Former Republican Steve Schmidt of MSNBC, who is vehemently opposed to Donald Trump and left the party over him, appeared on the network today to discuss the president and policy and ended up making a remarkably outrageous statement.
On the subject of the Supreme Court’s decision in the so-called travel ban case, Schmidt said: “Today was a fantastic fulfillment of Osama bin Laden’s vision by Donald J. Trump.”
That is a direct quote (video below.)
Schmidt goes on … and on:
What Osama bin Laden hoped to provoke was a war of civilization, a war between the West and 1 billion Muslims. And so what Donald Trump and this Muslim ban signal to the world is that Muslims are not welcome here. That this is — whether the conservative justices say that, in fact, this is about executive power. The president’s clear intent was to impose a religious test. And that is as fundamentally un-American as anything he’s done over the course of this presidency. The only force in the world that has the power to defeat extremist Islam radicalism is moderate Islam. And moderate Islam was dealt a big setback today by this short-sighted, dangerous policy that, again, abrogates all the fine traditions of our country from freedom of religion, to welcoming the renewal of the country’s life blood with immigration.
Schmidt is right that Trump’s original travel ban, crafted mainly by Stephen Miller with an assist from Steve Bannon, was intended to be divisive, particularly the decision by Team Trump to get angry lefties to use the words “Muslim Ban”; that kind of so-called “trolling” is Miller’s calling card.
On the other hand, the decision today by SCOTUS was a matter of law and, according to legal scholars (not least the Supremes), was correctly decided.
Of course, the truth is the fine details hardly matter here. Because what makes what Schmidt said so abominably incorrect isn’t whether he is wrong about the Supreme Court, and it’s not about his opinion of Donald Trump. It’s not even about criticizing the travel ban. What makes him wrong is the premise upon which his critique rests.
His premise, the explicit underlying principle, is that what we do here of our own accord and by our own design, ostensibly (and hopefully) in our own national interest, should or can be judged on the degree to which it happens to appear to fulfill some wish or “vision” of those who would do us harm.
The supposed confluence of objectives here is cosmetic, of course. If an arsonist sets a house ablaze, intent on seeing it burned to the ground, and firefighters smash the burning building down to prevent the flames spreading to nearby homes, cosmetically speaking the firefighters fulfilled the arsonist’s goal. But, of course, it’s passing absurd to suggest that their goals were in harmonious accord or to judge the firefighters through the lens of the arsonist’s evil intent.
And even leaving aside the lack of depth to the analysis, his dramatic diagnosis is also wrong in its implied prescription. Schmidt’s formulation requires that in order to foil the ill will of Osama you must act in a way that avoids his objectives, regardless of consequence to one’s own interest.
It should be obvious that it’s dangerous to decide how to act in one’s own interest by first taking the enemy’s wishes into account.
In assessing risk, you certainly should know the enemy’s objective, and avoid traps set to achieve that objective. But that is not the same thing as altering your interest in order to avoid a “moral” victory on the part of the bad guy or even, in the case of Osama bin Laden, a policy victory.
Think of it in simplest terms. When in war, the enemy attacks you in order to engage in a battle with you. Their goal is that battle, sure. Do you then flee in order to crush their dream of fighting? Of course not.
And, of course, that’s not really the goal. Osama bin Laden’s goal wasn’t “division” or even “war”… his goal was victory. Eradication. Subjugation. The objective was to win.
When taking a policy step, rather than considering whether that step happens to coincide with a step the extremist may take, like a battle, instead consider whether what you are doing will help you prevail over total annihilation.
You play for the end game. You try to drive the other Monopoly players to bankruptcy. Owning Park Place is merely a way to get there. It is not the game’s conclusion. (Unless you’re my siblings and just throw the board across the room when you don’t get it.)
Schmidt touches on a correct point, but doesn’t know what to do with it. Moderate Islam is, of course, a critical force and highly effective bane against radical Osama bin Laden Islam. And whether the travel ban helps or hurts its cause, and our own in working with moderate Islam, is a topic worth discussing. But you can’t make even that determination if your calculus is based on WWOBLD (What Would Osama Bin Laden Do) for all the reasons above, but also for another reason.
Schmidt says Osama bin Laden’s vision was for an end-game conflict, Western Civilization versus over a billion Muslims. What he doesn’t say, what he should say, what moderate Muslims say, is that this “vision” is just a sick fantasy— a fever dream that will never come to fruition.
The only people who think Osama’s vision will come to pass are the most extreme radical Islamic terrorists and their Islamophobic counterparts in the West. There are battles. There is terror and blood. But moderates of all stripes and religions know that ultimately the extremists cannot achieve their goals. They are outnumbered. The peaceful West and peaceful Islam are the greater share and will prevail. Not even Donald Trump can ruin that, try though he might.
Watch the clip below. Designed for impact, it’s a nearly pristine example of self-aggrandizing cable newsery. A dubious achievement to say the least.