Thursday 22 March 2018

President's simplistic plan actually increases dangers

A protester with a puppet of Donald Trump outside Trump International Hotel in Washington. Photo: Reuters
A protester with a puppet of Donald Trump outside Trump International Hotel in Washington. Photo: Reuters

Matthnew Lee in Washington

US President Donald Trump has always had a weakness for simple and fantastical fixes. Illegal immigration? Build a wall. Jobs moving overseas? Tax imports. Unemployment in Appalachia? Dig more coal. Rising medical costs? Repeal Obamacare.

Mr Trump's gift for simple slogans served him well as a candidate. As president, however, it is failing him and endangering the country.

When the Supreme Court partially resurrected his executive order banning travel from six mostly Muslim nations, Mr Trump called it "a clear victory for our national security". It should be abundantly clear - by looking at the nationalities of terrorists who have plotted attacks against the US - that closing America's borders to the countries on Mr Trump's list offers only false comfort. It should also be clear that the rationale for the temporary travel ban - the need to review screening procedures - was little more than pretext.

In the original executive order, Mr Trump directed his secretary of homeland security, secretary of state, and director of national intelligence to submit a report within 30 days detailing "the information needed from any country to adjudicate any visa, admission, or other benefit" necessary to verify an individual is not a security threat. The administration has yet to produce such a report, and has made few changes to the visa screening process.

Nor do Mr Trump's budget priorities indicate he understands how to keep the country safe. His executive budget proposes a 7pc increase for the Department of Homeland Security, but much of that funding is directed to the Mexican border. A porous border is indeed a national security threat, but no wall would have stopped the September 11 hijackers or more recent attackers, who also would have met the Supreme Court's criteria for entry under Mr Trump's travel ban: bona fide relationships with American people or entities. His budget proposes a 25pc cut to the Urban Areas Security Initiative, which provides counter-terrorism funding to cities. Yet local police forces, in co-operation with federal agencies, have played a vital role in thwarting numerous attacks. Recent tragedies in London and Manchester underscore the importance of empowering and equipping cities to fight terrorism.

An effective national security strategy requires the use of soft power overseas, which rests partly on a commitment to humanitarian efforts, which Mr Trump is proposing to cut back, and partly on America's perceived moral authority, which he has been undermining.

A new survey shows that the world - including many close US allies - does not trust him to do the right thing. Little wonder, when he has failed to defend Nato's Article 5, which has been the bedrock of transatlantic relations for nearly 70 years, while playing footsie with Vladimir Putin.

If he continues to focus on closing doors and building walls to the exclusion of more effective approaches, the risk of more deadly attacks will grow.

Irish Independent

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