Who is to blame for the current mess we find ourselves in? After the Supreme Court upheld the Muslim Ban, the rhetoric from foreign policy experts largely stated that Trump’s policies and practices are far-fetched, unacceptable and un-American—but international security experts have played their own role in the creation of precedent for such a ban, and the decisions about who is an “adversary” and who is not.
The Court relied on the justifications that had been used in the past, the documentation of the legality of pre-emptive war and weaponized nationalism. If we are to avoid a behavior that repeats and reproduces itself, it is imperative that the national security community recognize its role in Trump’s policy-making process—and tries to change course before more iterations of similar damaging efforts emerge from his administration.
Loren DeJonge Schulman, the Deputy Director of Studies at the Center for a New American Security, set out to do that in a piece for InkStick Media, in which she called on her peers to do better. Schulman asserts that the Supreme Court’s majority opinion on the Muslim Ban was justified by precedents set by the international security experts of the past two decades; according to Schulman, the Court upheld the Ban because the groundwork had been laid after 9/11, in justification of use of force, trade disputes and arbitrary decisions about who was an enemy and who was not.
The left and right limits of what constitutes “national security” evolve as part of the practice of the craft: what we define as adversaries, the means necessary to address them, what the president pursues to respond to threats within his or her own authority. These dynamics are as much affected by the habits built into minor security classifications as they are decisions to launch an airstrike. Public acceptance, media credulity, and associated feedback loops also shape these left and right limits. For this system to work, a measure of conscientiousness is assumed.
Rightfully, Justice Sotomayor looks at this semi-smug system and calls bullshit. National security, she says in her dissent, “is unquestionably an issue of paramount public important,” but not an excuse to just do whatever you want with topcover. “It is not ‘a talisman’ that the Government can use ‘to ward off inconvenient claims’—a ‘label’ used to ‘cover a multitude of sins,’” she said from the bench, quoting Ziglar v. Abbasi.
While it’s unpopular to examine who gathered the kindling when the world is on fire, it’s for that reason I’d ask the national security community to look hard in the mirror when it scoffs at the Trump administration’s absurdist, cooked up rationales in Trump v Hawaii.Plaintiffs argued that “the President’s stated concerns about…national security were but pretexts for discriminating against Muslims,” and this is clearly so, based on President Trump’s own statements. His comfort with pursuing this policy on national security grounds, his administration’s willingness to argue it wholeheartedly, and the bureaucracy’s apparent competence at generating the busywork necessary to paper it over are a testament to just how meaningless the national security justification has grown in practice.