As President-elect Donald Trump continues his transition process, his approach to security—both foreign and domestic—remains uncertain.
On the one hand, some of Trump’s recent remarks have been promising. The United States will “pursue a new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past,” he said in early December.
On the other hand, cabinet picks like Jeff Sessions and potentially John Bolton suggest a return to the ineffective, often unconstitutional and immoral security policies of the past 15 years. Here are three such ideas proposed by Trump that we already know won’t work—or, as Trump himself would put it, three losers.
Torture as a war on terror tool
“I have made it clear in my campaign that I would support and endorse the use of enhanced interrogation techniques if the use of these methods would enhance the protection and safety of the nation,” Trump wrote in an op-ed supporting the use of torture in February.
Since then, Trump’s defense secretary pick, Retired General James Mattis, reportedly got the president-elect to rethink his position, convincing him that torture isn’t the most effective interrogation method.
What troubles me is that Trump never said he supported torture because it works. In that February article, he conceded that “the effectiveness of many of these methods may be in dispute,” but still maintained that if terrorists are cutting off heads, America should not be too “politically correct” to do the same.
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That’s an unsettling position because Mattis is right: even leaving aside the moral case against torture, these techniques just don’t work. On the contrary, they set back counterterrorism efforts and have even endangered American soldiers’ lives. It’s not political correctness to side with George Washington, who in 1775 said any American who tortures brings “shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.”
“I would do stop-and-frisk. I think you have to. We did it in New York, it worked incredibly well and you have to be proactive,” Trump said while speaking with Sean Hannity in September and explaining his plans for a nationwide stop-and-frisk policing program.
There are several big problems with this plan. First, stop-and-frisk ended in New York City because it was ruled unconstitutional—and it’s not hard to see how it violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable, warrantless search and seizure. Second, minorities were disproportionately, unfairly, and intentionally targeted, even though they weren’t more likely to be caught with contraband.
And third, once again, it just doesn’t work. Since New York City’s stop-and-frisk was officially shut down, crime rates there have dropped. Back when the program was still running, there was no correlation between the number of stops and the crime rate. What stop-and-frisk was good at was launching high-profile police brutality cases that cost taxpayers big money while undermining police-community relations.
A Muslim registry (or something like it)
Whether Trump really wants a Muslim registry is less than clear—when asked about it, he usually makes a vague promise to the effect of “we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely.” Since the election, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, has said there won’t be a religion-based database, but Trump has also suggested that implementing one would be “good management.”
Whether the registry plan is serious or not, I’ll save the Trump White House some trouble: it won’t help anything. We already tried it, and it wasn’t good.
The old registry program, implemented after 9/11, was “formally known as NSEERS, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, and it applied to boys and men 16 and older who held non-citizen visas, including tourists and students,” explains Hannah Allam at McClatchy DC. “The program got around questions that it was singling out Muslims by not making it based on religion but on country of origin—something Trump, too, suggested during the campaign.”
All told, some 85,000 people were registered with NSEERS, but “the information gathered under the program yielded zero prosecutions on terrorism-related charges.” In other words, even leaving aside all the constitutional and ethical problems with this registry idea, it has already been tried and failed—just like these other loser ideas, which Trump would be foolish to try.