The Use of Borders

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham raised forceful objections to president Donald Trump's 120 day moratorium of refugee admissions to the US.

"At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies. Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred."

McCain and others see counterterrorism as coalition warfare in partnership with "good guy" Muslims. To make it work America must stay in the good graces of its Islamic allies.  This stands in contrast to the view which regards Islam itself as the triumphalist ideology: a threat to be contained, if not combated; to be accomodated very cautiously, warily and after much checking.

One difference between the two approaches is the desired outcome. The coalition approach does not envision a victory by one intractable side over the other but dreams rather of a stable modus vivendi between Islam and the West. It does not seek harmony nor cultural absorption but what used to be called peaceful coexistence.

But a modus vivendi does not imply a merger.  Rather it envisions some degree of sustainable separation within which a lasting cooperation can take place.  It is this element of separation that is often ignored by Western officials in their desire to ingratiate themselves with their allies.  Too far can be as bad as too close.  Just as Cold War required clear rules where each superpower kept to its side of the road, so would a regime of peaceful coexistence with Islam necessarily imply a program of conflict avoidance. Under peaceful coexistence multiculturalism itself could be destabilizing if it created potential flashpoints through diversity-driven interactions between two dissimilar systems.

Alliances are not mergers.  They presuppose continued and independent life apart, without precluding cooperation. Unless the differences between the liberal lifestyle and Islamic teaching can be sufficiently trivialized they are bound to conflict, therefore creating an implicit tension between a "one world" craved by multiculturalists and the alliance desired by those like John McCain.

Apart from potential ideological conflicts the principal criticism of McCain's "Muslims are our friends" strategy has been the lack of empirical success it enjoyed under GWB or BHO. It was the disillusion with this strategy that led first to Barack Obama's election and later to Donald Trump.   Although the "Islam as the religion of peace" approach pursued since September 11 may not have been a total failure it has not worked sufficiently well to satisfy the public.

There is a natural constituency for a Plan B instead of more of the same. Most critiques of the Muslim alliance strategy have focused on the details of implementation. Yet one largely overlooked factor ironically is the key role played walls.  Let us digress by noting one widely recognized key to building stable systems is choosing how tightly to couple components. Loosely coupled systems are often more robust since they reduce the degree to which one subsystem must adapt to the other.