The Trump administration has the media and its political opponents (or do I repeat myself?) in a lather as the White House continues to fire executive orders in quick succession, demolishing the old order and enraging both liberals and their newfound neoconservative allies. Amid all the virtue-signaling hysterics, the most significant aspects of what is occurring are being overlooked – and it’s my job to point them out.
While the blue-state crowd is protesting President Trump’s order banning travel to the US by citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, what gets lost in all the shouting is that the legal and political basis of his order was laid down by President Barack Obama. These people don’t care to recall that, in 2013, Obama banned all refugees from Iraq for six months, and his action was hardly noticed: Trump is only proposing a ninety-day pause. What prompted Obama’s action, as ABC News reported at the time, was “the discovery in 2009 of two al Qaeda-Iraq terrorists living as refugees in Bowling Green, Kentucky — who later admitted in court that they’d attacked U.S. soldiers in Iraq.”
Two years later, Congress passed a law, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, that restricted travel visas for citizens of “states of concern,” i.e. Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran and “any other country or area of concern.” Obama promptly signed it. In early 2016, the Department of Homeland Security unilaterally extended these restrictions to Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. What this meant was that the visa waiver program did not apply to citizens of these countries: travelers had to apply for a visa at US embassies, a highly problematic matter (Syria, for one, has no such facility) and were very unlikely to be successful in their efforts. I don’t recall any protests at the time.
In short, the legal and political basis of Trump’s executive order – which is being denounced as an unprecedented attack on our allies (Iraq), civil liberties, and decency itself – was laid during the previous regime. Trump has simply dispensed with the fiction that these travelers are welcomed by our government, and issued an ostensibly temporary outright ban.
Aside from the hypocrisy underscored in that history, however, a larger point needs to be made: this all follows from our bipartisan foreign policy of perpetual war. Regardless of one’s views on immigration, the idea that we can invade the world and then proceed to invite the world is worse than naïve – it’s dangerous. As Garet Garrett, that prophet of the Old Right, put it more than half a century ago:
"How, now, thou American, frustrated crusader, do you know where you are?
"Is it security you want? There is no security at the top of the world.
"To thine own self a liberator, to the world an alarming portent, do you know where you are going from here?"
After fifteen years of rampaging throughout the world, that the US is now retreating to Fortress America comes as a shock only to the clueless. That this is being done with the crudity we have come to expect from Trump – green card holders were handcuffed at the airports, and immigration officials told the hapless detainees to complain to the President – is likewise not surprising. Someone who has been a resident of the United States for years, albeit not a citizen, being treated in this manner is an outrage – but what else has the history of the post-9/11 been but one outrage after another? (The inclusion of green card holders is now being walked back by the White House.)
And as for those who are now gathering at airports with placards denouncing Trump – where were they when the countries on the no-go list were being bombed by their hero, Obama? The answer is that they were nowhere to be found. Oh, but now they’re up there on their high horses, lances lowered and ready to do battle with the “fascist” Trump. Spare us the theatrics, my liberal friends, and contemplate your own sins, for they are many.
Our endless “war on terrorism” – which continues under President Trump, even as I write, with a dawn raid on the headquarters of the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda – has been fulsomely supported and extended by both parties. The Obama regime aided and abetted Saudi Arabia’s invasion of Yemen, making it possible for al-Qaeda to gain a foothold as Saudi troops and Riyadh’s puppet Yemeni government carried out a vicious war of attrition against Shi’ite rebels – while leaving al-Qaeda largely alone to consolidate its gains.
Where were the NeverTrumpers while atrocities against the Yemeni people were being committed with our tax dollars?
Furthermore, under President Obama, the US pursued a policy of “regime change” in Syria, the goal of which was to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad and install a theocracy run by Islamist “rebels” allied with al-Qaeda and ideologically indistinguishable from ISIS, our purported enemy.
The very same media outlets and blue-state virtue-signalers who are howling about the “cruelty” of Trump’s rejection of Syrian refugees have been telling us for years that we haven’t been aiding the Syrian rebels enough, and that the US must intervene more strenuously in that country’s civil war. Do these people not realize that our policy caused the refugee exodus?
As the anti-Trump brouhaha continues, two very pertinent facts about this series of executive orders is getting lost in the shouting.
First, as I wrote about in my last column, the initial draft of the executive order entitled “Protecting the Nation From Attacks From Foreign Nationals” contained a section raising the possibility of creating “safe zones” in Syria. The final version omits this dangerous plan. This is significant: what it means is that the Trump administration is going to resist calls by the interventionist media to “do something” about the Syrian civil war and is opting instead to keep its footprint in the region lighter than the War Party would prefer. “Safe zones” are off the table, at least for now.
Yes, I did urge our readers to call the White House and urge them to drop this loopy idea, but it would be equally loopy to take any credit for it. My guess is that our newly-minted Secretary of Defense, in tandem with the Pentagon, talked him out of it, as I thought they would. But, hey, pressure from the public may have been a factor – you never know!
Secondly, a presidential memorandum outlining Trump’s “plan to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” contains one fascinating little section that reads as follows:
“The Plan shall include … identification of new coalition partners in the fight against ISIS and policies to empower coalition partners to fight ISIS and its affiliates.”
While Russia is not named, it is clearly the intent of the Trump administration to involve Moscow in our operations against ISIS, at least in the Syrian theater. And while this doesn’t mean that we’re about to withdraw from the region, it does mean that our footprint will be much smaller. Trump is clearly leery of getting bogged down in another Middle Eastern war: thus his vows to “eradicate” ISIS “quickly.” That may be a pipedream, but the fact remains that if he can farm out much of the fight against ISIS to the Russians and Assad, our own involvement is effectively lessened.
This also augurs a new era of cooperation between the United States and Russia, which both parties in Congress bitterly oppose. Citing Russian assistance in Syria is going to be one of Trump’s major talking points in opposing the new cold war that so many in the liberal media and both wings of the War Party have been frantically ginning up.
The hysterical response to Trump has blinded the left to what is really going on: they are so busy working themselves up into a fit of self-satisfied outrage that they have lost the ability not only to reason but to see what is right in front of their eyes. Much of this is due to partisanship, but the rest we can attribute to a cognitive disability: when emotions are substituted for thought over an extended period, the result is a permanent impairment. If what we are seeing at the end of the first week of the Trump administration is indicative of the next four years, the fate of American liberalism promises to be sad indeed.
Update: Here’s a new development: there are reports that Iraq is retaliating against the travel ban by banning all travel to Iraq by Americans. If this includes US soldiers traveling to Iraq to help its hapless government fight off its many enemies, then one can only ask: who says Trump isn’t the antiwar President?! One wonders if this ban will also include a ban on American tax dollars traveling to Iraq: somehow, I don’t think so.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.