Posted by on December 27, 2015

In my first posting on this subject, we talked about what could be called the “forward defence” argument for military action against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  Advocates of this strategy believe that to defend ourselves against ISIS terrorism, it is necessary to defeat ISIS in its homeland.  I attributed this belief to Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and, especially, Lindsey Graham (who has since withdrawn his candidacy).  I also attributed it to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, although in a more half-hearted form.

The argument for this strategy is far from compelling.  In particular, the linkage between ISIS’ control of territory in the Middle East and its willingness and ability to carry out terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino is far from clear.  But the weakest part of the argument is that a successful pursuit of this strategy requires not only that we win the war against ISIS, which we can clearly do, but that we also win the peace.  And this is far more difficult because it requires the type of “nation building” that has proven to be a hugely costly failure in Afghanistan and Iraq.  So, pursuing the “forward defence” strategy cannot protect us against Islamic terrorism, but it certainly can increase our exposure to “blowback” attacks.

There is another strategy that has emerged from the Republican candidates.  This one could be called “defend the border” and it is advocated by Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and, most clearly, Rand Paul.

The argument here is that, in order to protect ourselves against ISIS terrorism, we must stop the flow of terrorists into our country, either as visitors or permanent immigrants.  The argument draws strength from the 9/11 terrorists, who were all in America on student visas.  More weakly, proponents claim that the San Bernardino terrorist attack was radicalized into action by Tashfeen Malik, recently arrived in the USA on a sloppily approval spousal visa.  Finally, and more weakly still, proponents point to the terror attacks in Paris, where at least one of the terrorists slipped into Europe as part of the wave of Syrian refugees, although almost all of them were European citizens.

The “defend the border” strategy could probably go by another name, one involving the words “shutting,”  “stable door,” “horse” and “bolted.”  For advocates to pretend that boarder control can be the cornerstone of an anti-terrorist policy is nonsense.

Donald Trump has proposed to ban all Muslims from entering the US “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Rand Paul has proposed a more politically correct version of this strategy by stopping refugees from 32 countries which are at high risk to terrorism, almost all of which are Muslim (with North Korea providing the fig leaf).  Although Ted Cruz has not proposed any ban, at a recent foreign policy speech before the conservative Heritage Foundation, he has linked control of the Mexican border to the fight against terrorism: “when terrorists can simply swim across the Rio Grande, we are daring them to make the journey.”

As I have pointed out in Ferguson, Paris and the Reality of Numbers, I have no philosophical problem with the type of profiling proposed by Trump and Rand.  I also know that profiling is far less alien to our legal system than liberal critics would have us believe.  The anti-money laundering laws, for example, require that anyone working in finance applies a higher level of scrutiny to money flows coming from high risk countries, many of which, not surprisingly, overlap Rand Paul’s list.  I am sure that there are many more laws which happily profile on the basis of national origin and other characteristics.  And this is only the official profiling.  Unofficially, and to our great benefit in law enforcement, I am sure that it happens all the time.

The problem with the type of high-profile profiling proposed by Trump and Paul is that, while it may help block incoming terrorists, it also potentially alienates existing Muslim communities.  To use the terminology of economics, the problem is that the stock of existing Muslim communities is vastly larger than the flow of potential incoming terrorists.  So, it only requires a little bit of alienation of the stock to more than offset any benefit from staunching the flow.

Alienating existing Muslim communities hurts the fight against terrorism in two ways.  First, it can help create home-grown terrorists, like almost all of the attackers in Paris and at least half of the attackers in San Bernardino (and more than half if you count the pliably moronic neighbor, Enrique Marquez).  Second, it may undercut the willingness of the Muslim community to identify and report the terror threats within its midst.

Although a commitment to Western ideals, such as non-violent political change, secularism and the rule of law, is not as universal in the Moslem communities as we would like, it does represent by far the majority (at least in America).  Mobilizing this majority should be one of the priorities of our political leaders – and this strategy should at least be given a better chance of working before we risk undercutting it.  We have a tremendous amount to lose here.  Even in its current sub-optimal form, the Muslim community has played a significant role in the fight against the terrorism that is carried out in its name.  For example, the information that ultimately led to the killing of the head of the Paris terrorists, and that foiled another attack, came from a Muslim country (Morocco) and a French woman of Muslim religion.

It is difficult not to conclude that the profiling proposed by Trump and Paul is more likely to further the ISIS goal of driving moderate Muslims out of the “grey zone” than it is to provide any real security benefits.  This is not to say that nothing can be done.  Certainly the visa processes can be tightened, including through the unspoken profiling that operates in most areas of the law.  And we, and other Western countries, should certainly pass laws to control vigorously the outflow and return of citizens to areas such as Syria and Iraq (and we should insist that Turkey does a better job of identifying such parties).  It is hard to see how good-faith Muslims would not support this.

Unfortunately, the “control the border” approach, like the “forward defence” one, is no panacea.  The fact that it is proposed by a number of Republican candidates is another example of political exigencies creating bad policy.  As Bret Stephens said in his editorial about Ted Cruz’s Heritage Foundation speech, it is a lamentable example where illegal immigration is becoming “to the GOP what global warming is to the Democrats: the all-purpose bugaboo that is supposed to explain nearly every problem and whose redress must be part of every solution.”

The Gujarati and the Lost Opportunity of the Obama Administration

“That’s how we fight prejudice and raise our living standards, through hard work, education and enterprise.”

These are the words of Dolar Popat, who arrived in the UK in 1971 with £10 in his pocket after he and the rest of the Indian community were forcibly expelled from, and expropriated by, Idi Amin’s government in Uganda.  Thirty nine years later, he was elevated to the House of Lords after having amassed a fortune of £70 million and a wealth of good works.

The story of Lord Popat is told in a recent article in The Economist entitled “The Gujarati Way,” which describes the success of an ethnic group hailing from the west coast of India.  The article tells the familiar story of a minority that overcomes racism through a culture of hard work, education, a tight family structure, trustworthy business dealings and the willingness to take risks.  After having dominated the English colonial empire, this small population (5% of Indian’s workforce) has produced India’s three wealthiest men, as well as Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.  In America, this small community owns over half of the independent pharmacies and one-third of the hotels and motels, and provides thousands of doctors.  One-fourth of all technology startups are by Indians and one-fourth of these are Gujarati.

The Gujarati are another outstanding example of the blatantly obvious: culture matters a great deal.  The refusal of the politically correct Left to acknowledge this fact, or even to allow its honest discussion, is without a doubt the greatest of its errors.  And there is no shortage of competition for this title.

President Obama is reputedly very focussed on his legacy at this point in his presidential career.  I doubt, however, that he is spending much time reflecting on his greatest lost opportunity.   This was to stand up, like Lord Popat, and say “Look at me!  I am the proof that there is nothing that stands in the way of minority advancement greater than the chains we have fashioned for ourselves.   And while racism still exists, this is only among those who do not matter, while those who actually count will bend over backwards to help.  All we need do is meet them half way!”

But instead of fighting the cult of victimhood, Obama has instead chosen to pander to it.  If historians can be trusted to tell the truth, this will be the most shameful legacy of his presidency.

Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom



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Posted in: Foreign Affairs, Policy

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