The current state of affairs in the United States causes me much consternation and in this light I think we are more than willing to associate the most recent developments in the immigration ban on Trump’s own business interests. While this allegation may (or may not) be true, I think it is critical for us to examine the deeper reasons for why the seven banned countries were listed to begin with. Be it known, and you may well already understand this after reading my post on why the ban is inherently ineffective, but I am not a supporter of the ban. We should however be aware of the more complex geo-political reasons that gave rise to this list of seven countries that are now considered hotbeds of terrorism.
Trump’s own poor character, lack of understanding, unwillingness to take the time to think before acting, conflict of interest, and inability to effectively interface with world leaders aside (boy, when I read that intro to the sentence, really doesn’t give me warm fuzzy feeling at all), the seven countries identified as being hotbeds of middle east terror are listed for mostly political reasons. What I would like to explore with you, however, is something a bit different. What is far more telling about this list is who is NOT included.
Who’s NOT on the List
Saudi Arabia: While the administration is focused on the exportation of Islamic Extremism and terrorism, Saudi Arabia’s absence from the banned list seems to be an oddity at best. A country with horrendous human rights violations and produced such notables as Osama Bin Laden and Mohammad Atta would seem to be a viable candidate to be banned. Regrettably Saudi Arabia exports more than just terror, it exports over 1,000 barrels of oil to the United States a day! In addition to that, Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Majority has been an ally in the region in combating Iran and its proxies in the region, most notably in Yemen. I have never been a fan of the battle cry of “No Blood For Oil,” it oversimplifies the geopolitical issues we face within the middle east, but out reliance on fossil fuels remains a part of our political reality and cannot not be discounted.
Egypt: Abu Ayyub al-Masri. As his name indicates (Masr…being the Arabic word for Egypt…hence…Abu Ayyub: The Egyptian), he was Egyptian. He was also a key leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, along with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In addition to this, Egypt has had a long track record of violence targeting its largest minority, the Coptic Christians. Instability and terrorism within the Sinai Peninsula has been persistent throughout the years. Yet, we also have left them from the list. My own thoughts on the matter are that Egypt has proven to be a crucial ally in the region, not only for the Suez Canal, but also because they have been security Partners with Israel…a relationship begun by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, a highpoint in Middle East Peace that should not be ignored (as Martha Stewart would say: “It’s a good thing”).
Jordan: One of the founding fathers of Al Qaeda and Iraq and ISIS was Jordanian…Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Jordanians are no strangers terror. Yet, despite its tenuous geographical location amid such turbulence, Jordan continues to remain a relatively stable and peaceful country. King Abdullah II has proven to be an astute leader and friend to the United States over the years. Jordan is also one of the few Arab nations that has established a relatively amicable relationship with Israel, cooperating over security issues in the region. At the end of the day, it’s absence from the list of banned nations is an wise choice (though I am confident in saying that Trump likely had none of this in his mind…as I have little to no confidence that he has a grasp of Middle East politics beyond the stereotype of: “terrorists come from there.”). Jordan is a stabilizing force…an eye within the storm of instability and violence and alienating this crucial ally would spell for numerous secondary and tertiary effects (most all of them negative).
Oman: I had the pleasure of spending a year in Oman. It’s a relatively progressive nation (for the Gulf Nations, anyways). Sultan Qaboos is visionary leader that is struggling to bring Oman into the 21st century. It has also had a reputation for being a nation Most Improved according to a UN index. More importantly than this, Oman is a security partner in providing support to the US anti-piracy mission in region and the Sultan has leveraged his good relationship with Iran (an anomaly among Gulf Nations) to serve as an intermediary between the United States and the Islamic Republic. From a geographic standpoint, it also holds a strategic position, owning the Straits of Hormuz.
United Arab Emirates: Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Known for their roles as commercial playgrounds. A ban would negatively effect any number of business interests here at home. Trump’s own business holdings…er…I mean…Trump’s sons’ business holdings are also tied to the Emirates (Hotels in Dubai, and the Trump International Golf Course).
The Offending Countries
Syria: We’ve all heard about Syria…home of ISIS…where the Arab Spring went horribly awry with the al-Assad regime. At the end of the day, I personally think that vetting for refugees needs to be restrictive. I’m sorry to say…I however would emphasize that banning refugees from Syria outright is wrong. Women and Children, Muslim and Christians are fleeing a place of violence and oppression and we should do what we can to help accommodate them…yet, I still feel we need to be wary since opening our borders completely to refugees en masse will create a disastrous situation that the Europeans are currently experiencing.
Iraq: With the continued turbulence in Syria and Iraq, and the continued violence over territory between the Government and Iraq and ISIS, it can be somewhat understandable how we would want to be wary of Iraqi immigrants. I would argue, however, that this is an oddity. Iraq is a strong military partner, now that we are no longer in Iraq, combatting ISIS. Additionally, I have read a number of comments and tweets that resonated with my own experiences. We have always sought ways to permit our interpreters and colleagues in Iraq to immigrate to the United States, a reward fro their sacrifices in service to our missions…yet, any such opportunities have been shut off for them. As with any refugee or immigrant, the majority of them are truly good people, simply seeking a better life far from violence and hatred.
Iran: Iran…I could write an entire post on Iran alone. Our troubled relationship with the Islamic Republic has been terrible. From the Hostage Crisis, support for Houthi Rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Bashar al-Assad from Syria and to their combative stance towards Israel and regular bouts of saber rattling, we have yet to establish any real working relationship with the Iranian government. The most promising move in establishing any kind of dialogue was the Nuclear Agreement that came with the Obama Administration and at least opened the door to talk. Trump and his cronies are now effectively slamming that door shut. Not only are our diplomatic options significantly limited, but our own desire to “put Iran on notice” (whatever the Hell that means) threatens to escalate matters even further. I would also say, from a personal level, having married into a Persian family this ban has had very real impacts on Persian Americans (citizens mind you) and their ability to connect with their families.
I could go on at length with the other countries in the region, but seeing how this post is already going a bit on the long side, I shall save that as a “Part 2” in a future post. Stay tuned when I examine the other countries that are both included in the banned list as well as the ones excluded from it.
Again, I am no supporter of the ban itself. (Neither is Justice James Robart) It casts a shadow on immigrants as a whole and is emblematic of shift in U.S. policy towards isolationism and intolerance. While Trump’s autocratic attempt to ban all those that are of the Muslim persuasion and/or brown in skin color have been met with a temporary setback, I would predict this is a case that we will be living with for some time as it will likely come to the Supreme Court. Everything is connected, and perhaps a deeper and more complete examination of Neil Gorsuch is in order given this very significant possibility.
As we go forward opposing such a ban, it is critical to dig deeper into rationale behind it so as to effectively combat it. It’s easy to blame Trump for everything, but such massive shifts in political culture are not accomplished within a vacuum. For all the hardline extremists backing his hateful rhetoric are those within the periphery of moderates that have been making efforts to disregard the rhetoric and find “logical” reasons to support his poorly thought out and impulsive actions. It is to these people with whom we need to start a dialogue. A coalition will need to be built in the future and a level-headed and informed approach is the only way in which we will be able to build an effective coalition…lest we alienate any potential allies in the long months and (God forbid) years ahead.