Waiting three weeks for a new order — and now postponing replacement so that it can have its “its own time to breathe” — should demonstrated conclusively that the ban is nothing more than a sop to Trump’s base, fulfillment of a xenophobic campaign promise that lacks national security justification. And if Iraq is now off the list, as has been reported, then we know that one-seventh of the list, at the very least, was unnecessary. (As for the other six countries — Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen — the White House, one would think, would no longer need the “temporary ban” and should have had time to come up with the so-called extreme vetting.)
But here is the catch: There was no apparent rationale for singling out these seven countries. The Associated Press reports:
Analysts at the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence arm found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump’s travel ban pose a terror threat to the United States.A draft document obtained by The Associated Press concludes that citizenship is an “unlikely indicator” of terrorism threats to the United States and that few people from the countries Trump listed in his travel ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria’s civil war started in 2011.… The three-page report challenges Trump’s core claims. It said that of 82 people the government determined were inspired by a foreign terrorist group to carry out or try to carry out an attack in the United States, just over half were U.S. citizens born in the United States. The others were from 26 countries, led by Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq and Uzbekistan. Of these, only Somalia and Iraq were among the seven nations included in the ban.
And now Iraq is off the list.
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For Trump, national and personal security have routinely been excuses to play to his base’s bigotry and fears. His campaign promises to ban Muslims and create a Muslim registry stemmed from the same kind of animus and anxiety that gave rise to his claptrap that illegal immigrants are murderers putting our children at risk. (For the zillionth time, my colleagues Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee explain, “Extensive research shows noncitizens are not more prone to criminality than U.S.-born citizens. The vast majority of unauthorized immigrants are not criminal aliens or aggravated felons.”) And contrary to his allegations, so-called sanctuary cities are not hotbeds of crime.
Unlike campaign rhetoric in which false claims can be repeated over and over to the delight of his low-information voters, the president’s agenda cannot rely on made-up facts to fit his supporters’ biases. The result, as we saw with the 9th Circuit’s decision, can be legal defeat, and hence political embarrassment. The result can be political pushback from elected officials even within Trump’s party. The result can be a series of damaging news accounts that highlight the real victims (e.g. an infant from Iran, a murder victim who had been afraid to report abuse, a domestic abuse victim seeking a protective order, doctors coming to the United States) of policies designed to combat fictional dangers. And if, heaven forbid, a deadly incident occurs involving a more predictable terrorist — a radicalized American citizen, a European-born jihadist (as we saw in the Paris attacks), a white racist (“get out of my country,” the accused Kansas gunman screamed before allegedly shooting two Indian men) — Trump will have to explain why he was so focused on the wrong things. The answer will be what it has always been: His driving motivation is xenophobia, not security.