Vetting the Vetters

1. It’s not a “Muslim Ban.” For the folks complaining about Fake News and Lies, calling the EO a “Muslim Ban” should provoke outrage. There are far more Muslim countries not on the list than on the list, and no that has nothing to do with Trump’s business dealings. The countries were quite obviously selected for their relative stability, i.e. a weak security apparatus makes the front-end process of screening “refugees” that much less reliable. The exception is, of course, Iran, which is an overtly hostile regime. [Note: query why a ban on 7 Muslim countries is a “Muslim Ban,” but a boycott on the one Jewish State is obviously not, no way, no how, a “Jewish Boycott.”]

I find the “religious discrimination” objections vis a vis Christian refugees especially specious. If one is genuinely concerned about persecuted minorities, then one should celebrate Trump’s emphasis on Christians (and other minorities) who have been persecuted in ways the West hasn’t witnessed since the 19th Century. If the only difference is that PoC are doing the persecuting, that suggests that the commitment to persecuted minorities is not entirely genuine. Democrats didn’t seem to mind all that much when Obama suddenly ended the wet-foot-dry-foot policy . . . maybe because Cubans vote Republican? Perish the thought.

2. As for the EO itself, there are parts not to love. Providing a haven for refugees (in our nation of immigrants) is a vital feature of our cultural ethos. It’s not just a “because Auschwitz” thing either (as Steve Sailer has suggested), although that might be reason enough because, well, Auschwitz was really bad (although VERY different from the Syrian civil war). It’s a moral high ground thing–we’re the good guys who show up in the last scene of the movie to save the women and children. That’s patriotism too. #MAGA.

In Trump’s defense, he did say “I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria . . . My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as president, I will find ways to help all those who are suffering.” Further the order is temporary subject to a review of the vetting procedures, and it does explicitly mention persecuted minorities. Trump also raised the possibility of safe zones in Syria, which (if practicable) make an awful lot of sense. Better that the refugees stay closer to home, right? That will make it easier for them to return home when it’s safe (assuming that’s what this is about–more on that below). Finally, without knowing more about the current vetting process (and everyone agrees there should be some vetting), it’s hard to say whether Trump is right/wrong about the need for more vetting.

All that being said, Trump could have done something like, announce asylum for some number of refugees, to make that point more explicit. Then again, Trump could announce the cure for cancer and it would spark protest and outrage as discrimination against AIDS patients.

3. Another valid criticism regards process. The EO apparently bypassed the internal bureaucracy, e.g. DOJ and OLC review. It also sewed “confusion” particularly as regards to people with valid Green Cards. Trump explained that the process was motivated by a need for secrecy:


That actually makes a lot of sense to me. If you announce the doors are closing, people will make a run for the doors (like they did when Obama planned amnesty). If you thought sorting through a random sample of hundreds of thousands was disruptive, imagine sorting through an adverse sample–in all likelihood, even more people would be improperly detained and otherwise inconvenienced as a result. Trump also disputed the extent of the “confusion,” pointing out that only 109 people were detained and that Delta had a systems problem over the weekend. I find this claim harder to evaluate, but I’m sympathetic insofar as “confusion” is a malleable term. An error rate is inevitable–remember–and whether it’s high or low depends on a reliable baseline. Further, an increased error rate may be a justified cost of secrecy (which may have decreased the overall error rate).

Making an end-run around the deep state is a more nuanced issue. Again, secrecy is a valid concern, and Adler (in WaPo) concludes that despite the lack of input, the EO is consistent with precedent set by Obama, even if sloppily drafted.

The status play is more troubling, however. Cutting out the deep state is, on the one hand, part of Trump’s critique of the governing guild, which in this case, would probably be reflexively hostile to the EO–the fancy lawyers in the OLC and State Department are probably not Trump’s biggest fans. On the other hand, the deep state is one of those things that make our government megalomaniac-proof (although less so in Obama’s second term). To the extent Trump is making government more efficient in that regard, I strongly disapprove. Government is dysfunctional, deliberative and sclerotic by design.

3. Stepping back from the trees, the forest of the EO seems pretty clear: we’re not turning into Europe. “Refugees” in this case is a proxy for immigrants, and not unfairly. There is no understanding that refugees will return to Syria when the conflict is over (indeed, the only refugees who can’t ever be resettled are  apparently Palestinians). Similarly, pretty much everyone in Somalia can make a credible case for asylum, which makes the asylum process a de facto immigration process.

The point is that while the EO is in a narrow sense about refugees/security (and is in that narrow sense objectionable), it’s really about immigration (and in that sense, more complicated). There are many people in that part of the world who would prefer to be in the West (for obvious reasons) and if calling yourself a refugee makes it easier to get there, then that’s what people will do. Because people in that part of the world are (like all people) smart, strategic and adaptable–they’re not just bit parts in Western morality plays. I mean, how active is the conflict in Syria now, anyway? Are there still people “fleeing” in the humanitarian sense of the word? Is there any plan for sending people back when it’s safe to return?

The Not-Europe immigration policy implicates a host of other questions, but they are not “humanitarian” questions (assuming one recognizes any daylight between immigration generally and asylum specifically, which some libertarians do not). Immigration is a topic for another day, and a good deal more complicated than “we’re a nation of immigrants,” although that’s an argument that resonates with me.

For present purposes, my point is that analyzing the EO solely from a humanitarian angle is a mistake. Indeed, the humanitarian outrage at the EO largely tracks the political economy of the immigration issue–as noted above, Progressives took no issue with keeping out Cubans and they downplay persecuted minorities, so long as registered POC are doing the persecuting (just like they downplay sexual assault, so long as POC are doing the assaulting). In other words, Progressives have discerned the gestalt of the EO as well, and even if they pretend it’s an humanitarian issue, they know it’s really a broadside to their coalition. They were able to pull a fast one using the humanitarian card on Angela Merkel (much to her chagrin), but Trump appears to be a step ahead.



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