Trump keeps giving gifts to terrorists
For terrorist organisations such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, the election of Donald Trump as US president is the gift that keeps on giving. During the presidential campaign, Trump called for banning Muslims from entering the United States. He later seemed to revise this pledge to say he would institute “extreme vetting” of immigrants from Muslim countries but Trump never truly backtracks on his outrageous comments; he just obfuscates them.
Trump’s January 27th announcement banning refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries was heralded by his followers as a fulfilment of his campaign promise. While it is true that he did not include all Muslim countries in his executive order and focused on countries and not on religion, suggestions that Christians from those countries would soon be exempted from the ban made the intention clear and put Christians in the Middle East at risk.
Trump has surrounded himself with advisers such as Steve Bannon, who has close ties to white nationalists and anti-Islam activists, so few doubt the underlying motivation for the president’s actions. Bannon, who has no foreign policy experience, was rewarded on January 29th with a position on the National Security Council (NSC) while the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were removed from the NSC.
While Trump claimed the move was required for national security reasons, not a single immigrant or refugee from any of the seven countries named in the ban has conducted a deadly terrorist attack on US soil, including the 9/11 attack.
Among the countries included in Trump’s ban on immigration is Iraq, perhaps Washington’s biggest ally in the war against ISIS. It is unclear how offending your biggest ally is part of a strategy to defeat the enemy but that is what Trump has done.
Thousands of Iraqis who fought alongside and advised US troops in the war against ISIS are now banned from entering the United States. Media reports said among the first people turned away because of the ban was an Iraqi who has worked for the US government for ten years and the spouse of an Iraqi who worked for a US contractor and now lives in the United States.
It is hard to imagine that the demoralisation and insult these Iraqis now feel will not affect their commitment to the fight or at least their commitment to working with US forces.
By his actions, Trump not only validated the extremists’ claim that the West was at war with Islam, he offended the 3 million American Muslims who understandably feel that they, too, eventually will be targeted under a Trump presidency.
For many American-Muslim citizens, the ban prevents family members living abroad from visiting. In the worst scenario, Trump’s actions and attitudes could radicalise some American Muslims by creating feelings of disillusionment and alienation. Legions of Trump supporters express anti-Muslim bigotry on social media — just as they did at Trump campaign rallies — but have never been called out by the president.
Somewhat lost in the uproar over Trump’s immigration ban, the president signed an executive order on January 28th stating: “It is the policy of the United States that ISIS be defeated. Within 30 days, a preliminary draft of the plan to defeat ISIS shall be submitted to the president by the secretary of Defence.”
The executive order directed the plan to include guidelines on the use of public diplomacy, information operations and cyber-strategies “to isolate and delegitimise ISIS and its radical Islamist ideology.” It instructed the Pentagon to identify “new coalition partners in the fight against ISIS and policies to empower coalition partners”.
One might recall that during the presidential election campaign Trump repeatedly declared that he had a “secret plan” to destroy ISIS and at one point claimed that he knew more than the country’s generals. Apparently, the big secret about Trump’s plan has been revealed: He had no plan and he knows decidedly less than the generals.
For an incoming administration to reassess US strategy to fight terrorism is perfectly understandable — Hillary Clinton probably would have done the same thing — but to simultaneously take actions that only serve to undermine the fight against terrorism shows a level of policy incoherence that is truly stunning.
Trump also announced that he had instructed the Pentagon and US State Department to draft a plan to establish safe zones in Syria for Syrian refugees, to which Russia — the de facto arbiter of what happens in Syria — responded with a more diplomatic version of, “Say what?”
All of this happened during the president’s first eight days in office, with 1,453 days to go in his first term. If ISIS and al-Qaeda leaders drank alcohol, they would be popping champagne bottles.