In America, the public, some politicians, and even President Obama have a vague awareness that U.S. government policies affect the recruitment of terrorists by radical groups. However, going too far with such self-awareness leads to excessively unsettling conclusions that would demand radical changes in U.S. foreign policy. Thus, as a nation, we generally avoid going down that road at all costs. It is to our peril.
Some politicians, both Democratic and Republican, had criticized Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s advocacy of preventing Muslims from entering the United States, which had the odor of fascism. Now that a news clip of Trump’s proposal has been used as a recruiting video for the radical Islamist group al-Shabab in Somalia, he is getting further criticism on the campaign trail. Not only does Trump’s proposal probably violate the Constitution’s First Amendment protection of freedom of religion and at least the spirit of the 14th Amendment’s stipulation of equal protection for all under the law – it is bad policy. The reason that the United States has had fewer problems than Europe does with radicalized Islamists within its borders is that American Muslims are prosperous and more integrated into their host society than in Europe. As a result, the overwhelmingly peaceful American Muslim population is U.S. law enforcement’s greatest source of intelligence on any radical activities by a tiny minority. Trump’s proposal singling out Muslims for discrimination, even if never enacted, is likely to begin undermining that integration by breeding Muslim fears that even more draconian measures could be taken in the future.
So if at least some American politicians and a significant portion of the public can see that Trump’s proposal, which affects only Muslims trying to visit or do business in the United States, can be used to recruit terrorists, why can’t they see that the U.S. government’s post-9/11 attacks on or invasions of at least seven Muslim countries – Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq – are far worse than Trump’s proposal in generating anti-U.S. blowback terrorism?
Historically, going back centuries, one of the things that inflames radical Islamic jihadists – and Muslims in general – is non-Muslim attacks on or occupation of Muslim soil. This encroachment triggers violence quite often – for example in the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israeli occupations of the West Bank and Gaza, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the Chechen resistance against Russian pacification. In the last case, Chechnya has the mild Sufi form of Islam, yet has fielded fierce fighters against the Russians. Moreover, the long-term lingering of U.S. troops in the Muslim holy land of Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War, despite President George H. W. Bush’s initial promise to the king of Saudi Arabia that American forces would leave after the war was over, triggered Osama bin Laden to launch a terrorist war on U.S. targets, including the tragic attacks on 9/11.
Therefore, any U.S. military action required in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks should have been done surgically and in the shadows, rather than conducting a high profile U.S. invasion and occupation of the country and then using 9/11 as an excuse for invading and occupying another unrelated Islamic country – Iraq. Bin Laden was ecstatic about George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, because he had been trying to provoke a U.S. overreaction in order to recruit more fighters and cash, and Bush took the bait beyond his wildest dreams. And of course, the U.S. quagmire in Iraq generated opposing jihadists by the truckload – al Qaeda in Iraq, a more malignant version of the main group, and eventually the follow-on ISIS, an even more brutal group.
But doesn’t the U.S. military really need to be in the Middle East to guard oil supplies to the United States? Isn’t that why the United States supports the despotic Saudi Arabian monarchy, which fosters the spread of the radial Wahhabi Islam around the world by funding schools teaching it and has an atrocious human rights record, including the recent execution of a cleric who was advocating equal treatment for a minority sect within the Saudi kingdom. In my book, No War for Oil: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East, I debunk the need for the United States to spend $110 billion per year defending only $20 billion in annual oil imports from the Persian Gulf. The worldwide market for oil will bring plentiful supplies of oil at the lowest possible price to the United States without U.S. military power needlessly stirring up "blowback" from anti-U.S. terrorists. In the Middle East, even apparently resounding U.S. military "victories" often turn out to be pyrrhic.