How will they greet us now, Mr. President?

By Geoff Moore

Last night, on January 24th, news broke about President Donald Trump’s plan to issue an executive order which would ban citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entry into the United States. This is allegedly intended to “protect Americans from jihadist attacks.” Huffington Post has acquired a draft text of the order, which could be signed this week.

Trump’s planned visa ban on individuals from several Muslim countries shows not only a deep prejudice towards Muslims and an incoherent view of the global refugee situation, but also a shocking ignorance of recent American history. Setting aside the six other countries apparently targeted by this proposed order, and the legal and ethical questions it raises, this is quite simply an unprecedented slap in the face to Iraqis.

In 2003, the United States went into Iraq to find weapons that did not exist. We overthrew a tyrant, yes, but we also purged the army, schools, and government agencies. With “De-Ba’athification,” we forced people associated with Saddam Hussein’s party out of work. We put young men with guns on the streets with no job prospects. We were willingly blind to the fact that many were registered with the party because it was the only way to find a job. The only way to feed your family.

In Iraq, the US-led intervention was responsible (directly or indirectly) for over 100,000 Iraqi deaths. We didn’t just search out Saddam, fight terrorists, and hand over a constitution. We fundamentally dismantled this country, its institutions, its people. If anyone is responsible for creating the terrorists we now fight – alongside Iraqi forces – in Mosul or Anbar, it’s us. We created the space in which Al-Qaeda in Iraq could form, fade, reappear, and prosper. Iraqis did not create the terrorists, although “exofficials of Saddam Hussein’s regime” exploited this space, one in which socioeconomic and sectarian fissures had become canyons between Sunni and Shi’a, Anbar and Baghdad.[1]

Donald Trump either does not understand this, or he does not care. Tell me, which is worse? Under Trump’s executive order, Iraqi translators who risked their lives by assisting the U.S. Military would be barred from America. The State Department recognized this fact years ago, which is why we have a Special Immigrant Visa for Iraqis. It appears that Trump’s executive order would prevent these essential allies from coming to the U.S. It would keep out Iraqis who literally saved American lives, with the stroke of a pen. What will he do to the ones who are already here? What would he say to Corporal Ali Mohammed, an Iraqi refugee at age 16, who became an American Marine in 2014?

Dane Bowker, who served in Afghanistan for the Department of Defense, wrote in 2015 that “[i]nterpreters are routinely killed by insurgents because they’re aiding the United States. One man I worked with was targeted by attackers who knew what car he drove and where he lived… Because of such dangers, many interpreters seek asylum in the United States.”[2] Does my President understand this? Does he care? His appointment of Senator Jeff Sessions to Attorney General certainly suggests an inimical answer. In 2013, then-Senator Sessions proposed an amendment to the defense policy bill which attempted to curtail the Special Immigrant Visa due to “concern” over what he called “a high likelihood of exploitation by al-Qaeda terrorists.”

Will the executive order keep safe the several thousand US military “advisers” currently in Iraq, or will it be one in a series of actions and statements by this President which make Americans, and those who help them, materially less safe? Will American troops be able to continue operating in Mosul, not years from now, but tomorrow?

Once upon a time, we had a Vice President who claimed Americans would be “greeted as liberators.”[3] How will they greet us now, Mr. President?

[1] https://www.crisisgroup.org/global/exploiting-disorder-al-qaeda-and-islamic-state

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/09/17/forget-the-syrian-refugees-america-needs-to-bring-its-afghani-and-iraqi-interpreters-here-first/?utm_term=.cb679fa61f6d

[3] http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3080244/ns/meet_the_press/t/transcript-sept/#.WIjAdlMrIdU

Image from: Wikimedia commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:U.S._Soldier_prepares_for_key_leader_engagement_to_assess_Iraqi_security_force_checkpoints_at_Q-West.jpg)

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