By Jesse Morton
“We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth”, President Donald J. Trump emphasized in his inaugural address. Just like that, U.S. foreign policy returned back to the verbiage of a clash of civilizations, a war against barbarians, towards the superlatives that defined colonialism and to the era of George W. Bush. This is indeed a “serious situation”, the “security of the country is (definitely) at stake”.
As President Trump was issuing his proclamation, protests sprung up around the globe. This was particularly true in the Middle East. Of importance, massive rallies in Gaza and the West Bank opposed Trump´s support of Israeli control over Jerusalem. Meanwhile, radical Jewish settlers came out to express the support for the new President. Such developments indicate, at least, a likely uptick in violence and, at worst, a spark that could enflame the entire region. This was not unlike the global wave of opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
To make matters more explicit, the new President soon signed, by way of an executive order, the controversial “Muslim ban”. The ban attempted to temporarily halt immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan. Administration officers soon hinted that countries like Lebanon and Pakistan might be added to the list. This will only enhance anti-American sentiments and polarization. But perhaps it’s the intent.
In truth, we’ve officially come full circle, back to the dawn of what was then called the War on Terror. It is the same technique utilized by so-called “Third World” dictators to incite divisive fear, the same technique utilized to birth the National Security State after 9/11. The answer then was also an unflinching patriotism; everyone in the world was either “with us or with the terrorists.” The Bush administration quickly embraced illegal, preemptive detentions under the exaggerate claim that “sleeper cells” were ready to attack. Bush concentrated on the threat within. Trump’s ban focuses on the threat without. The difference hardly matters. Like the Orwellian term Trump embraced – extraordinary interrogation (also known as torture under International Law) – each approach has the same effects.
President Bush also had his lists then. Recall the Axis of Evil: North Korea, Cuba, Cuba, Libya, Syria, Iran and Iraq. At least the neocons refrained from blatant religious discrimination. That was not, however, true behind closed doors. As one high-level Bush administration official explained to General Richard Clarke in 2004, “We’re going to take out seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.” This list is eerily reminiscent of the countries of Trump’s Muslim ban. Additionally, the Bush administration also threatened Pakistan’s inclusion. As Richard Armitage explained to President Pervez Musharaff, the entire country would be “blown back to the Stone Age” if he refrained from joining the Axis of Everything Righteous and Pure.Admittedly, Trump splitting the world into civilized and uncivilized may be just as archaic, but at least he didn’t call a “crusade” that “would take a while”, as had Bush.
The temporary ban on immigration may prove a more catastrophic blunder that President Obama’s indifference to Syrian plight. The suffering endured by Syrians has further radicalized many. Syria has proven the prime subject of jihadi propaganda, recruiting thousands from the “civilized” and “uncivilized” world. To prevent refugees and allies from departing would only lead to more death and destruction, and further erode America’s reputation in the Muslim-majority lands.
At least one leader welcomed President Trump’s inaugural statement. Vladimir Putin called President Obama’s reign “divisive”, and supported Trump’s call for cooperation. Russia has armed and supported dictator Bashar Al-Assad in Syria from the beginning. Within days of the inauguration, Russia sold an exorbitant number of missiles to the Syrian State. At the same time, Trump was fighting in court to preserve the Muslim ban, while Amnesty International (AI) was releasing a report entitled “Human Slaughterhouse”. The report documents horrendous torture and mass killings inside Sadnaya prison.
America will now be seen as complicit with both dictatorships. Putin and, by extension, Al-Assad. The AI report is no doubt, however, an example of “leftist propaganda”. The report of a reputable human rights agency will be rejected as “media lies”, to which Putin and Trump may even provide us with “alternative truths.”
The implications of this return to the Clash of Civilizations is severe. On the day of the inaugural address ISIS destroyed parts of Tetrapylon, a Roman theatre in Palmyra. Soon thereafter, a special-ops attack in Libya took out 40 ISIS members in the final stages of directing an attack in Europe. ISIS altered its English-language magazine from Dabiq to Rumiyya, a reference to scripture that prophesized Rome’s eventual Islamic conquest. The new President’s foreign policy will only shift the focus of jihadists even further to the West.
Next, President Trump authorized a JSOC raid in Yemen. The raid targeted the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. However, the jihadists were somehow warned beforehand. A massive firefight ensure that 25 civilians, one Navy Seal and the leader of Al-Qaeda were left dead. Among those killed was Anwar al-Awlaki’s eight year old daughter. Her grandfather reported that she died slowly from a gunshot wound to the neck. No doubt those moments were recorder by jihadist propagandists. The online jihad network was immediately coated in calls for revenge, while the new U.S. administration classified the raid as an “enormous success”. Their return to a Clash of Civilizations will only heighten security concerns. As one commander of Al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Syria put it after the election: “We no longer have to explain the U.S. war on Islam. Now we only have to retweet Trump.”
In his inaugural speech President Trump emphasized that “Every decision (…) on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.” The Clash of Civilizations will be sold to the people under the guise of security, just as in the era of Bush. However, we must remember that the War on Terror left thousands of America’s underprivileged dead and wounded, destroyed the economy, and represented an onset of rabid social polarization and political deadlock.
Today’s rhetoric is no different; the consequences will likely prove similar. But the swamp Trump claims he wants to drain will most certainly remain content. Already the Pentagon has expressed an interest in renting in Trump Towers.
This clash is going to be “fantastic.” As President Bush put it just as the Iraqi insurgency heat up: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.