Fearing Fear Itself

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away.

Buffalo Springfield – Somethings Happening Here Lyrics

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4038 known as the Security Against Foreign Enemies Act (SAFE — get it?  They are so clever.) The bill effectively keeps Syrian and Iraqi refugees out of the United States.  Arguably, it doesn’t automatically stop them from entering, but it puts in place restrictions that virtually guarantee that they cannot come to the United States.  I, for one, feel no safer. I am much more concerned about taking my family to the movies and being blown away by an American with a semi-automatic weapon.

Among the reasons that I am very disappointed in the House rush to “do something” and to claim that it makes “every American safer” is that I find it laughable that they think this has any practical impact other than to make life more difficult for those fleeing oppression in Syria and Iraq.  There are many reasons that I think this bill is ineffective.

  • All but one of the perpetrators and supporters of the attack in Paris were Belgian and French citizens with Belgian and French passports.  Only one may have been Syrian — officials say that he is unidentified and that a fake Syrian passport was found near him.  He is believed to have come through Greece with the refugee flow, but could just as easily be Libyan, Egyptian, Afghani or a number of other Middle Eastern nationalities.
  • The House did not hold any, any, hearings on the bill, did not allow any amendments (contrary to Speaker Ryan’s promises when he took office that all bills would follow “regular order”), and there was no, none, nada, consultation with the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department, FBI,  CIA or the Director of National Intelligence.
  • Any terrorist from any nation who as an individual is not on a watch list can enter the United States on a European, Asian or many, many other national passports without any problem.  The SAFE Act does not change that.  Perhaps there should be a comprehensive evaluation of our passport and visa policies rather than a knee jerk reaction that has no practical impact in stopping other terrorists from entering the United States.
  • It makes us look weak and ineffective to our enemies in the Middle East.  Rather than demonizing people fleeing oppression and religious persecution (thousands more Muslims have been killed by ISIS for their religion than have Christians) Congress should be debating the appropriate military actions necessary to secure the homeland. Inducing paranoia in our citizens by claiming a massive threat when the likelihood of an attack from Syrian refugees allowed into the United States after 18-24 months is about non-existent and certainly less than the danger posed by thousands of gun deaths in the US every year.
  • Congress should be debating the request from President Obama made last February to authorize military actions against ISIS and other terrorists in the Middle East.  Somehow Congress cannot get around to acting on that because no one seems to be able to agree on what should be done and for how long.  But the President must do something!  Even though we do not know what that might be that he should do.
  • A cynical interpretation would be that Congress knows the President will veto the bill.  When the inevitable terrorist attack occurs in the United States, from whatever faction, the blame game will begin that the president “allowed” it to happen.  To me, combating terrorism should be the last place that we play politics.
  • I could go on, but unfortunately, most Americans seem to be glad that we are now soooo much safer with the passage of H.R. 4038.

Adding to the hysteria are our leading Republican candidates for President.  For President.  It is difficult for me to type that.  Mr. Donald Trump over the last few days has said that as president, he may be forced to:

  • Close all mosques in the United States.
  • Create a data base holding the names and presumably addresses of all Muslims in the United States.
  • Require all Muslims in the United States to carry an identification card that has their religion identified on it.
  • Require all Muslims in the United States to pin a red crescent to their chests whenever they venture out in public.  Okay, I made that last one up, but why not take a page out of history and do that?  It is a logical fourth step in line with his proposals.

Meanwhile among his many informed statements, Dr. Ben Carson, second in line as a possible Republican candidate for president, likened the Syrian refugees to dogs.  I wonder if this analogy was deliberate because one of the greatest insults in the Middle East is to compare one to a dog.  Perhaps he is trying to fuel more hate and anger in the Middle East?  Perhaps he is trying to help gain new recruits for ISIS?  I cannot know what his intent was, but I am afraid that he did not have a conscious intent.  I think it is just another example of an individual that is brilliant at what he does, basically a good man, but that is out of his comfort zone and has no clue when it comes to understanding what it is to be President of the United States.  Words matter and as president, they matter a lot.

As for those presidential aspirants that argue we should only let in Christian refugees, why stop there? Why not only allow in Christians with blond hair and blue eyes?

Look.  I am not naive.  We need to take a good hard look at our security procedures, intelligence capabilities, social media skills, passport policies and a host of other measures to ensure that we are as safe as it is possible to be.  We need to stop them in their tracks.  However, this is isn’t our first rodeo and since September 11, 2001 our security professionals have become very adept at keeping us safe. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. Congress should really be spending its time doing what it is supposed to be doing — that is providing oversight to the federal agencies tasked with keeping us safe and making sure that all that can possibly be done, within the Constitution, is done.  They should also oversee improvements in our security posture that can be attained as technology changes. We need to adapt to the changing environment and the changing tactics of our adversaries.  What we should not be doing is going off half-cocked with ineffective measures that do nothing to improve our safety but do a lot in making our enemies look better than they really are.  Not to mention challenging our basic freedoms as citizens of the United States.

One Comment on “Fearing Fear Itself”

  1. Bruce Hargus says:

    We should recall that, starting in 1938, the United States refused to increase the number of allowable Jewish immigrants into the country, in part because of fear that German sympathizers would infiltrate the immigrant population. In spite of the humanitarian mandate, we did not relax this restriction until 1944.

    Now we are afraid of a possible terrorist slipping in with one of the millions of displaced people from Syria, even though it takes 18 months to vet an individual being admitted.

    I thought we were better than that.

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