O'BRIEN: Executive Order puts American lives at risk


Opinions Column: Policy Over Politics


President Donald J. Trump’s executive order barring refugees from seven countries sent shockwaves throughout the world, fanning the flames of liberal resistance toward the new commander-in-chief. Tens of thousands of people across political parties flooded American streets and airports to put pressure on Trump to pull back or ease the order. They presented the idea that this order was a violation of fundamental American ideals and of the universal notions of humanity and compassion. While this case is immensely important and must be a part of any resistance to the order, an equally important case must be made against it, one that hasn’t been as widely-cited — the public policy perspective.

Simply put, the order is a counterintuitive policy that makes Americans not more, but less safe.

It may seem absurd that banning immigration from the world’s most dangerous war zone actually puts us in more danger, but because of the uniquely terrible war in the Middle East — and our checkered history there — it is so.

The Islamic State group feeds off hatred for the United States in the Middle East. This is its top recruiting tool. Its goal is to completely sever ties between the West and the Muslim world. It wants to convince Muslim people that the United States is not only waging war against a specific group, but against the very religion they practice. This message brings in fighters, acquires funds and turns communities in their favor. What better way to show the Muslim world that the war is not just against the Islamic State group, but against Islam, than to impose this ban?

This recruitment strategy has been incredibly effective for the Islamic State group. The group was able to build a force consisting of tens of thousands of fighters in just months using this narrative. The wounds and bitterness from damaging American interventions still sting populations. They still resent us for decades of imposing our will on their governments. There is even a scriptural argument that is strengthened by this narrative. This ban only serves to drive more Middle Easterners towards the Islamic State group and affirms the message they have been pushing out for years. We are doing the work for them.

Consider the Iraqi who lost family members in the 2003 invasion and already resents America for it. Consider the Yemeni who has seen his home destroyed by Saudi Arabian forces. Telling these desperate people “we don’t want your kind here,” will certainly further alienate at least some of them.

American-backed forces have made significant gains in the war in Iraq and Syria in recent months. Falluja, Tikrit, Ramadi, Abu Ghraib, Baquba and half of the territory the Islamic State group once controlled have been liberated. The Iraqi military is on the verge of taking Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, within the next few weeks or months. The Islamic State group's recruitment has dropped and their overall numbers are falling. As significant as these gains have been, the situation remains very fragile.

All it may take to turn the tide of the war back towards the Islamic State group is something like this executive order, a potential recruiting boon. Thirty or 40 thousand new fighters could reverse the significant, hard-fought gains we have made. Only a tiny fraction of the world’s Muslim people need to be convinced of this message to wreak havoc around the world.

Supporters of the ban may say that my approach appeases extremists or even that it goes against their philosophy of what it means to be a nation. But foreign policy is a science laden with all sorts of contradictions and unfortunate realities. It is never simple. To keep Americans safe both at home and abroad, we must make decisions — much more so than in domestic policy — that often conflict with ideology.

The U.S. already takes in only a very small number of refugees from Middle Eastern Muslim countries. And it does so only after a rigorous two-year vetting process involving numerous international and domestic security checks. The biggest threat posed by terrorism continues to come from homegrown attacks, not attacks from foreign nationals.

Trump’s executive order may make some Americans think they are safer, but that is not how public policy is evaluated. The truth is, refugees already posed an almost nonexistent threat. Refugees from the seven countries on Trump’s list have killed exactly zero Americans in terrorist attacks. Whatever minuscule marginal safety is acquired by this ban is vastly overshadowed by the new threat posed by the legitimization of the Islamic State group's core message.

Regardless of what you think of the morality of this order, regardless of whether you think a country (or our country) has the right to select immigrants like this order does, there’s one thing that’s clear — it plays right into the strategy of terrorists. It puts American lives at risk.

Connor O'Brien is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in economics with a minor in history. His column, "Policy Over Politics," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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Connor O'Brien

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