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A country-by-country look at Trump’s immigration executive order

Yazidi women in both Syria and Iraq have suffered greatly at the hands of ISIS — but they will be caught up in Trump-era restrictions on refugees all the same. (Reuters)

There’s a neighborhood in Los Angeles, commonly known as Tehrangeles, that is home to up to a half-million Persian Americans, most of whom fled Iran after the 1979 Islamic republic or who are their second-generation children and third-generation grandchildren, all of them American citizens. 

The neighborhood runs along Westwood Boulevard, and it is home to some of the wealthiest Angelinos. But under the executive action that US president Donald Trump signed Friday afternoon, their relatives in Iran will have a much more difficult time visiting them in Los Angeles (or elsewhere in the United States). The impact of the order, over the weekend, proved far deeper than originally imagined last week when drafts of the order circulated widely in the media.

The ban attempts to accomplish at least five different actions, all of which began to take effect immediately on Friday:

  • First, the order institutes a ban for 90 days on immigrants from seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya.
  • Secondly, the ban initially seemed to include even US permanent residents with valid green cards with citizenship from those seven countries (though the Department of Homeland Security was walking that back on Sunday, after reports that presidential adviser and former Breitbart editor Steve Bannon initially overruled DHS objections Friday). But it also includes citizens of third countries with dual citizenship (which presents its own problems and which the White House does not seem to be walking back).
  • Third, it institutes a 120-day freeze on all refugees into the United States from anywhere across the globe and an indefinite ban for all refugees from Syria.
  • Fourth, it places a cap of 50,000 on all refugees for 2017 — that’s far less than nearly 85,000 refugees who were admitted to the United States in 2016, though it’s not markedly less than the nearly 55,000 refugees admitted in 2011 (the lowest point of the Obama administration) and it’s more than the roughly 25,000 to 30,000 refugees admitted in 2002 and 2003 during the Bush administration.
  • Fifth, and finally, when the United States once again permits refugees, it purports to prioritize admitting those refugees ‘when the person is a religious minority in his country of nationality facing religious persecution.’ It’s widely assumed that this is a back-door approach to prioritizing Christian refugees. More on that below.

In practice, it’s already incredibly difficult to get a visa of any variety if you are coming from one of those countries, with a few exceptions. But formalizing the list is both overbroad (it captures mostly innocent travelers and refugees) and underbroad (it doesn’t include potential terrorists from other countries), and experts believe it will hurt US citizens, US businesses and bona fide refugees who otherwise might have expected asylum in the United States. On Sunday, many Republican leaders, including Arizona senator John McCain admitted as such:

Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism. At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies. Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.

On the campaign trail, Trump initially called for a ban on all Muslims from entering the country; when experts responded that such a broad-based religious test would be unconstitutional, Trump said he would instead extend the ban on the basis of nationality.

Friday’s executive action looks like the first step of institutionalizing the de facto Muslim ban that Trump originally promised (thought it would on its face be blatantly unconstitutional).

Of course, as many commentators have noted, the list doesn’t contain the countries that match the nationalities of the September 2001 hijackers — mostly Saudi Arabia. But it doesn’t contain Lebanon, though Hezbollah fighters have aligned with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in that country’s civil war. It doesn’t include Egypt, which is the most populous Muslim country in north Africa and home to one of the Sept. 2001 terrorists. Nor does it include Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country. Nor Pakistan nor Afghanistan, where US troops fought to eradicate forms of hardline Taliban government and where US troops ultimately tracked and killed Osama bin Laden.

This isn’t a call to add more countries to the list, of course, which would be even more self-defeating as US policy. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Bannon and Trump, anticipating this criticism, will use it to justify a second round of countries.

In the meanwhile, the diplomatic fallout is only just beginning (and certainly will intensify — Monday is the first full business day after we’ve read the actual text of Friday’s executive order). Already, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, citing the obligations of international law under the Geneva Conventions, disavowed the ban. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau used it as an opportunity to showcase his country’s openness to immigration and welcomed the refugees to Canada. Even Theresa May, the British prime minister who shared a stage with Trump in Washington on Friday afternoon, distanced herself from the ban, and British foreign minister Boris Johnson called it ‘divisive.’

But the most direct impact will be felt in relations with the seven countries directly affected by the ban, and there are already indications that the United States will suffer a strategic, diplomatic and possible economic price for Trump’s hasty unilateral executive order.  Continue reading A country-by-country look at Trump’s immigration executive order

Photo(s) of the day, 2015 terrorism edition

parisjanuaryPhoto credit to Philippe Wojazer/Reuters.

sanaajanuaryPhoto credit to Hani Mohammed/AP.

What do these two photos have in common?yemen flagFrance Flag Icon

More than you might think.

The former is, of course, a near-instantly famous photo of French president François Hollande marching on the streets of Paris earlier today arm in arm with dozens on European and other world leaders, demonstrating the solidarity and unity of the French people (and their allies) in the wake of last Tuesday’s attack on satirist magazine Charlie Hebdo, which killed 12 people, and another attack on a kosher supermarket that killed four more people.

From left to right, you can see Federica Mogherini, the European foreign policy chief; Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president; Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu; former French president Nicolas Sarkozy; Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta; Hollande; German chancellor Angela Merkel; European Council president and former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk; Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas; and Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi. Not pictured are other luminaries, including British prime minister David Cameron, Jordanian King Abdullah, Greek prime minister and Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy and others, not all of whom are necessarily known for their staunch defense of freedom of expression, speech and the press at home.

The march was widely covered in world and US media today.

But the second photo was taken just hours earlier in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, where protests have erupted in the wake of another attack, also last Tuesday, that killed 37 people when a suicide bomber targeted a police academy, one of several instances of increasing violence in Yemen. Though they didn’t have the benefit of a phalanx of world leaders, the civilian marches in Yemen are no less important than those in Paris today. Continue reading Photo(s) of the day, 2015 terrorism edition

Will the US respect Yemeni parliament’s vote on drone attacks?

yemen graffiti drones

In a speech just four years ago, US admiral Mike Mullen, then chair of the joint chiefs of staff, outlined the US government’s approach to Yemen in an address to the US Naval War College.  By 2010, Yemen, which lies on the southwestern edge of the Arabian peninsula, had become an increasingly worrying front in US global efforts to confront Islamic terrorism:USflagyemen flag

Mullen said people ask him often if the United States is going to send troops to the nation. “The answer is we have no plans to do that, and we shouldn’t forget this is a sovereign country,” he said. “Sovereign countries get to vote on who comes in their country and who doesn’t.”

In what is the first vote of its kind, Yemen’s parliament voted on Sunday for a halt to US-initiated drone strikes that locals say killed more than a dozen civilians in a wedding party on December 11 — the attack, which took place in the central Yemeni province of al-Baydaa, is just one of many strikes in 2013, and it’s not the first one to have resulted in civilians deaths.  But the attack attracted widespread condemnation from both inside Yemen and internationally, leading to Sunday’s unanimous parliamentary vote.

In light of the ‘Mullen doctrine,’ you might expect the United States to pause its drone strikes on the country, right?

Wrong. The parliamentary vote wasn’t binding on the Yemeni government, and Yemen’s parliamentary powers pale in comparison to those of the president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, vice president between 1994 and 2012 and the hand-picked successor to Yemen’s longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Yemeni ruling party, the General People’s Congress (المؤتمر الشعبي العام‎, Al-Mo’tamar Ash-Sha’abiy Al-‘Aam), which itself controls 238 of the 301 seats in Yemen’s Majlis al-Nuwaab (House of Representatives).

Yemen, alongside Tunisia and Egypt, was among the vanguard of countries where the so-called Arab Spring peaked — though Saleh held on through mass protests in January and February 2011 against corruption and economic mismanagement, an assassination attempt in July 2011 left him severely injured and burned.  But the stage-managed transition from Saleh to Hadi has barely addressed the long-standing complaints of the Arab Spring protestors, let alone the more fundamental regional divides that have long plagued Yemen, which emerged as two quasi-independent states in 1918 out of the collapse of the Ottoman empire.

Meanwhile, the US government denies that the December 11 drone strike killed anyone but ‘militants,’ despite evidence to the contrary and a deluge of protest across the Arab world.  Even the United Nations is now calling on the United States to provide answers about the error. 

As Adam Baron, a reporter based in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a wrote last week in Foreign Policy,

The exact nature of the error is still a matter of speculation. It was hard not to wonder if the wedding convoy was mistaken for something more sinister — that someone in the bowels of the U.S. intelligence community concluded that vehicles carrying heavily armed wedding guests were actually an al Qaeda convoy. Some tribal contacts said that there were high-ranking militants near the site of the strike, and a Yemeni official briefed on security matters told me a vehicle hit in the attack had been linked to a prominent local al Qaeda leader. Either way, any “suspected militants” present were surrounded by civilian bystanders.

Nonetheless, the United States seems unlikely to swerve from its low-grade war against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  The drones will continue — and they will, in all likelihood, continue to kill innocent civilians, each of which has the potential to drive everyday Yemenis closer to AQAP and away from the United States.  Just last week, when AQAP attacked Yemen’s defense ministry, it also accidentally struck people in a hospital inside the ministry — and its leaders were fast to apologize for the error in targeting the hospital and agreed to pay ‘blood money’ to the relatives of those killed in the attack.

How did we get to the point where al-Qaeda seems more accountable than the Obama administration for civilian deaths in Yemen?


Jeremy Scahill’s tour de force about the covert and clandestine operations of both the Obama administration and the administration of George W. Bush, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, calls into question the legality of much of the basis for the notion that the executive branch can claim the entire world is essentially the ‘battlefield’ for the global war on terror.  In particular, the Obama administration’s record in Yemen alone remains troubling.

Abdulrazaq Al-Jamal, an expert specializing in Al-Qaeda affairs, summarized the Yemeni argument against the US strikes in an interview earlier this week with the Yemen Times, arguing that the US drone strikes are illegal, that they encourage  AQAP and they expose Yemen’s own government as a failure:

I think there is no difference between the raid that targeted the wedding convoy in Ra’ada and the previous raids that targeted Al-Qaeda and any Yemeni [citizens]. American [spying] and shelling, in principle, is wrong because it kills illegally and without trial. I cannot differentiate between strikes that target Al-Qaeda members and strikes that [might] target citizens because these strikes are [made outside of the legal system]. I disagree with those who differentiate between them because it is a violation of Yemeni sovereignty to kill [any Yemeni citizens, be they Al-Qaeda members or not]….

I don’t think that American drones are [stopping tribes from] protecting Al-Qaeda members as [drones] may cause several tribes to [actually] join Al-Qaeda. I think that if American drones continue to violate Yemen’s sovereignty and kill civilians, the tribes will not only protect Al-Qaeda affiliates but will join Al-Qaeda themselves.  Seeking help from American drones [instead of handling Al-Qaeda itself] proves that the Yemeni government is a failed one.

Saleh, and now Hadi, have played a wily game of rope-a-dope with the United States in the post-9/11 era, seeking ever more funding and training for forces to fight ‘terrorism,’ while routinely deploying those forces in furtherance of pushing back against internal regionalists.  Most recently, that means the Shiite Houthi rebellion that began in the mid-2000s in northeastern Yemen, but it also includes forces to maintain tentative control over south Yemen, a wide swatch of country that includes not only the southern shore and the key port of Aden, but also the eastern half of Yemen that borders Oman.  Saleh, who came to power in north Yemen in 1978, only managed to unify the two parts of Yemen in 1990, and even then, fought a civil war in 1994 and continual unrest thereafter.  As AQAP grew in Yemen, south Yemen has become a territorial stronghold in a country where local power still runs on largely tribal lines, and the line between tribal leader and militant leader is often dazzlingly blurred.  While Yemen is also split on religious lines (around 45% to 50% of the country belongs to the Zaydi Shi’a sect and around 50% to 55% of the country is Sunni) Yemen’s Shiites are clustered in the northwestern corner of the country.

US meddling comes at a delicate time for Yemen, whose leaders are working on a new agreement to grant self-rule powers to the autonomous south in a move toward a more federal Yemen.  The powerful Yemeni Socialist Party (الحزب الاشتراكي اليمني, Al-Hizb Al-Ishtiraki Al-Yamani), which controlled south Yemen during its period of independence through 1990, opposes the latest effort, and it continues to support a two-region state, not the six-region state that Hadi and the current Yemen government supports.  If an agreement can be reached, Yemenis will vote in a constitutional referendum in February 2014.   Continue reading Will the US respect Yemeni parliament’s vote on drone attacks?