The Supreme Court must strike down Trump immigration ban

The Supreme Court must strike down Trump immigration ban
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On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Trump vs. Hawaii, the challenge to the president’s attempt to limit immigration into the United States from several countries, most of them predominantly Muslim. A remarkable coalition of groups has banded together and filed briefs opposing the administration’s move. It says something about America that the groups include several Jewish organizations and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It says a lot about the ban that it is also opposed by a group of hardened national security professionals.

I am part of that latter group, joined by several other former directors, acting directors and deputy directors of CIA, a former director of national intelligence and a former head of the National Counterterrorism Center. Opposing the travel ban in its several iterations hasn’t really been a close call for us and, lest you think we are just being political, you should note that the good people in the Trump administration now occupying our former positions haven’t been out there campaigning in favor of this. They have been largely (and sadly, but understandably) silent.

The executive order now at issue before the court is the third iteration of the decree, expanded now to include Venezuela and North Korea, but its bloodline still goes back to the raw Trump campaign language calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” And that was based on a view of immigrants, refugees, and especially Syrian refugees, as presenting a near apocalyptic threat to the safety of America and a vetting system for them that was near dystopian in its ineffectiveness. Desperate times, so the “reasoning” apparently went, required desperate measures.

But there was zero statistical or analytical evidence justifying either the apocalyptic or dystopian claim. The first executive order, a week into the administration, was crafted in the White House with nary an input from career national security professionals who, beyond not identifying this as a danger or calling for its remediation, were bluntly told to be quiet and get with the program. It was the very model of “post-truth” decision-making, actions based not on data but on emotion, preference and that which can be made popular or trending. For the campaign and now the administration, it was one more piece of “evidence” of American carnage.

Beyond the precedent that we all feared — the rejection of empiricism, inductive reasoning, and decision-making bounded by objective reality — we all knew that the executive order landed unevenly on the world’s most unfortunate. Even with the ban contested, the United States admitted only 29,000 refugees in 2017, down from 95,000 the year before. The number of Syrians admitted dropped from 15,000 to only 3,000 and, so far this year, a scant 11 have been permitted entry.

There is a human cost to this, of course, but there are strategic effects as well. Agencies like the CIA enlist cooperation from individuals in troubled countries — like the ones affected by all the versions of the travel ban — by convincing these individuals that we value them, perhaps more than some in their own countries do, and we respect their families, tribes and societies. These are honor-based cultures and blanket exclusions will not be easily explained or quickly forgotten.

And there are even larger effects. The security professionals described above have spent much of their professional careers defending America against Islamist terrorism, but they also know that the main plot line in that struggle is a battle within Islam, that the overwhelming number of victims of terrorism are Muslim, and that all the killing will continue until this great monotheism makes its peace with what we would call modernity and its associated values of tolerance and respect.

The executive order with its roots unmistakably in the campaign’s explicit language that “Islam hates us” reinforces the narrative of the side we want to lose in that civil war, organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda, who preach that there is undying and unavoidable enmity between Islam and the West. The order literally fills in their recruiting and proselytizing themes.

In other words, the executive order is not just ill-advised, unnecessary and uncaring. It is dangerous and America is already less safe because of it. Presidents traditionally deserve great deference when they invoke questions of national security. But a claim of national security does not automatically make a matter so and, like the Supreme Court’s ill-fated review of the Japanese American internment in World War II, there has been scant evidence offered as to why our security demands such a drastic measure.

Much damage has already been done, but we can reclaim a bit of our honor and even some of our safety by striking down this particular exercise of executive authority. That is the role of the Supreme Court at this unique moment in history.

Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA and of the National Security Agency, is a visiting professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. His next book is “The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies.”