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National security and the travel ban

Jan 30, 2017

Yesterday I was talking to State Senator David Knezek of Dearborn Heights about a tax bill, when I decided to ask him what he thought of the president’s sudden order barring entry to this country from seven Muslim nations.

I would normally never ask a first-term state senator to comment on a foreign policy initiative by the president of the United States. But these are not normal times, and Dave Knezek is not just another state senator. He served two tours of duty in Iraq.

They were tough tours. He hasn’t talked to me a lot about his time there, but he posted on Facebook that he started to cry when he read that one of the first persons to be detained was an Iraqi who risked his life working for U.S. forces when we were occupying that country.

Knezek was 21 years old when he arrived in Iraq. “I was full of you-know-what and vinegar and eager to serve my country,” he said. Then, when he got there, they sent him to Fallujah. He had little idea what was going on.

He soon found that nobody left the base unless they had to.

Eventually, he had to.

“A lack of information left me scared,” he said. “Information can save your life. Anyone who can provide you with information to help make your time there easier, less stressful or help you survive is a hero.”

He was put in charge of finding a site for his sniper team to hole up, and he found an abandoned house on a hillside. They were set to move, when word came that the mission was off. An Iraqi interpreter had reported danger.

They had to trust their interpreters. As native Iraqis, they could slip in and out of the base without attracting attention. The next day, a platoon went to the site and found a thin trip wire stretched across the door, attached to some explosive that was sitting on a full oil drum.

Knezek would have been one of the first two men into that doorway, and he would have been killed in an explosion if he was lucky, and burned to death if he wasn’t.

His whole team might have been killed.

“But I wasn’t, and we weren’t, because of an Iraqi interpreter.” A man who would now be barred from entering our country.

So what does Knezek think of Donald Trump’s actions?

“I think he has made America less secure,” he said. “This will be a great recruiting tool for ISIS.

Why? 

“ISIS will say, 'See, this proves they hate you.' They will say, 'This proves that Americans renege on their promises, because we told them if they helped us we would give then asylum if needed.'”

Knezek noted that travel was not banned to any of the nations that were home to the terrorist hijackers of September 11, most notably Saudi Arabia. That, he thinks, makes claims that this will help increase national security a farce.

Clearly, Donald Trump thinks otherwise, and the president may have access to information the senator does not. But David Knezek speaks some Arabic and spent two years fighting and trying to stay alive in that region. I think his views on this deserve respect.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s senior political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.