The Dishonesty Of Trump's Travel Ban

Everything the administration and its apologists have said about that order is designed to mislead, and much of it is outright lies.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters while signing executive orders at the White House in Washington January 24, 2
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters while signing executive orders at the White House in Washington January 24, 2017.

The Trump administration’s shameless dishonesty was in full display in its rollout and defense of its so-called “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” executive order. Virtually everything the administration and its apologists have said about that order is designed to mislead, and much of it is outright lies.

Start with the underlying premise that the countries included within the ban were based on a data driven analysis of “danger.” This is manifestly untrue, given the omission of the primary sources of past terrorist attacks on the United States, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan. In fact, the selection of the seven countries was not based on any analysis at all. Rather, the Trump administration simply cut and pasted the seven nations that the Obama administration had identified for an entirely different purpose.

This gave them cover to roll out the false narrative that they were only taking the next logical step in a process already started by the Obama administration. In answer to questions about why countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt were not included in Trump’s order, they point to the absence of those countries from Obama’s order. Nobody complained about Obama’s order, they say, so why are they complaining now? Must be yet another example of liberal media bias.

This narrative is dishonest. The Obama administration did not single out those seven countries because they were the greatest sources of terrorist danger in the world.  They were singled out for the limited purpose of making changes in the visa waiver program.  

The visa waiver program gives preferential entry treatment to citizens of fewer than 40 countries across the globe.  People who are in the program do not have to go through the standard visa process that applies to everybody else in the world.  When the Obama administration removed people who had traveled to certain nations from the program, it meant that they now had to obtain a visa prior to coming to the United States, not that they would be banned from entry. They were simply put on equal footing with most of the rest of the world.

This is not national defense, this is politics. And it is amateur hour.

Whatever the thinking behind the Obama administration’s removal of travelers to those specific seven nations from the visa waiver program, it certainly did not reflect a view that those countries posed a greater danger of terrorism than countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan.

After all, it was Saudi Arabia that gave us Osama bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. The other four 9/11 hijackers, by the way, all came from three other countries not included in Trump’s ban, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. And the man that the 9/11 Commission identified as “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks,” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is from Pakistan, another country omitted from the Trump executive order. Funny, isn’t it, that Trump’s executive order, which repeatedly invokes avoiding another 9/11 as its goal, would not have stopped any of the people who actually planned and executed the 9/11 attack.

This is not national defense, this is politics. And it is amateur hour. The executive order reeks of incompetence, lack of adult supervision, and partisan political calculation. If we were to dignify the process as having been based on an “analysis” of anything, it could only have been a strategy to deflect criticism by hiding behind an Obama executive order that dealt with a quite different issue. Even the as-yet unsubstantiated theory that Trump’s real motivation was to avoid extending the ban to any countries where he has financial interests is more compelling than the administration’s false narrative that it was merely extending actions already taken by the Obama administration.

The Trump administration’s explanation of the rushed rollout process is equally laughable. They tell us that they couldn’t take the time to plan and execute a professional process because doing so would have given terrorists an opportunity to advance their travel plans and flood into the United States before the order went into effect. At the same time, they say that the order might be only the first step, and that other countries may be added later.

These two statements are ludicrously self-cancelling. If this first order had to be rushed out half-baked to prevent terrorists from the seven banned countries from flooding into the United States before it became effective, then by the same logic Trump’s order was an invitation to terrorists from other Muslim countries to flood into the United States right now. By failing to include countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan in the initial ban, and at the same time telling them that he might add them later, Trump has telegraphed his intentions. By doing so, under his own logic, he has just told would be terrorists from those countries to get to the United States as fast as they can.

If the amateurish rollout of the Trump order had been truly motivated by a fear of telegraphing his intentions, it would have been handled much differently. Avoiding a flood of bad guys rushing into the United States would counsel a much more deliberate process to make sure that all of the most dangerous nations were covered in the first place. Selecting only a handful for a first order, and explaining that more may be added later, accomplished exactly what Trump claims he was trying to avoid, an invitation to those not on the list to come here fast.

And what about the Trump administration’s claim that this is not a “Muslim ban”? This, too, is a clever bit of deception.

And what about the Trump administration’s claim that this is not a “Muslim ban”? This, too, is a clever bit of deception. Since many Muslim-majority nations were not covered by this first order, it is of course not the kind of absolute “Muslim ban” that Trump called for during the campaign. But that misses the point. The real issue here is not a semantic one about whether this is a “Muslim ban.” The real issue is whether this is a religious test. Denying that this is a Muslim ban is a diversion.

Whether a partial Muslim ban or simply a religious test, the Trump administration argues that the order is based on danger and national identity, not religion. But since the nations selected all have overwhelming Muslim majorities, and only members of religious minorities (read “non-Muslims”) within those countries can seek exemption without getting what amounts to cabinet level approval, then it is ludicrous to claim that the ban isn’t aimed squarely at Muslims, and only Muslims. While the order doesn’t ban all Muslims from every nation, it does ban all Muslims from certain nations. No matter how you slice it, that is a religious test.

Think about this differently. If the United States tried to impose a travel restriction that applied only to New York Jews, would anyone argue that this wasn’t an odious religious test because Florida or California Jews were not included? Preposterous.

Perhaps the most pernicious effect of the inept rollout of this order, unfortunately, is that it crowds out the deeper and more significant flaw in the entire premise that banning entry of nationals from seven Islamic countries somehow enhances our national security. Remember that the total number of immigrants from those countries that have performed terrorist acts in the United States is zero. Allowing for the possibility that past performance is not a guarantee of future performance, and that an ounce of protection may be worth a pound of cure, would the mere possibility of preventing one or two bad people from entering the United States be worth the cost?

The cost of that hoped-for protection is going to be dear indeed. Cooperation from Iraq and other nations in the Middle East is essential to the fight against ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism in general. Trump has accomplished the near impossible by enraging the Islamic world even more than it already was. Iraqi leaders are talking about retaliation against the United States, and the Iraqi soldiers who are fighting beside brave American soldiers are undoubtedly confused and upset by Trump’s brain-dead suggestion that we are really there to steal their oil. ISIS and other terrorist groups are using the ban as a recruiting tool and affirmation of their narrative about a war of civilizations. Can anyone really doubt that the Trump Muslim ban will energize more bad actors than it will keep out?

I hope I am wrong.  We’ll know soon enough.

Philip Rotner is an attorney and an engaged citizen who has spent over 40 years practicing law. His views are his own and do not reflect the views of any organization with which he has been associated.