President Trump is a very shrewd operator. Only last week he was making an outrageous suggestion that he had actually won the popular vote in the November 2016 Presidential Election if it had not been for what he alleges to be millions of illegally cast ballots. This is no throw-away comment but one the new President has made several times and for which he was being increasingly taken to task. Now, over the past weekend and ongoing, this has been all but been forgotten, submerged in a welter of protest at home and abroad over his so-called "Muslim Ban".
Describing the President's Executive Order thus is an exaggeration for it is not being applied (officially yet) against many of the more prominent or populous Muslim nations such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey or Indonesia.
The "Ban" is currently targeted at seven countries – Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia - but to varying degrees and with different conditions. All citizens from these countries will be banned entry into the United States for a period of 90 days, although those already holding a Green Card will be allowed to re-enter – not the first time that the finer points are having to be sorted out – after a degree of further scrutiny.
Reuters on 28 January quoted an administration official:
"It's being treated on a case-by-case basis and being moved expeditiously," adding that there are concerns over abuses in the immigration and refugee programs.
There is justifiable criticism though on the handling of the issue and not just from Democrats. On 01 February, the Express quoted Republican Senator Bob Corker:
"Obviously what happened Friday, they have to understand, was not well done...there are a lot of issues here that I don't think were well thought through."
More to the point though, the official that Reuters interviewed made it clear that "foreigners do not have a right to enter into the United States."
Indeed, entering the United States if you haven't been there for a while is not just a quick opening of your passport at the border. After getting my visa to travel to China, I could count in seconds the time it took to pass through immigration control in Beijing. With my American visa and clearing their control in Dublin, I still had another form to fill, the fingerprints of both hands taken, identifying my luggage from a photo taken at Glasgow and an outline of why I was going to America – a good five minutes.
President Trump's Executive Order suspends entry of all refugees from six of the aforementioned countries into the United States for 120 days and bars refugees from Syria for an indefinite period (although President Trump has said that he will find ways of helping all those who are suffering – Yazidis? Christians?) and Reuters reported on 31 January that the Government has granted waivers to allow 872 refugees into the United States this week.
Despite his brinkmanship, the President likely reckons that he is in a strong, if not entirely unassailable, position. On 29 January he tweeted:
"Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue."
The Donald will lose not a wink of sleep over opinion abroad and he has solid domestic support, at least 48 per cent. But are the measures justified?
The President, no doubt with advice from the Office of Legal Council, by his Executive Order, clumsily executed, has imposed for a short term, initially, a form of "extreme vetting" - technically not a ban - against the citizens of the seven countries. Six can reasonably be called "failed states" where terrorist attacks are, tragically, all too common, and the seventh, Iran, is hardly America's friend.
What puts these countries beyond the pale however, is that they have not got or refuse to put in place the strict vetting measures and sharing of intelligence against terrorism, which helps maintain mutual, bilateral, border security with the United States that the other Muslim countries, not included in the vetting process, fully engage with.
If the President can demonstrate that the Order is not against Muslims as such but is aimed to secure America's borders against possible terrorism and protect its population, then the sacking on 31 January of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend the President's Executive Order, can be shown to have been warranted.
A White House statement pointed out that Ms Yates had been an Obama administration appointee, "...weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration," and continued:
"It is time to get serious about protecting the country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country."
Although Ms Yates in her statement to her Department of Justice explained why it "...will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so," because of her far more holistic approach to how the Order could be implemented. The former Acting Attorney General also questioned whether or not the Order "is wise or just."
That last part seems more a political position than a legal one and Ms Yates acknowledges that the Order has been reviewed by the Office of Legal Councel and is compliant in "form and legality" before it was issued – "lawful on its face and properly drafted."
For all the condemnation (with a dose of hypocrisy), both domestic and foreign, Donald Trump was elected on an "America First", isolationist and nationalist campaign and he is carrying out his programme. Might he be able to do a deal with say, Iran, to operate the standard of vetting required for that country to be removed from the list? It would show that he is not anti-Muslim and Iran is serious about combatting terrorism – could happen!! Should he think more carefully before firing from the hip? Yes, that would do all the world a big favour. Let's just see how "temporary" this period of vetting will be.