order “not only jeopardizes tens of thousands of lives, it has caused a crisis right here in America and will do long-term damage to our national security.”
Here are eight ways the order does just that:
1. The order supports terrorists’ claims that the U.S. is at war with Islam, by banning all nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries for an extended period, and explicitly favoring Christian refugees. That’s terrorists’ primary recruiting point: that Muslims must fight back. As former CIA Director and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, the order “gives ISIS a major argument that I think will help them in recruiting and that increases the chances of a potential attack in this country.”
2. The order harms critically important U.S. relations with our partners in the Middle East. Some of those, like Iraq, are countries whose nationals have all been banned. Others, like Jordan, now face huge political hurdles cooperating with a U.S. government that has instituted what’s perceived globally as a “Muslim ban.” The executive order makes it virtually impossible for them to continue to provide the support, intelligence and resources the U.S. depends upon to fight terrorism. As General Hayden told The Washington Post: the order “makes it harder for our allies to side with us.”
3. The order will increase anti-American sentiment among ordinary, innocent people in the targeted countries and beyond. With the stroke of a pen, 220 million citizens lost the opportunity to travel to the United States for an extended period of time. This sent the message that we see them all as dangerous, inviting them to view us as enemies as well. As about 1,000 State Department officials have pointed out in a dissent memo, almost one-third of populations in these countries are under 15 yrs old. Shunning them now will affect those societies’ perceptions of the United States for decades to come, negatively influencing their future leaders. This could be a “tipping point toward radicalization,” the U.S. foreign service officials warned.
4. The order directly undermines our key allies in the Middle East. By suspending all refugee resettlement for at least 120 days, prioritizing religious minority refugees, blanket banning all travel for nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries temporarily, and suspending all Syrian refugee resettlement indefinitely, our key allies in the Middle East, who have accepted large numbers of Syrian refugees, will find their resources further strained and will face further political opposition and regional turmoil. Our acceptance of Syrian refugees supports those allies and helps ease the burdens they face. The U.S. refusal to resettle Syrian refugees may encourage other countries to do likewise. That will leave front-line countries, such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq, which already host about 80% of Syrian refugees, to host all of them. This seriously undermines global stability.
5. The order undermines U.S. global leadership and our reputation as a country that abides by international law — in this case the international refugee convention. U.S. leadership and respect for the rule of law is one of the most important ways we encourage other countries to cooperate with us and respect the law as well. We need that cooperation for our counterterrorism, law enforcement, diplomatic and economic policies to be effective.
6. The order discourages all Muslims — at home and abroad — from assisting U.S. anti-terrorism efforts, because it’s widely perceived as a “Muslim ban” and was advertised as such by the president and his advisors during his campaign. By targeting Muslim majority nations and favoring Christian refugees over Muslims, it suggests all Muslims are suspicious and potential enemies, while Christians are not. It also gives terrorists an excuse to attack any Muslims suspected of aiding the United States or its allies. Indeed, within 24 hours of Trump signing the order, Islamic State propagandists began exploiting the travel ban on social media. One message warned Muslims who cooperate with the US: “The dogs of the cross should know their true value now,” he wrote, referring to collaborators. “Worthless!”
7. The order puts U.S. troops in grave danger. By fueling terrorists’ groups claims that the U.S. is at war with Islam, the order encourages potential terrorists — both abroad and “homegrown” — to see American soldiers as legitimate targets. It is unconscionable for the Commander-in-Chief to directly place his own troops at risk, with no discernible national security benefit to be gained.
8. The ban could lead to retaliation from other countries. Iraqi lawmakers have already called for a ban on US citizens. Iran has already passed one.
The United States already conducts “extreme vetting” of refugees resettled here. As former CIA Directors General Petraeus and General Hayden and former Defense Secretaries Panetta, Cohen, Perry, and Hagel, said in a joint letter: “The process that refugees undergo in order to be deemed eligible for resettlement in the United States is robust and thorough… Those seeking resettlement are screened by national and international intelligence agencies; their fingerprints and other biometric data are checked against terrorist and criminal databases; and they are interviewed several times over the course of the vetting process.”
Barring all Muslim travelers from the seven specified countries, for any period of time, will do nothing to prevent terrorism, but it will do a lot to encourage it. Suspending the resettlement of refugees, dramatically decreasing the refugee admissions, and prioritizing Christian over Muslim refugees will not make the U.S. safer, but it will show that America is abandoning its ideals and values.
As former Secretary of State and George W. Bush national security advisor Condoleeza Rice said recently: “The very best public policy that we have is actually when people come here, and study, and see what it is really like to be in America…I believe strongly we still need to advocate for people seeking the freedoms we enjoy.”
While it’s appropriate to conduct thorough security screenings of all immigrants and travelers to the United States, barring entry to whole populations is a nonsensical and dangerous policy. It will make us all less safe.
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