Sunday, January 29, 2017

An Erratic Little Man & His Muslim Travel Ban

The Wizard's trickery is revelaed in The Wizard of Oz
To borrow a phrase from Maureen Dowd's blistering New York Times column on Saturday, "the 70-year-old 7-year-old" child who now occupies the Oval Office is off to a rocky start to say the least.

His chaotic first week in office was defined by lies, Orwellian denunciations of the press, efforts to censor government agencies and klutzy foreign policy steps that were amateurish as best.

It's been anything but a smooth transition of power - and that was just the first week.

Trump's first days inside the Oval Office were epitomized by that scene at the end of the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy's faithful dog Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal an erratic little man twisting dials and pushing buttons in a desperate attempt to maintain the illusion of authoritarian control.

The newest resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue seems less the dignified presidential figure than some bedazzled kid frantically pulling at the levers of power in a determined effort to try out the machine before understanding how it actually works.

The images of him gleefully signing executive orders like some self-declared king issuing decrees for his subjects is downright creepy.

Especially with his stone-faced Chief-of-Staff Reince Priebus, the representative of the political party that demonstrated utter contempt for Trump before he dispatched their weak lineup of establishment candidates, and Stephen Bannon, the racist, alt-right Neo-Nazi sympathizer, looking over the shoulder of the man they attempt to control.
A controversial press release issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day by the ethically-conflicted POTUS* on Thursday drew widespread criticism for neglecting to mention the over six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis.

The White House statement (pictured above) didn't mention anti-Semitism either, prompting the Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt to call it "Puzzling and troubling."

As the Times of Israel reported today, when asked by Chuck Todd on NBC's Meet the Press this morning whether it was a mistake for the White House not to have mentioned Jews in as press statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Priebus insisted there was "no regret".

He also reminded Todd that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner is Jewish; as if that fact is some kind of Jedi Mind Trick that will make the press and everyone else forget that the controversial White House advisor Stephen Bannon is a known anti-Semite who ran the Breitbart News Website when it ran overtly anti-Semitic articles.

The alarming oversight lead many observers to suspect that the text of the statement was actually written by Bannon as a not-so-subtle nod to the extremist alt-right followers of Breitbart News, who devour fake news like Doritos and openly sympathize with loony Holocaust deniers - like the former Department of Defense Inspector General Joseph Schmitz - another Trump foreign policy advisor.

Actions like the White House Holocaust Remembrance Day press release only confirm the suspicions of many around the world that this fledgling administration's ultimate goal is to normalize bigotry, anti-Semitism, racism and ethnic and religious hatred - and to make such reprehensible views U.S. government policy.

Case in point, the executive order Trump signed on Friday that temporarily bans people of Muslim faith from seven mid-east and African nations with majority-Muslim populations from entering the United States.

Protesters outside Terminal 4 of JFK [Photo - Getty Images]
As you've likely seen and heard, those bans have caused chaos in airports around the nation as well as in airports in those seven nations on the banned entry list for foreigners with valid U.S Visas and legitimate reasons to travel to America.

As Rolling Stone reported, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose film The Salesman is up for nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars, announced that he will not attend the ceremony to protest Trump's order.

Some individuals in airports across the nation, including JFK in New York, have been held in detention for days while security officials try to sort out their status and eligibility to enter the country based on Trump's vague executive order.

In an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Trump's decision to intentionally target Muslims "goes against our Constitutional values" - in part because innocent people are being detained by authorities without being charged with anything, or without the due process guaranteed by the Constitution.

Mayor de Blasio echoed the concerns of local officials in other cities by also noting that the White House had issued no clear policy explanation, specific instructions or guidelines for airport security staff responsible for screening passengers entering the United States.

While it's unclear if the entry ban has kept any actual terrorists from entering the U.S., on Saturday at least 12 people were detained at JFK, including Hameed Khalid Darweesh.

Rep. Jerry Nadler with Hameed Khalid Darweesh
As the Huffington Post reported Darweesh worked as an Iraqi translator for the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division in both Baghdad and Mosul during the American invasion in 2003.

Darweesh was eventually released after being detained for 19 hours with the help of Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler - but the episode reflects the random and vague nature of the executive order.

In my view it is reprehensible to specifically target the members of any religion based simply on unjustified fear, paranoia and suspicion - it's bigotry in its purest form.

As the Iranian government noted in a statement, Trump's actions are likely to be used by terrorists as a recruiting tool and may in fact increase the likelihood of some kind of terrorist attack against innocent people here in the United States or abroad.

So the unpredictable POTUS* may well have put innocent human lives at risk by his decision.

It's like he's declaring his own war against Islam; his decisions have already cost the life of an American service member.

The same man who spent months ripping Republicans and Democrats alike for the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have cost thousands of lives and over $6 trillion of American taxpayer's money, approved a deadly weekend attack on a remote al Qaeda base in Yemen.

The attack in the al Bayda region of southern Yemen resulted in the death of a member of the U.S. Navy's SEAL Team Six, and three other injuries to U.S. service members - including two members of the flight crew of a V-22 Osprey that later crashed when it was sent in to extract the team after a protracted firefight.

Aftermath of a drone strike that killed an al Qaeda
leader in the same area of southern Yemen
Two weeks ago a drone strike killed an al Qaeda leader named Abd al-Ghani a Rasas in the same region where this weekend's attack, which the Pentagon said had been planned for months, took place.

According to an article in the Washington Post, Yemeni government officials claim that 15 women and children were also killed during the operation, which involved U.S. helicopter gunships and aircraft providing cover fire for the operation.

Did that remote al Qaeda base represent a direct threat to innocent lives American or otherwise?

Are the (alleged) deaths of 14 members of al Qaeda and innocent women and children thousands of miles away in Yemen worth the life a U.S. Navy SEAL or any other serviceman?

This decision also raises the legitimate question of whether this mission was a result of a legitimate security threat, or simply to placate the incessant needs of Trump's fragile ego and his almost obsessive childlike need for attention.

As biographer Michael D'Antonio was quoted as saying in Maureen Dowd's New York Times column:

"If he (Trump) could have commanded the attention of the world media every day of his life in the past he would have. The fact that the press corps is captive in the White House and can be dragged into these executive order signings is, for him, like mainlining Heroin."  

At some point Trump is going to have to get on with the complex business of governing with the consent of Congress, not just using his pen to sign executive orders like the ones that have left people detained indefinitely in airports and resulted in lives lost in a remote region of Yemen this weekend.

Granted the Special Operations strike had been planned for months, but the order barring people of Muslim faith from seven countries from entering the U.S. doesn't seem like the product of a carefully planned and well thought out strategic objective with a specific purpose.

It seems like the action of an impulsive, reactionary mindset - an erratic little man pulling at the levers of power that he does not yet fully understand.

No comments: