There is nothing about President Donald J. Trump’s executive order on refugees that makes us safer or more secure. As my CNN colleague Peter Bergen reminds us: “All the lethal acts of jihadist terrorism in the States since 9/11 have been carried out by American citizens or legal residents, and none of them have been the work of Syrian refugees.”
By favoring Christians in Muslim majority countries, we have put a religious test on America’s immigration policy. It is a Muslim ban; no matter how its supporters spin it.
I could go on as a counterterrorism and national security expert: Given the international response, there is little likelihood this has made us safer and, if anything, it has made us less safe by inflaming the religious war. It is a disgrace that we are excluding those who have, of all things, assisted our military and counterterrorism efforts.
But, there is a second category of outrage that the Trump team cannot hide or spin from, cannot invoke the flag and the threat of terrorism from as an excuse. Even assuming that the executive order is justified and sound, the implementation of the policy itself has sowed confusion, different interpretations, and lack of consistency. This is no way to run national security strategy. The Trump team is making it up as they go along.
After a day of confusion and images of detainees at airports, as if on cue President Trump said later “We were totally prepared. It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports. You see it all over. It’s working out very nicely. . . “
If this is prepared, then someone should get fired.
By all accounts, the entire plan was contrived and written in the White House without inter-agency or legal review. As of writing, no formal border guidance has been issued to line personnel or the airports. The language of the executive order was not vetted or reviewed properly through the agencies who are now forced to figure out what it actually means.
In one instance, a provision is cited in the executive order that has the wrong number for the statute, a shocking typo at best for a presidential declaration (it is 8 USC 1202, not 8 USC 1222). At the very least, the fact that the order did not have a carve-out for those who have assisted the US in our war efforts as interpreters is either extreme negligence or extreme cruelty.
Senior DHS officials — the agency responsible for immigration — are presently trying to interpret and implement the sweeping order. The language was so unclear that at one stage in just the last day, DHS said the order applied to green-card holders only to be corrected by the White House that green card holders from the seven affected countries may be allowed back in on a case-by-case basis.
Conflicting reports regarding the status of dual citizens — Canadian and Iraqi citizens, for example — and their capability to enter the country provide no clarity. That two refugees were released to date — including one who assisted US soldiers in Iraq — added to the confusion. Jake Tapper has reported that House Republicans believed the Order would have an exemption for people in transit.
Confused yet? The Trump team likes to call themselves disruptive and action-oriented. There is a fine line between disruptive and incompetent. Again, even assuming that the order is good policy, the lack of focus on process or consequences is hardly worthy of a president who claimed that his business skills made him qualified. A system of inter-agency review is in place — across administrations — to ensure this chaos doesn’t happen.
This lack of clarity for hundreds of thousands of people means that the pressure to implement a confusing directive is falling on agents on the ground — border and customs agents — who should not be put in that position. They are not qualified to do so and it is resulting in varied enforcement actions, including reports that green card holders are being detained.
There is no learning on the job in matters of national security. That is why a national security transition is so essential and why the failed Trump transition made so many anxious. But there is something more disconcerting here.
The Trump team has placed this mayhem on itself, has created a crisis where there should be none. It isn’t as if it’s September 12, 2001. We have suffered no jolt to the system. So even assuming that the order is necessary (a concession I make just for the sake of argument), President Trump is responsible for a self-inflicted wound to our system and nation.
Disruptive? Maybe. But some might just call this incompetence. And, given that lives of the innocent and young are involved, the word cruel also comes to mind.