- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
In remarks at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies on Wednesday morning, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) attacked the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for refusing to profile travelers and pledged to call for hearings on why so many Iraqi refugees are being granted asylum in the United States.
Paul, the founder of the Senate Tea Party Caucus and the author of the Tea Party Goes to Washington, was making a broader point about the impossibility of fixing the country’s dismal fiscal situation without significant cuts to defense spending when he launched into an attack on the TSA. "I think you could just about put the money in a box and burn it and get as much as we’re getting from the TSA," he said.
The TSA came in for the senator’s ire because of what he described as its unwillingness to profile people based on the likelihood that they represent a terrorist threat. "They say that to be fair to everybody … the 6-year-old girl has to be treated the same as the boy who’s coming from Nigeria whose dad said he was a potential threat, he’d been to Yemen twice, he bought a one-way ticket with cash the day before he left or the day he left," said Paul, in reference to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, perhaps better known as the "underwear bomber," who attempted to blow up an airplane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. "Should we treat him the same as the 6-year-old girl? That’s what our policy is right now."
TSA begs to differ. TSA press secretary Nick Kimball told The Cable that Paul’s account "is not an accurate characterization of current policy." He said that the agency has developed "a flexible system of aviation security that provides us with the best opportunity currently available to detect and disrupt potential threats."
TSA affirms on its website that it does not profile passengers based on religious or ethnic grounds, but it is permitted to consider evidence of radicalization or any unusual travel in its screening procedures. In the case of Abdulmutallab, President Barack Obama blamed a "systemic failure" in U.S. national security that allowed him to board a plane despite having been placed in a terrorist database.
On a separate note, Paul also took exception to the number of Iraqi refugees who have been granted asylum in the United States. "There’s a democratic government over there, and I think they need to be staying and helping rebuild their country," he said. "We don’t need them over here on government welfare."
"I’m going to try to have hearings on the political asylum: Why are we admitting 18,000 people [per year] for political asylum from Iraq, which is an ally of ours?"
The United States has resettled more than 54,000 Iraqi refugees since 2006 and has given over $2 billion in assistance to displaced Iraqis, according to the State Department. Resettlement is only an option for "the most vulnerable groups of refugees." The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which determines whether a person qualifies for refugee status and is thereby eligible for resettlement in the United States, has established 11 "priority profiles" of refugees prioritized for resettlement, including women at risk of honor killings, children and adolescents separated from their families, and Iraqis at risk due to their work with U.S. forces or international authorities.
Paul, however, called for basing resettlement on the Iraqis’ ability to find work in the United States. "I kind of believe in the old-fashioned notion as long as you’ve got your job you can stay; if you don’t keep your job you go back home," he said.
On his broader views toward foreign policy, Paul tried to enunciate a vision that charted a middle way between what he described as indiscriminate interventionism and complete isolationism. "I sometimes like to tell people that I’m really a moderate — for some reason they don’t seem to believe me," he said. "But what about a foreign policy of moderation? A foreign policy that argues maybe we should be somewhere some of the time … and do so while respecting our Constitution and the legal powers of Congress and the presidency."
According to Paul, the United States is now leaning too dramatically in the direction of interventionism, most notably with the war in Libya. Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker asked a question that noted Iraq’s progress toward establishing democratic institutions and inquired about his views about whether U.S. foreign policy should also promote its values. "Well, you know war with China — we could maybe try to get them to have a constitution just like Iraq. Is anyone here in favor of war with China? No."