Yesterday President Trump unveiled what the New York Times has called his Muslim Ban Lite. The Washington Post has called the revised ban as senseless and arbitrary as the original ban that was recently overturned by the courts. In light of all the outrage surrounding the issue it might be appropriate for us to recognize how this list of nations recognized as “countries of concern” was developed.
In a recent article (Bans, Protests and the Hype that Holds Them Together) I pointed out how former President Obama had similar immigration restrictions in place throughout much of his two terms as President. One of the biggest differences between the two presidents’ immigrant restrictions has been the competency with which those policies were implemented. I believe this is a deliberate strategy by both leaders. It was under the Obama administration that the seven countries who President Trump originally opted to target were actually set apart as “countries of concern.” This list was compiled gradually over the course of the Obama presidency long before rising to fame under President Trump.
It is interesting to consider why these countries have been targeted as specific countries of concern to American interests, policies and borders.
Iraq and Syria
Iraq was dropped from yesterday’s revised list of countries of concern (reducing the total to six instead of seven). In the original executive order issued by President Trump many Iraqis who had helped American troops during the war were locked out of the US and put in great danger by the ban. This kind of negative publicity was effective in producing the revised ban – absent Iraq.
The initial inclusion of Iraq and Syria on the list of countries of concern is not difficult to figure out. This is the home turf of ISIS, the Syrian Civil War and the catastrophic conditions left behind by America’s failed war against terrorism in the region.
I say it was a failed war because Iraq was on the original list. If it was a successful war against terrorism then Iraq would presumably never have been on the list because terrorism there would not be a threat to the US. The US invasion and subsequent war helped to spread terrorism in Iraq and then in Syria – not stop it.
According to most experts the Iraq War turned the nation into a breeding ground for terrorist ideology and activity. The public record of violent deaths in Iraq since the US invasion is currently around 268,000. More than half of these are civilians.
You can download the 5 part podcast series recently released on the Syrian Civil War to get a feel for how dire the situation is there as well as how this all came to be.
In the context of such violence and upheaval it is not difficult to understand why these nations would be seen as a threat for exporting terrorist activity. Such violent activity certainly abounds in each of these nations locally and clearly many of the bad guys in these nations have deliberate intent to hurt Americans and American interests abroad.
This is another one that is not difficult to comprehend. The US and Iran have been in a “Cold War” of sorts since the 1979 Islamic Revolution there. If you have listened to the podcast series on the History of the Modern Middle East then you have heard me contend how much of the US policy, especially since 2000, has been tied to the past rather than to present or future potentials.
(We will soon be looking at this in greater depth with a special podcast series devoted to Iran and what I believe will be America’s next war.)
Never the less, Iran is a supporter of groups like Hezbollah which Israel and the US both recognize as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah, or for that matter any other Iranian proxy, has never carried out an attack on American soil in its more than 30 years of existence.
The inclusion of Iran to the list of “countries of concern” is kind of the “traditional” choice. It is in line with various other American policies towards Iran.
This is where it starts to get interesting. In the past Libya’s relationship with the US was similar to Iran’s. This changed with the so called Arab Spring and the death of Gadaffi. For a moment, a very brief moment, many thought a new era of stable relations between the US and Libya was about to begin. That brief moment passed all too quickly. As the US pounded parts of the territory under ISIS control in Iraq, new contingents to both ISIS and al-Qaeda rose up in North Africa. Both of these terrorist groups have bases in Libya.
Libya has become an additional front for intensive bombing campaigns from the US military. In August 2016 the Pentagon announced a new wave of bombings in Libya that had no end in sight. As late as January 19, the day before President Trump took office, a US bombing raid in Libya killed 80 militants. Reports from the New York Times to Airwars has documented the incredible escalation of US bombings in Libya since 2011. Notice that in more than six years of active implementation this strategy has not limited the growth of ISIS. Instead, as in Iraq, the bombings have fostered an environment ripe for the growth of terrorism and terrorist threats.
Yemen and Somalia
Like Libya, Yemen and Somalia have become constant targets of US security policies in recent years. In Yemen, approximately 700 people have been killed in US drone strikes since 2002. In Somalia more than 400 people have been killed in US drone strikes since 2007. In Yemen the targets are al-Qaeda. In Somalia it is al-Shabaab.
Critics argued that President Obama did not have congressional authority to fight al-Shabaab in Somalia. He was using the congressional authority to go after al-Qaeda and its affiliates that was given to President George W. Bush after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Al-Shabaab did not even exist at that time and is not currently linked to al-Qaeda. This criticism did not limit the strikes under President Obama and it is unlikely that anything will change under President Trump.
US drone strikes on both of these nations have occurred in the murky and secretive environment of the drone program where it remains unclear where the boundaries in legal authority of drone use actually lie. In Somalia US drone strikes have accidentally killed Somali soldiers, who we were allegedly supporting, in an effort to target al-Shabaab terrorists. Innocent civilians have also been killed there. In Yemen more than 150 civilians have been killed in US drone strikes since 2009. At least 30 of these dead were children.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism President Obama also launched air campaigns in Yemen.
His first strike was a catastrophe: commanders thought they were targeting al Qaeda but instead hit a tribe with cluster munitions, killing 55 people. Twenty-one were children – 10 of them under five. Twelve were women, five of them pregnant.
Freedom House has ranked Sudan as among the “Worst of the Worst” regarding human rights abuses. Unfortunately, this country is an annual standard on that list. Sudan is on the verge of collapse in the face of an internal conflict that is wrecking the nation and its people. If the plight of Syria were not so severe most of the world’s humanitarians would be holding up the conflict in Sudan as the worst situation in the world today.
The nation is also seen as a state sponsor of terrorism. Many remember how Osama bin Laden once sought and secured refuge in Sudan. While he was living as a guest in Sudan al-Qaeda carried out several attacks against US embassies in the late 1990s.
These are the countries of concern as they were known under President Obama. Under President Trump they became the “banned” nations – at least for a few days. Now they are “restricted” countries of concern.
If we are not careful it would be easy to believe the current narratives in the mainstream media and be fooled into thinking this is all new. These are old policies that have twisted tighter and tighter upon travelers and refugees from these nations since 2011.
There is secondary concern as well.
I am all for combatting and stopping terrorism. I don’t believe we should give any accommodation to terrorists and potential terrorists but there are significant holes in the logic of American policy and historical approach toward the countries of concern. None of these nations have ever launched an attack on American soil.
Those nations whose citizens have actually committed acts of terrorism on American soil are not included on the list of countries of concern or the banned nation list. This inconsistency emphasizes the embedded hypocrisy of American foreign policy.
On the grounds of American fear and insecurity in the face of potential terrorism however, great waves of violence have been unleashed within many of these nations at the hands of American bombs and drones.
After more than 15 years of the US led war on terrorism we have ample evidence to consider the effects and counter effects of this war’s tactics. One thing that is obvious is that the most effective forms of fighting terrorism are not the easiest. It is easy for the world’s strongest military behemoth to unleash its weapons of war but these are clearly ineffective in stopping our enemies in the fight against terrorism. Far from stopping terrorism, this strategy has apparently helped in the spread of terror.
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