Experts Provide A Modern Analysis & Historical Perspective at JFK Jr. Forum Event
President Trump’s controversial executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries immediately raised howls of protests from politicians, activists, and the media. Harvard’s President Drew Faust put it succinctly when she said, “[the] executive order imposing restrictions on travel to the United States has provoked uncertainty and escalating anxiety among many people.” At Harvard Kennedy School, students and faculty grappled with the order’s implications and whether it was likely to achieve its stated goal of deterring possible future terrorist attacks.
On Friday, February 3, the Harvard Institute of Politics convened a panel of academics and former public servants in the JKF Jr. Forum to discuss the fallout from Trump’s executive order. Among the panelists were David French, a Senior Fellow at the National Review Institute, a constitutional lawyer, and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom; Juliette Kayyem, Belfer Lecturer in International Security at HKS and Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs, Department of Homeland Security (2009–2010); Gil Kerlikowske, Institute of Politics Spring 2017 Resident Fellow, Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (2014–2017); and Moshik Temkin, Associate Professor of Public Policy at HKS, Director, Initiative on History and Public Policy, Ash Center Democratic Governance and Innovation, and author of Undesirables: Travel Control and Surveillance in the Age of Global Politics (forthcoming from Harvard University Press). Moderating the discussion was Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, and former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs.
David French, a leading conservative intellectual, argued that he understood the need for a “pause” to examine the US’s security posture in facing threats like ISIS, but was nonetheless critical in his assessment of how the executive order was drafted and implemented. In an analysis for the National Review, French said, “the ban is deeply problematic as applied to legal residents of the US and to interpreters and other allies seeking refuge in the United States after demonstrated (and courageous) service to the United States.” In the Forum, French noted, “anyone that thinks an immigration policy will make American safe again is deluding themselves.”
Gil Kerlikowske, who recently stepped down as US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, brought his perspective as a four-decade veteran of law enforcement to the panel. Kerlikowske pushed back on the Trump Administration’s narrative that our current refugee screening policies are broken. He also questioned the rushed and secretive manner of the announcement of the executive order, noting, “if you issue a policy that says effective immediately, you should really rethink that policy.” He explained that announcing something so complex so quickly signals to law enforcement that there’s a major, possibly imminent, threat to security. The Trump administration’s travel ban was not accompanied by a specific national security threat. Following up on Kerlikowske’s skepticism of the travel ban, Juliette Kayyem pointed out to the audience how President Trump’s policy failed to meet her criteria for minimizing risk and maximizing the country’s security — all while fitting into the broader American narrative of openness to immigration.
Kayyem’s point about this American narrative provided a perfect segue for the Ash Center’s Moshik Temkin to provide the panel with an analysis on the historic contradictions between America’s centuries-old history of immigration and its equally long history of anti-immigration backlash. Today, Temkin said, in that vein, “history is being re-lived, in a slightly new, bizarre iteration.”
In regards to the travel ban, Temkin is skeptical whether the order is about security at all. In fact, it seems to align more with a history of signaling, as Temkin put it, “who is wanted in this country and who is not” and, “the current administration is signaling… that we reject the idea that the United States is in any ways indebted ethically to helping these people [Syrian Refugees].” He worries as, “It seems to me it's not that all Muslims are going to be banned, it's Muslims who need our help.”
Closing on a hopeful note, Belfer’s Nick Burns echoed President Faust’s sentiment that “ours is a nation founded and built on the bedrock of religious pluralism and religious freedom.”
From left to right: Nicholas Burns, Juliette Kayyem, David French, Gil Kerlikowske and Moshik Temkin. Picture Credit: Martha Stewart.
You can view a full recording of the event online here.