What the Trump election means for a Syrian-American

Sunday 18/12/2016

Now that we have Donald Trump as US president-elect, as an American Syrian and a Muslim it is hard not to take a deep breath and worry about the future. If we take some of his campaign promises at face value, it is very troubling but I do not like to be a one-issue voter, so let us look at some of the proposed policies.
Syrian refugees were not a prior­ity for US President Barack Obama’s administration. As much as eve­ryone is talking about the 12,500 Syrians admitted in 2016, the truth is that only 2,500 Syrian refugees were allowed to settle in the United States from 2011-15. It was not until an extreme vetting process was established that the Obama admin­istration started allowing in more Syrians. The new proposals from Trump are not about enhancing the vetting process but about finding a way to stop refugees from Syria entering the United States, period.
Another issue is the registration of Muslims entering the country. While this might be outrageous as a statement and might have legal implications and challenges, we did have this policy after 9/11 and it was called NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System). It required citizens from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and South-East Asia to register. In reality it was a Mus­lim registry without calling it that. It was abandoned in 2011 when it was replaced by the US-Visit pro­gramme, which collects biometric information of all visitors to the United States.
I do not know if reinstating it will enhance America’s security. The Obama administration expanded the screening of dual-citizens of countries in the visa-waiver pro­gramme and Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan so they, or any person who visited these countries after March 1st, 2011, has to apply for a visa.
There are not any new measures in the Trump’s statements on this issue that will enhance US security but some might make headlines.
Another very important issue in­volves Trump’s economic policies. Some, such as encouraging innova­tion and industry in the United States, make sense but others, such as stripping away business regula­tions that protect the environment, do not.
Foreign policy is the biggest worry for a lot of countries, es­pecially in the MENA region. The Obama administration had a policy of trying to contain the conflict in Syria and not lead the efforts to find solutions to the region’s prob­lems. At the same time, it alienated traditional allies such as Turkey, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia and opened up to former foes Iran and Russia. This policy created a lot of suffering in Syria and a lot of tension throughout the region. It forced some allies to look for new alliances to offset Obama’s hands-off policy.
What we can expect from the new administration is an unknown as we have signals of more coop­eration with Russia and Israel is seen as an essential partner, as is Turkey. Iran, however, will likely face a tough situation.
How this will affect the Syrian regime or the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and radical groups is not known but it is clear the hands-off policy is over. A new assertive United States is back in the region, which is more in line with former president George H.W. Bush’s policy in which America leads and makes others bear the brunt of a large portion of the expense.
While we should be worried about the campaign rhetoric Trump espoused, when it comes time to govern he will face harsh realities and is likely to adopt different posi­tions. As an American, I wish the new administration success and treat it like any other administra­tion: Support it when I think it is right and oppose it when I think it is wrong.