“We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country
the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas.”
President Donald Trump, January 27, 2017
None of us would fault a policeman living in a dangerous neighborhood for locking the doors to his house before going to sleep at night, right?
President Trump’s executive order on immigration begins to spell it out: “Deteriorating conditions in certain countries due to war, strife, disaster, and civil unrest increase the likelihood that terrorists will use any means possible to enter the United States.” The President’s comments at the Pentagon signing ceremony provide more specificity: “I am establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America."
So why are so many of us upset by President Trump’s immigration executive order?
For starters, it was rushed in its preparation, inadequately vetted, and utterly botched in its implementation. Chaos and totally unnecessary human suffering followed.
Problem No. 2 is the overbroad reach of the executive order. Green card holders have completed a second review process to demonstrate their suitability for permanent residence status in the US. Visa-holders have already been through State Department screening procedures. If a particular consulate is insufficiently rigorous, then fix it, don’t impose a draconian and disruptive order on the entire system.
Refugees sponsored by accredited resettlement agencies have already demonstrated their willingness to adopt American values and norms. The effectiveness of this screening method is documented by a report in The Atlantic: “Over the last four decades, 20 out of 3.25 million refugees welcomed to the United States have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all by Cuban refugees in the 1970s.” A report from Politifact fills out the picture, identifying only three additional non-lethal acts of apparent terrorism by refugees since 9/11.
Applying this to my opening example, we would fault a policeman for refusing to unlock the door to his home when friendly visitors and neighbors came to visit. In other words, we expect vigilance to be tempered by a measure of hospitality and good judgment.
Problem No. 3 is the apparent intent of President Trump to discriminate against Muslims in the administration of immigration policy vis-a-vis these seven Muslim-majority nations. In 2016, as reported by Consortiumnews.com, the US "admitted nearly as many Christian refugees (37,521) as Muslims (38,901), even though Muslims constitute a significantly higher proportion of people suffering from, and fleeing from, war and violence in the Middle East." Yet Trump has said he wants admissions to bend even more toward persons of the Christian faith.
Problem No. 4 is the one people are not talking about. It can be provocatively framed by the question: what if the homeowner locking his door isn’t a policeman, but a powerful criminal? You know, someone conspiring to seize control of the governments of seven countries? In such a case, complaining about the criminal's inhospitality would be self-indulgent virtue-signaling, serving only to distract us from a far more serious problem.
This problem is illustrated by Iraq, where the “deteriorating conditions” and the “radical Islamic terrorists” arrived only after the US soldiers invaded and occupied the country in 2003.
In Libya, early in 2011 the government of President Qaddafi was in the process of rooting out the radical Islamic terrorists, but then NATO forces (including the US) supported the terrorists by attacking the Libyan army. This enabled the terrorists to overthrow the government and take control of the country.
Syria also had homegrown radical Islamic terrorists (the Muslim Brotherhood). And as in Libya, the US and its allies sent money and soldiers to support and train those terrorists in their attempt to overthrow the Syrian government. When the government did not quickly fall, the US and its allies sent more money and more support so that al-Qaeda and ISIL could join the fight and create those “deteriorating conditions” that now cause such alarm.
In Yemen, the deteriorating conditions (children are starving to death) were caused by an invasion from Saudi Arabia using weapons provided by the US and European suppliers and logistics provided by the US and its NATO partners.
These four examples reveal the double game the US has been playing with “radical Islamic terrorists” for a long time already: using them overseas to do the empire’s dirty work, then using them here at home to frighten the American people and endlessly enrich private contractors linked to the Pentagon and/or so-called security agencies.
Another way to illustrate Problem No. 4 is to consider Saudi Arabia and the other five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. It is widely and officially recognized (see here and here and here and here and here) that money from these six super-rich states funds most of the radical Islamic terrorism in the world. Certainly this includes terrorism fomented within Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. There is strong evidence it included support for the men alleged to having committed the 9/11 attacks in the US. And it probably includes the terrorism of al-Shabaab in East Africa and Boko Haram in West Africa.
So why are Saudi Arabia and other terrorism-supporting states left out of President Trump’s executive order? Why is Iran—an enemy of those terrorism-supporting states—included? And why is President Trump following the footsteps of his predecessors in playing this double game with terrorism?
Believe me, I find no solace in the thought that even the bold and brash Donald Trump is falling in line with the cruel policies of presidents Obama and Bush. I have entertained high hopes that this new administration will pursue a different foreign policy, especially in light of its apparent decision to stop supporting al-Qaeda and ISIL in Syria.
But now we have Trump’s executive order replaying the old, scary game. Toward that end, over this past weekend Trump ordered an attack on a family compound in Yemen that reportedly resulted in the deaths of 30 people, including 10 women and children. One of the dead children is 8-year-old Nawar Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen. (Feb. 3 update: Subsequent reports put the overall death toll at 57, including at least 15 women and children.)
My point is this: within the US government is the engine of terrorism that most threatens us. It coordinates a global network to fund, train, equip, inform and deploy radical Islamic groups with violent aims. It also attacks those groups on occasion and then uses the retaliatory threats of those groups to scare us here in the US.
This is what being an empire—the world’s indispensable nation—has given us.
Primarily, I’m not talking here of blow-back—the unavoidable way violence over there creates ripples of violence back here. There are cases like that, such as Pakistani-born/US citizen Faisal Shahzad’s 2010 attempt to bomb Times Square because, as Shahzad told the sentencing court, “The drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don't see children, they don't see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody” (reported by Glenn Greenwald).
Instead, I’m objecting to our government’s deliberate double game—supporting terrorists overseas, then hyping the threat of terrorism to the American people, causing us to react with fear, anger, hostility toward one another, and support for more weaponry and more bullying overseas. Trump appears to be playing us for chumps, just as President Obama and President Bush did. On cue, we’re supposed to be afraid, quarrel with one another about refugee policy, and make our peace with more Pentagon spending.
Slowly, voices of resistance are emerging. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic congresswoman and Iraqi war veteran from Hawaii, has introduced H.R. 608, a bill with bipartisan support that would prohibit the use of US government funds to provide assistance to al-Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and to countries supporting those organizations.
Yes, let’s support a rigorous but liberal refugee admission policy here in the US.
Yes, let’s recognize how all of us—Trump lovers and Trump haters—are being manipulated by the empire.
And yes, let’s support holistic responses like Gabbard’s that reach the root of our problem.
Note: As initially published, this post erroneously conflated the process of qualifying for a green card with the process of qualifying for citizenship. This error was corrected 1/31 at 1:15 PM.