In February 2003 while I was on extended assignment in Kuwait awaiting the start of the invasion of Iraq, a newspaper colleague called and asked if I would help a friend who was coming to Kuwait City to join the press gaggle gathering there.
“He’s from Israel,” she warned. “If they discover that or that you helped him you could both be arrested, possibly as spies, and deported.”
“Henry,” as the friend was known, was a TV journalist who carried an American passport, spoke with a French accent and was Jewish. Henry’s first three identifiers were kosher in Kuwait; the fourth — his religion — was not. Being a Jew in Kuwait was a violation of national security.
After I helped Henry gain access to a few forgettable staged press events, he disappeared. Several days later, I picked up Kuwait’s English language newspaper and read that officials had heard rumors of a Jew surreptitiously gaining access to the country but were denying it happened because it would have been too embarrassing to admit immigration was so lax.
As Assistant Information Ministry Undersecretary Sheikh Mubarak Al-Duaij Al-Ibrahim Al-Sabah self-righteously told the official Kuwaiti news agency, the rumors were unfounded but that any Israeli found in the country for any reason “will be immediately deported from the country for violating principles of hospitality.”
Love that Kuwaiti hospitality.
I mention this personal anecdote to illustrate how misdirected and misinformed all the hysteria has been surrounding President Donald Trump’s executive order for a temporary halt — not a ban — on immigration from certain countries with large Muslim populations.
Despite the manufactured outrage from Trump’s opponents still in the throes of a record-setting, post-election tantrum, the order is not nearly as draconian as those imposed on visitors and would-be immigrants by some of our closest and most trusted allies in the Middle East.
Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (and 13 others internationally) are virulently anti-Semitic and do not allow Jews to visit their countries, with a few rare exceptions. They are religiously xenophobic.
It is strongly suggested that if you visit Israel during Middle East travels, you avoid having your passport stamped because you will be denied entry to any of the 16 anti-Semitic countries.
Meanwhile, some European countries have gone to the other extreme and have totally thrown open their borders to everyone and anyone regardless of the consequences.
It strikes me that what Trump is trying to do is find some middle ground by ensuring a measure of internal security for the United States through more thorough vetting of all potential immigrants while allowing those seeking legal and peaceful entry into the country to do so with a minimum of hassles.
There were two major problems with how it was done. The first is that it was poorly conceived and poorly implemented. It appears the administration gave little consideration of how to do it evenly and fairly for various groups of potential immigrants and green card holders or how to properly frame it for the American public.
That Trump’s detractors were able to seize the public relations initiative and turn this into a “ban on Muslims” rather than what it is does not speak well for Trump or his aides.
It took an entire weekend of airport protests before some pushback began. Then, a few rational thinkers were able to show the hypocrisy of those who were protesting the order, one not that much different from what Congress and at least one previous president sought.
In his 1995 State of the Union address, Bill Clinton used almost the same words as Trump when he issued a call for an end to illegal immigration (he actually used the phrase “illegal aliens”) and a tightening of our borders. He was given a standing ovation. Trump’s move was met with derision and threats of impeachment.
In 2002, Congress unanimously passed what is known as the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act (Democrats Ted Kennedy and Dianne Feinstein were among its supporters). It says that “No nonimmigrant visa ... shall be issued to any alien from a country that is a state sponsor of international terrorism unless the Secretary of State determines, in consultation with the Attorney General and the heads of other appropriate United States
agencies that such an alien does not pose a threat to the safety or national security of the United States.”
That’s not much different from Trump’s order, which reads in part: “Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may, on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest, issue visas or other immigration benefits to nationals of countries for which visas and benefits are otherwise blocked.”
Perhaps the single biggest problem with the order is that it came from Trump. Unlike any president who preceded him in the modern era, save George W. Bush after the 2000 Florida vote count fiasco, Trump has had no post-election honeymoon.
To paraphrase Sting’s paean to stalking, “Every Breath You Take,” every breath Trump takes, every move he makes, every bond he breaks, every step he takes, the anti-Trumpites will be watching — and hounding — him.
Let’s be clear here: I am no Trump fan. I don’t like him or his personality. I did not vote for him and am yet to be convinced he is going to take this country in a new and better direction domestically or internationally.
I find Trump’s overt in-your-face lack of transparency and lying when dealing with the public and the media just as disturbing as I found Barack Obama’s behind-the-back covert lack of transparency and lying (a full list of Obama’s lies available upon request from PolitiFact).
Since Nov. 9. it has become eminently clear that Trump will be held to a far higher standard than any previous president, including Bush No. 43, merely because his victory was so shocking to the liberal cognoscenti.
Bush had the good sense and good manners to ignore those who opposed him; Trump does not. That’s not his style, to his detriment but to the delight of many of his followers.
That Trump is going to be held to such a high standard is a good thing; all presidents should be above reproach morally, ethically and politically. The bar should be exceedingly high for anyone who seeks, or obtains, that office.
Unfortunately, that was not the case for Clinton or Obama. The former received a pass from the media and his supporters despite his sexual indiscretions while the latter received one because of his race. In both instances, it is what Bush 43 referred to in a 2000 speech as “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Trump was a candidate unlike any we have seen in recent memory and he appears to be carrying that unpredictability into the White House. That has totally roiled and riled the Washington establishment because he refuses — or does not know how — to play the standard political game, especially when it comes to issues as sensitive as immigration and religion.
(I understand Trump was accused this past week of being not only anti-Muslim but also anti-Semitic.)
Despite the ham-handed manner in which the immigration order was written and carried out, it is not as if it is not needed.
Let’s put it this way: If you lock your doors and windows at night or look outside when there’s a knock at your door to see who is there or what their intentions might be, yet you are opposed to a more thorough vetting of potential immigrants to this country, you need to become better acquainted with the term “hypocrite.”
Ron Martz is a Marine Corps veteran (1965-68), journalist and former educator. He lives in Northeast Georgia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns appear monthly.