By Michael Bryan
Many have identified the reasons why Trump’s Executive Order (EO) suspending travel from seven Muslim majority counties is ineffective, illegal, and just plain stupid: it is clearly discriminatory toward Muslims, it harms our counter-terror efforts made in conjunction with those nations’s governments, it is a propaganda win for the terrorists, and there haven’t actually been any terror attacks in America by visitors from the targeted countries since 1975, among many other reasons.
But what I find most disquieting about the EO is something that I have not seen a lot of commentary on, thus far: it demonstrates that this Administration is ready and willing to take ill-considered and deleterious actions regarding national security for purely political reasons, and then blatantly lie about classified intelligence to justify it.
Trump promised his Islamophobic fans a Muslim ban during the campaign and he was determined to be seen delivering a quick and decisive action he could point to as fulfilling that promise. He threw the project at a task force quickly banged together to create a document that he could plausibly claim to be such a ban. He apparently tasked Rudy Guiliani with creating a drafting commission to write an EO they believed would be legally sound. As a result of the commission’s nakedly political motivation, and its apparent isolation from the national security community (the commission included Guiliani, former AG Michael Mukasey, Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Tex.), and Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), according to Guiliani, without any claimed participation from the DNI or intelligence community, the State Department, or Homeland Security) the EO was ineffective, disastrously disruptive, and will likely be held up indefinitely in the courts. Apparently, Guiliani’s legal acumen lies elsewhere…
Now, that’s already a very bad sign that this Administration sees national security as nothing more than security Kabuki for a political constituency. They did not seek to create real and considered policy that would actually enhance national security; they merely created a way to seem to be doing something to keep out all those damn dirty Moslems, and maybe to put a culpability cushion around the President in the event of an attack.
The lack of necessity for this EO is very clear if you closely analyze what the EO seeks to do, as has been expertly done by David A. Martin. A close reading reveals that the main thrust of the EO is merely to freeze any visits from the targeted countries until the Administration is able to sufficiently diffuse responsibility for allowing further visits throughout the national security bureaucracy. Given that even former DNI Clapper sees no security issues with the current vetting regime, and it’s efficacy is arguably demonstrated by the lack of terrorist incidents resulting from any failure of said vetting regime over the past 16 years, all the EO accomplishes is to allow Trump to place the blame for any attack coming from that population squarely at the feet of one of his subalterns, and to tell his rabid base he’s sticking it to the rag heads.
The disruption to people’s lives created as a result of the botched roll-out was beastly, but I think that was intentional, not merely the result of incompetence. Only by making a big noisy mess could Trump and his political advisors be sure that his mouth-breathing Islamophobic supporters would notice he’s done something big to deliver on his reckless and unconstitutional promises. I don’t think they intended for it all to be so terribly embarrassing to the Administration, however, and thus were born the lies they have been telling to justify the entire debacle to the courts and the media.
The Administration, both in the pleadings to the 9th Circuit and to the media, have repeatedly justified the need for enhanced vetting by vague references to secret intelligence that they couldn’t possibly share. The party line has been essentially, that if you could see the secret intel we’re seeing, you would not question the need for quickly and drastically tightening security regarding the targeted countries. This is merely a convenient lie, and here’s how you know it to be a lie: they wouldn’t tell the judges what that evidence was.
In the opinion of the 9th Circuit panel regarding their decision to decline to lift the TRO enjoining enforcement of the EO (pdf link), the judges point out in footnote #8 that the Administration failed to back up their claim that EO was justified by classified intelligence:
“…the Government asserts that, “unlike the President, courts do not have access to classified information about the threat posed by terrorist organizations operating in particular nations, the efforts of those organizations to infiltrate the United States, or gaps in the vetting process.” But the Government may provide a court with classified information. Courts regularly receive classified information under seal and maintain its confidentiality. Regulations and rules have long been in place for that.”
Why would the Administration’s attorneys fail to utilize such powerful evidence to make their case to the court in light of such pressing security concerns? Because it doesn’t exist. Recently, DNI James Clapper himself stated to CNN that as of three weeks ago he knew of no intel that would suggest that our vetting process was flawed or inadequate. Therefore, it is painfully clear that the Trump Administration is ready and willing to lie to the public, and even to our federal courts, about the content of classified intelligence merely to justify a political stunt.
If that doesn’t disturb you, you have ice-water in your veins. If they will lie to so little purpose, for such a petty objective, on such a consequential and sensitive subject as our nation’s security, is there anything that this Administration won’t lie about?