THE BLOG
01/31/2017 09:04 am ET Updated Feb 01, 2018

Making America Vulnerable Again

Carlos Barria / Reuters

President Trump has begun to act on promises he made during the Presidential campaign, and his actions pertaining to national security are making Americans less safe. For example, during the campaign, then candidate Trump said he had a secret plan for defeating ISIS. Unfortunately, he is undermining the real progress being made against ISIS in Iraq, Syria and globally.

Specifically, the President's Executive Order (EO) prohibiting immigrants and visa holders from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States, as well as his support of the use torture, and proposal to reinstate the use of black sites for interrogating detainees, will only add to the case being made against the United States by terrorist organizations and their supporters.

In addition, the Presidential memorandum altering the permanent membership of National Security Council Principals Committee meetings to include political advisors, but to exclude the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Chairman) and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), puts a political focus on those meetings, and will have a negative impact on national security.

Aside from the very real affront to American values these actions represent, as well as the legal issues they raise, it is useful to take a look at what this will do to US national security, particularly counter-terrorism (CT) efforts. The immigration ban, which includes Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan, gives preferential treatment to non-Muslims in those countries. The Administration can wrongly say that it isn't a ban on Muslims, but ISIS and the rest of the world believes it is.

ISIS in particular is using this as proof that America is at war against Islam. With a single stroke of a sharpie, the President has undone the important work of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to make sure that Muslims understand that US counter-terrorism (CT) efforts are not a fight against Islam but against terrorists who use Islam as an excuse for their atrocities.

Excluding Iraqis and Libyans from coming to the United States will make it very difficult to work with the governments of those countries, who are key allies in the battle against terrorists. Just as bad, the Trump policies, real and proposed, will inspire lone wolf attacks in the American homeland. This kind of attack has increased dramatically since 2015, and is considered to be among the most difficult to defend against. Lone wolves often go through a process of self-radicalization, and the recent actions and rhetoric coming from the Trump Administration could be fodder for self-radicalization efforts.

The President's stated support for the use of torture, which would be illegal if implemented, and the suggestion that he may reinstitute black sites not only provides another important talking point for ISIS and Al Qaeda, it also complicates the ability of the US to work with allies who want nothing to do with torture. British Prime Minister Theresa May had to clarify with Parliament before coming to the US that her government does not support torture.

Just as significant, Secretary of Defense Mattis and CIA Director Pompeo are on the record as being against torture. While President Trump has said he would accept their judgment on this issue, at the same time, he repeatedly said he did not agree with them, confusing adversaries and allies as to what US policy really is. In addition, it is wrong to ask the men and women of the intelligence community to go back to policies for which they have been investigated and criticized by two Administrations and Congress.

A Presidential memorandum that gives Trump advisor Steven Bannon official standing in the National Security Council Principals Committee meetings, without giving the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence equal status, is a bizarre action that seems to indicate the primacy of politics and spin over intelligence analysis and military experience.

Even if the DNI and Chairman will attend most key White House meetings on national security issues, specifically excluding them in the Presidential memorandum sends the wrong signal on CT policy and the overall approach of the Administration on national security issues. This change will not be lost on America's adversaries, including terrorist groups, who pay close attention to every action and statement made by the Administration.

The United States has achieved significant progress against terrorist groups since 9/11. With his ill-advised efforts to get tougher on terrorists, President Trump is undermining that progress. He is helping terrorists, providing them with ready-made propaganda. Threats to American security are very real and must be treated seriously. President Trump's actions do not represent a serious approach to fighting terrorists or national security. Instead, he is making Americans more vulnerable again, particularly to the terrorist threat.