The recent ‘temporary’ travel ban on people from 7 Muslim majority nations and all refugees to the US by the Trump administration is a defining moment in world geopolitics. The rush to deliver on campaign promises on the plank of ‘America First’ by this administration means that the scope, implementation details, nuances, potential fallout scenarios etc. of this action were not carefully considered prior to the issuance of this executive order.
President Trump from all accounts issued the edict under the exclusive counsel of Steve Bannon his chief strategist in the White House without conferring with his Secretary of Defence, his Secretary of Homeland Security or his to be Secretary of State. It is a particularly worrying precedent if true that the President would sign an executive order of such import and one with such far reaching global implications without taking into confidence the three most important members of his cabinet.
The inherent ambiguity of the executive order meant that there was widespread confusion across all US ports of entry with the immigration officials completely at sea with the enforcement of the ban. The first and most pressing issue for the officials on the frontline of this ban was to decide who really came under the purview of this ban. They knew that it would be applicable to the citizens of seven nations namely Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Sudan. What they weren’t sure of though is whether refugees from the aforesaid countries who had already been granted asylum by the US and who had already landed in US airports would be prevented from entering. The same refugees who had already been subject to a rigorous vetting and screening process which is currently in place for asylum seekers from these ‘high risk’ countries.
They also did not know whether US permanent residents traveling back stateside from these countries fell under the ambit of this ban. Additionally, they did not know whether US visa holders (read citizens from these countries who has already been granted variety of US visas) from these countries would be barred from entering as a result of this ban.
All of these open questions meant that there was utter chaos at the major US airports after the ban coming into effect. Citizens of these countries already at the airports were detained by the US Customs and Border protection officials causing widespread confusion, angst and outrage. Some families were temporarily separated with male member(s) detained and the women and children allowed entry. Suffice to say, it was a giant administartive mess and a PR disaster.
The news spread like wildfire and Americans poured out onto the streets and airports within hours to vociferously protest the ban and stood in solidarity with the refugees, permanent residents and visa holders who they felt had been wrongfully detained as a consequence of the ban. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit with the federal court asking for an overturn of the ban. The pressure and the lawsuit worked when a federal judge ordered that none of the refugees who had already arrived could be deported. The order though did not explicitly instruct the authorities to process and allow these refugees in. News reporting indicated that many US Green Card holders from these countries who had been detained have been released and granted entry but the fate of all the refugees being detained, the visa holders both in US ports of entry as well as back in their respective countries and all the green card holders who are waiting to travel back to the states from these countries is in a state of limbo as of the writing of this piece.
Iran and Iraq have led the charge among the banned nations and have issued reciprocal bans on all US citizens from entering their borders. Perhaps the remainder of the countries will follow suit. The British foreign secretary Boris Johnson came out and said that Britain did not agree with the US ban. The Germans across the pond and and the Canadians across the border have both declared that they are going to support the refugees in whatever way they can.
This is all fine and dandy. All these pledges are wonderful gestures and will go a long way in assuaging the frayed nerves of these refugees. That being said, what has the world really done in response to this ban? Why didn’t the administration include Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and Egypt in this list if they truly intended to address the real sources of this threat? These aforesaid countries are after all certified hotbeds of ‘Islamic terrorism’. Saudi deserves special mention here as this is a country in such a dichotomous relationship with the United States. It is the largest arms purchaser from the US and its allies and yet it has poured its petrodollars into all parts of the muslim world to spread ‘Wahhabism’ (the ultra conservative sect of Islam) which experts believe is the ideology behind radical Islamic extremism. We are all aware of the results of the export of Wahhabism with its ruinous impact seen clearly in Syria where fighters from countries like Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Philippines, swathes of Africa and even a place like Kosovo have responded to the call to arms from ISIS.
The US and its European allies have a lot of economic interests at stake in these countries. An prime example of the substantial interest is that Saudi Arabia and UAE imported $8.6 billion worth of defense systems combined in 2014. It is also projected that the middle east will present potential defense supply opportunities worth $110 billion in the coming decade! And before you blink, here is another one in the civilian space. Iran signed a deal with Boeing to buy 80 commercial aircraft worth $16.6 Billion December of 2016. Add to that the various other American business interests in all of these nations and that explains why the US did not include them in its list and why its European allies are pussyfooting around this ban.
The United States as any other sovereign nation state has the undeniable right to protect its borders and its people from any potential danger. It must also undertake all measures available to keep its citizens out of harms way. This might include barring people who intend harm from entering the country or going after them and eliminating them if they become a clear and present danger to the security of the United States of America or her citizens. That said, banning refugees en masse who are trying to escape the savagery of conflict and persecution which have been foisted upon them by same terrorists that the US aims to eliminate is just dumbfounding. That apart, the most powerful, affluent nation on the face of this earth and one which has been the beacon of freedom, democracy, laws and human rights in this world shying away from its moral responsibilities is equally unbelievable and extremely worrying.
The ‘extreme vetting’ that the Trump administration is so keen on implementing is absolutely justified and has the support of a majority of Americans. That said, what was the incredible need to impose a ban (albeit temporary) on all refugees. We all know it is not the case that refugees just fly out to the United States and are flooding the US ports of entry. All of the asylum cases are processed outside of the United States and it takes anywhere between a month to several months to carefully vet and process these applications which is evidence of the fact that there does exist a really comprehensive vetting process. This of course can be made much more comprehensive. So why was the ban necessary again? If the administration really needed time to overhaul the current system, then they could have quite easily stopped/delayed processing the asylum and visa processing activities for citizens originating from these ‘high risk’ countries ‘under the covers’ and resumed processing after the overhaul steps or ‘adjustments’ were completed (90 day period going by the temporary ban period). Why then announce the ban and alienate so many of the allies in these countries who have been working with the US military and intelligence agencies in pursuit of the same goal!! This executive order I’m afraid might just have made enemies out of the few remaining friends in the Middle East.
The need of the hour for this administration is to accept its folly and rescind the ban with immediate effect. This will stop the hemorrhaging of US goodwill in the Middle East for the moment and will prevent the terrorists from using this ban as an effective propaganda tool. The administration then needs to convene its full cabinet as well as seek counsel from the all the experienced hands in the congress and senate and then craft its approach to immigration/refugee program restructuring. It then needs to rapidly deploy all its resources to implement its planned overhaul/adjustments of the refugee/immigration systems on a war footing. A moratorium on processing of all asylum/visa requests can be implicitly placed for that time period without any public communication.
The United States government needs to demonstrate to its citizens that it will do everything in its power to keep them safe both at home and abroad by announcing the immigration and refugee systems overhaul but at the same time it needs to be compassionate in both its rhetoric and actions toward the refugees who see the US as the last great hope.
Mr. President – Please let Mr. Bannon know………..
“Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism”
~ Hubert H. Humphrey