Moral and philosophical consistency over the long (or even the intermediate) term has never been the strong suit of politicians, anytime, anywhere. But one might at least hope for a modicum of both in the short term if for no other reason than fear of being called out for hypocrisy when the juxtaposition of those inconsistencies becomes glaringly obvious.
Many members of Congress make bold public statements to affirm to the American people the strength of their commitment to the "war against terror". The president has done likewise with regard to "eliminating ISIS" (which isn't, in fact, eliminated yet, although clearly damaged), and again most recently with his determination to designate Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.
That's why it's incomprehensible to me that at the request of various members of Congress from both parties the president recently granted a six-month reprieve from deportation for a convicted Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) terrorist who was scheduled for removal. The terrorist in question is one Malachy McAllister who, as Reuters notes:
was convicted in Northern Ireland of charges related to serving as a lookout in a 1981 attack on a police officer in Northern Ireland, according to U.S. court documents. He also was convicted of plotting to shoot and kill another officer. He was jailed for seven years but freed on early release in 1985.
Those are serious charges. Being convicted as an accomplice to attempted murder of a police officer in the United States could bring a lengthy sentence, possibly life in prison in many states. The conspiracy to kill another officer would also quite possibly lead to a very long sentence in many jurisdictions. Being convicted of both would virtually assure that such an individual would leave prison as an old man.
The congressional clamor to prevent McAllister's removal smacks of hypocrisy. One cannot condemn Islamist murderers and overlook the acts of others that, when held to the microscope, are equally abhorrent.
One of the advocates for letting McAllister stay is Rep. Elliott Engel (D) of New York. Reuters quotes him as saying, "Whatever happened back in Belfast, he's paid his time. ... He's a different person now."
That's the wrong equation. Removal isn't about "paying your time", it's about us as a nation deciding who is fit to live among us. Speaking on behalf of "we the people", Congress has decided that terrorists don't merit such an opportunity. If McAllister has paid his time, then he's free to go about his life in his native country, but not here.
But apparently Congressman Engel isn't at all on board with this terrorism-as-existential-threat-to-the-United-States thing. One of his first acts as chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee was to end the existence of that committee's terrorism subcommittee because there "'wasn't a great clamor' from lawmakers to keep the terrorism panel, which was formed after the Sept. 11 attacks." How strange, because it is the Department of State that's charged by law with designation of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and it is the House Foreign Relations Committee that's charged with oversight of the Department of State. Right now, there are over 60 active designated FTOs on the list, and most assuredly they are an existential threat to Americans here at home as well as abroad. One would think that a terrorism subcommittee would be as important and relevant as ever in our troubled world.
Another of the congressional advocates is soon-to-retire Rep. Peter King (R), also of New York. King has not been shy in his condemnation of terror, at least of an Islamist nature. But the picture is more nuanced where other groups — most notably Irish terrorists — are concerned, as was noted by Slate in a recent article:
King's maximalist approach to terrorism done by Muslims showed none of the nuance he applied in the 1980s to the Troubles. Before he was Longtime GOP Rep. Peter King, he was Long Island Irish Guy Peter King. In that capacity he was a vocal defender of the Irish Republican Army, serving up such spicy moral-relativist takes as: "If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it." This history resurfaced in 2011 as King was prepping his Muslim radicalization hearings, and King defended himself by noting that the IRA's acts of terrorism were over there.
"I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel," he said. "The fact is, the I.R.A. never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States." [Emphasis in original.]
Slate leans left and there is probably little it publishes with which I would agree, but in this they're on target. King is engaging in the most reprehensible kind of moral relativism, because it's immaterial whether cold-blooded murder, or attempts at such murder, took place outside of the United States or whether it was directed at our country or citizens.
Consider Boko Haram, the African Islamist terror organization that has consistently made headlines with its butchery of students in schools and its kidnappings en masse of young women later impressed into sex slavery as the "brides" of its members. While the organization is adamantly anti-Western in its outlook, it has focused its reprehensible acts in Africa on Africans. Should we then look the other way? Would members of Congress be pressing the president to grant stays of deportation for a man convicted of terrorist acts on behalf of Boko Haram in Africa?
If, as a nation, we are to take a credible, principled stand against terrorism, it can only be done if we exercise consistency. And it is in our interest to be both credible and principled where terror — much of which is directed at us — is concerned if we wish to set down markers and expect the rest of the world to follow.
The president has made a mistake. Staying McAllister's removal sends all the wrong signals.