The "common sense" defense of President Trump's immigration/travel ban goes something like this: The seven countries that have been selected for the ban (Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen) are all countries that were previously identified (by the Obama administration) as locations of heightened concern for terrorist activity or support. Therefore, it just makes common sense to take added precaution against terrorism until such a time as better screening techniques are in place.
Makes sense, right? Well, not exactly. So here are a few retorts that feel like common sense to me.
The first retort actually comes from Republicans themselves, only not from the present administration. Back when President Obama first began to talk about setting a timetable for an end to the Iraq war and the scaling down of U.S. forces in the region, Republicans immediately pointed out the obvious. Telling the enemy when you are leaving is not a good idea. And indeed, the first drawback of American troops was met with increased enemy activity. Common sense.
The same thing applies to Trump's ban of travel from the seven specific nations. Announcing the ban to the world simply tells any potential terrorist organization which border they need to cross to bypass its effect. There are, after all, 40 other predominantly Muslim nations where radical terrorists could easily blend in. To that end, can someone please tell me why Pakistan is not on the list? Afghanistan? Seriously, common sense would not exclude them. Nor would it tell them they were being watched.
The second retort is that such a ban actually helps groups like ISIS recruit. This may not seem like common sense, but it is. "Look at the U.S! See how much they hate Muslims! They don't want us in their country!" It doesn't matter whether it is true or not. The image is there and it is so easily manipulated.
If you are a member of the Muslim community, even if you understand the motivation to be security and the timeline temporary, you still will feel its effects. Muslims with green cards have been detained, their legal travel inhibited. Then there are the cultural realities of being a Muslim in America and the target of stares or outright harassment. How are Muslim American parents supposed to explain this to their children? They have done nothing wrong and yet, people still look on them with suspicion and fear.
Regardless of the nature of the ban, common sense should tell us that it does absolutely effect every Muslim across the globe. That feeds the anger that fuels radicalization. It is also why so many of us, concerned about such things, use the word "unjust" in connection with the ban.
My third retort is admittedly one part "common sense" and one part "educated guess." If, in fact, this ban does nothing to diminish the risk of terrorists entering the country, as per my first retort, why do it at all? And why target these seven countries?
First, common sense tells me that by intentionally choosing targets identified by the Obama administration, the Trump administration ensured itself of an immediate defense. Using President Obama makes it harder for liberals to make a case against the ban, even if it is true. Think about it. Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the intelligence community, particularly as it functioned under President Obama, but here he turns to it to fulfill one of the most central promises of his campaign. Can there be any doubt that they had an ulterior motive? It is either the height of hypocrisy or a political ploy. So set aside the seven countries. Common sense indicates they not the point.
Which leads me to my educated guess; the true target of the ban is Syria alone. It doesn't take a genius to realize that the real problem here is not that the Trump administration thinks all Muslims are terrorists or even likely to become radicalized. Nor do I believe that they actually fear the possibility of terrorists infiltrating refugees coming to the U.S.
It is highly doubtful that President Obama identified these countries and then chose to ignore them! No. It is far more likely that the actual problem the ban is intended to resolve is the influx of refugees itself. After all, which represents the greater threat? That a small number of radical terrorists might slip through national defenses by infiltrating the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees? Or that hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees will be settled in the United States... and eventually become legal residents? Something tells me the latter is a far scarier concept.
The Trump administration knows that singling out Syria would subject them to massive criticism due to the very real humanitarian crisis the refugees face. They likewise know that they cannot ban all Muslim travel coming into the U.S. That would be an obvious religious bias and unconstitutional. But they don't want to see the nation overrun by Islamic refugees. This sentiment is shared by the numerous Republican governors who have made it clear; they do not want refugees settled in their states. Common sense suggests that is not about preventing terrorism; it's about preserving numbers and protecting what's "mine." Terrorism is just the excuse to keep from admitting the truth. "We" don't want "them" to outnumber "us."
As I said earlier, this part is only an educated guess. But when you have a president who campaigned repeatedly on the promise of a Muslim ban, and when that president has named as his chief strategist an admitted white nationalist, and when a significant wing of their party has become militantly Christian, doesn't it also seem a lot like common sense?
- T. Scot Braswell