First let me say that I am grateful for an American Commander-in-Chief who finally recognizes the threat posed by followers of Radical Islam and is willing to take bold and decisive action to protect the American people.
There is a real and serious threat that ISIS or groups like it will try to launch massive terror attacks inside the territory of the United States. There are FBI investigations of ISIS in all 50 states, and the ISIS ideology is metastasizing like cancer, recruiting and radicalizing new ISIS loyalists and future terrorists inside the U.S.
FLASHBACK: “Exclusive: US May Have Let ‘Dozens’ of Terrorists Into Country As Refugees” — ABC News headline, November 20, 2013
If such threats are not taken seriously, and dealt with firmly and effectively, Americans could be attacked without warning.
That said, we must be honest: this Executive Order has been mishandled by the new administration.
It is not a “Muslim Ban,” as it is being portrayed by its critics. But it feels like one.
- It does not ban Muslims from the largest Islamic nations like Indonesia or India.
- It does not ban Muslims from our trusted Sunni Arab allies like Jordan and Egypt.
- It does not ban only Muslims — Christians, Zoroastrians, and other religious groups in these countries are also affected.
The fact is, this Executive Order merely requires a temporary, several month delay of visitors to the United States — Muslim, Christian, or otherwise — from seven countries where Radical Islam and jihadi activity have been very serious. It also temporarily suspends the ability of refugees from such high-risk countries to enter the U.S. until the administration has more time to improve our vetting procedures. These are laudable goals.
The problem is that this presidential directive was poorly drafted. It is being poorly executed. And it is being even more poorly communicated.
As a result, damage is being done to America’s reputation. In pursuit of defending America from Radical Islam, the administration has inadvertently handed the jihadists a talking point they can use to recruit and radicalize more people, that America is at war with all of Islam. This is not true, but to many in the Islamic world it feels true. This is dangerous.
Changes to the Executive Order need to be made immediately. Changes to the White House’s communications strategy need to be made as well.
The last thing we should do in a hot war with the Islamic State and other jihadist forces is to alienate our moderate Muslim allies. But that’s what is happening.
What we should be doing is strengthening our alliances with friends like Jordan, Egypt, the Gulf States, Indonesia, and other Muslim countries who want to work with America. We should be listening to their leaders, getting their counsel, and finding ways to work together to confront and defeat a common enemy.
The President has a strong national security and legal team around him. He can fix this. And he should. Here are a few suggestions:
- The President and his team would be wise admit they’ve made some mistakes here while defending their goals and objectives. Humility will go a long way in building trust with the American people and our allies.
- The administration can and should work hard to fix the document.
- It needs to be crystal clear, for example, that legal permanent residents of the U.S. (i.e., green card holders) are not affected. There has been a great deal of confusion about this matter.
- It needs to be clear why there is a 90 day ban on anyone coming from these seven particular countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) and not other countries.
- UPDATE: We do have an answer as to why the 7 countries were included. They were singled out as “countries of concern” by the Obama administration (some in 2011, then more in 2016). Due to the “threat of foreign fighters” trying to infiltrate the US, the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security determined that people from these seven countries were NOT eligible for the “Visa Waiver Program.” In other words, they would need visas, and thus vetting, before being allowed to visit the U.S.
- Why, for example, was Afghanistan left off the list when we have been at war with al Qaeda and the Taliban there since 9/11?
- Why was Saudi Arabia left off the list when Osama bin Laden was born and raised in Saudi, and 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were from Saudi?
- Why was Lebanon left off the list when Hezbollah, a major terrorist organization backed by Iran, has essentially created a country within a country in Lebanon?
- Why not Nigeria (home of Boko Haram) or Gaza (home of Hamas)?
- This is not to say each of these or other countries should be on the list — but the rationale for each country needs to be made clear by the administration.
- The administration should seek wise counsel and advice from a range of experts in and out of government to achieve the desired end: the protection of the American people and homeland. Hastiness isn’t helpful.
- UPDATE: It would be helpful to know if all of the President’s relevant Cabinet officers and senior advisors had been fully briefed on the Executive Order, had the time to study it carefully, and had been able to provide input, ask questions, and recommend clarifications.
- UPDATE: The New York Times is reporting that John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security, learned the Executive Order was going into effect because he saw the news on TV, and that the White House “had not asked his department for a legal review of the order.”
- UPDATE: The Times is also reporting that Defense Secretary James Mattis “did not see a final version of the order until Friday morning, only hours before Mr. Trump arrived to sign it at the Pentagon.”
- UPDATE: “Mr. Mattis, according to administration officials familiar with the deliberations, was not consulted by the White House during the preparation of the order and was not given an opportunity to provide input while the order was being drafted,” the Times reported.
- Are these reports accurate? If not, then shame on the Times. But if they are, they suggest the President is not making good use of the excellent team he has just brought on board. Let’s find out the facts.
- The President would be wise to consider addressing the nation on television from the Oval Office. He could use the address to explain very carefully and thoroughly what the threat to the homeland is, and how best to deal with the problem. He could also use the address to answer people’s questions and calm people’s fears.
- The President needs to explain to the nation clearly and often that while the followers of Radical Islam do pose a grave threat to the American people and our allies, this does not mean that all Muslims are a threat, or that Islam itself is the threat. As I have explained before, the data indicate that upwards of 90% of Muslims do not hold violent views or seek to attack us. However, between 7% and 10% of Muslims tell pollsters that they do support suicide bombings and other forms of violence against “infidels.” It is critical that our leaders make these distinctions and educate the public about the nature of the threat. We want the broader moderate Muslim world to be partners in defeating the dangerous actors in their midst.
Yes, Mr. Trump called for such a ban during the campaign, and he was highly criticized for it by many people (myself included), and rightly so. Banning people from entering the U.S. based on their religious views would be both unconstitutional and morally repugnant. To be fair, it should be noted that Mr. Trump backed down and sought advice on how best to protect the country from the threats of violent jihadists trying to enter the homeland.
Protecting the American people from all threats, foreign and domestic, is absolutely the most important job of the President of the United States. So is abiding by the American legal tradition of commonsense and fair play.
The new President and his team need to remember that this is not just a “kinetic war,” one fought with bullets and bombs. This is also a “war of ideas,” an ideological battle fought for hearts and minds.
We have seen some unforced errors on a matter of high national importance. They can and should be corrected and lessons should be learned. Winning the fight against Radical Islam will be a long and difficult mission. But with wise, humble and dedicated leadership — in Washington and around the world — we can prevail.
SOME USEFUL ARTICLES TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE ISSUE:
- Trump’s Executive Order on Refugees — Separating Fact From Hysteria (National Review)
- Trump’s Refugee Bonfire — A blunderbuss order sows confusion and a defeat in court (Wall Street Journal)
- Is it a Muslim Ban? — column by Andrew McCarthy, National Review
- You can now pre-order Without Warning in hardcover, e-book and audio formats. It will release on March 14, 2017. Click here for details.
- Order The First Hostage today — the second in this series of political thriller about genocidal ISIS leaders plotting a terrorist attacks against Israel, Jordan and the United States — available in paperback, hardcover, e-book and audio formats.
- Order THE THIRD TARGET today , the first in this trilogy — now out in paperback.
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[This column is based on my personal beliefs and opinions. I share them in my personal capacity as a dual US-Israeli citizen and an author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of The Joshua Fund, which is a non-profit organization and takes no political or legislative positions.]