A version of this article also appeared with the Greanville Post.
In 2011, President Barrack Obama committed the US to a military assault on the nation of Libya, initiating an air and naval bombardment in support of an insurgency that ultimately led to the collapse of government authority. In the ensuing chaos, tens of thousands of people were killed, with US backed militias committing themselves to a campaign of ethnic cleansing that led to further calamities, including myriad abuses such as looting, rape, and torture. The response from much of the American people was minimal.
In 2016, the Republican Donald Trump won the Presidency, recently issuing an executive order placing travel restrictions on seven nations, Libya included. Dubbed a “Muslim Ban” by political opponents, the legislation was intended to prevent targeted citizens entering the US for some ninety days prior to the formulation of fresh immigration controls designed to target “terrorism”. The order also seriously curtailed the number of new refugees being admitted, with a blanket prohibition on those from Syria. The response from American liberalism has been staggering, with mass protests demanding the resignation of “fascist” Trump.
This is all well and good. Trump is evidently a man of undesirable sentiments, his business acumen of multiple bankruptcies being matched by a political vision marred by incoherence and belligerence. Yet the fact of the matter is that Obama bombed Libya and multiple other nations. People died. The resulting destabilisation has killed countless more. This was, by and large, accepted as just another policy decision. Trump has attempted to stop people from such nations entering the US. He is a “fascist” as a result. To kill people en masse is acceptable. To prevent their free movement is authoritarianism run amok. Obama’s missiles met with silence. Trump’s decrees prompt uproar. There is something seriously wrong here.
I’ll say again that I find Trump and the political movement behind him extremely unpleasant. Such a force constitutes a clear and present threat that, if allowed to go unchallenged, could lead to a definite shift to the right on an alarming scale. Some might say this is already on the cards and, given Trump’s political allies and the behaviour of some of his supporters, there’s a definite logic here.
I’ve already made this more than clear in several instances on this blog. But this itself is getting tiresome. Every time I point out inconsistencies in the camp of American liberalism (primarily the Democratic Party) the immediate response is to simply accuse me of admiring Trump. In one outlandish instance I was actually denounced as “supporting fascism”. In another I was informed that I was a “f*cking piece of sh*t” who apparently needed to “shut the f*ck up”.
This would be all very well if the situation were not so serious, although I don’t particularly care for Americans and their bizarre insistence on equating people with faecal matter. But the situation is serious, and serious people need to formulate serious politics when it comes to dealing with the situation in the US and indeed globally. Resorting to hysterical denouncements that are, to be blunt, factually untrue and frankly stupid just won’t cut it.
It also won’t do to entertain crass hypocrisy when it comes to the actions of Obama. Libya is a prime case in point. Despite the outrage over the “Muslim Ban”, the actual military bombardment of Muslims themselves is nearly always entirely omitted from the liberal narrative. Indeed, the prevailing argument never goes further than the notion that Trump has attempted to stop Muslims coming here purely because he’s a terrible person. Dump Trump. He’s “not America” etc.
This is self-evidently myopic for anyone genuinely concerned. Don’t for a moment, so goes the logic, look at the events that led to the creation of such a large population of refugees, or, most emphatically, the role the US has evidently played in creating such a malady. That would lead us back to questioning the previous administration, one that, for its supporters, appears to be beyond reproach, regardless of the sheer number of lives lost. It may also lead you to question the very fundamentals of US foreign policy, something predicated on more than just bad people in positions of power who may or may not say stupid things on Twitter.
In a piece recently published on Foreign Policy in Focus, Max Paul Friedman denounces Trump’s “Muslim Ban”, claiming it as potentially (or indeed immediately) more draconian a decision that the turning away of Jewish refugees on the MS St Louis in 1939. Friedman goes to some extremes to defend President Roosevelt’s decision to reject said refugees, claiming that to allow the St Louis to dock would have further antagonised a rabidly anti-immigrant Congress.
Whilst excusing the misdeeds of Democratic Presidents due to an apparently reactionary Congress/Senate/Supreme Court is a tried and tested tactic, Friedman makes the strange claim that Roosevelt’s decision was less harsh than it seems, given the apparent lack of “death camps” in Germany at the time. He also fixates on the fact that the St Louis refugees did not have US visas, presumably because that renders their need for assistance against the Third Reich less pressing. Trump, on the other hand, is turning people away who are self-evidently vulnerable, and, most importantly, may have the appropriate paperwork.
Here lies a prime issue. Much of what appears to have outraged the Democrats in particular is that Trump’s “ban” would (or may yet) have prevented those with Green Cards or even those with links to US citizens from returning home. Those who are suffering the most, however, as in the thousands upon thousands of refugees with no clear ties to the US, do not appear to warrant much mention, or if they do, appear to be of secondary importance. After all, Obama wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when it came to mass deportations or placing heavy duty obstacles in the way of refugees, something that, once again, appears to be a taboo subject.
Indeed, there is an entrenched attitude in evidence where what appears most outrageous is that Trump has taken a step against “America” or, specifically, those with ties or aspirations of becoming suitably American. Those with no hope or desire of attaining such a lofty identity do not merit much consideration. If it were otherwise, Obama’s brutal assault upon Libya and the tragic aftermath would have presumably met with staunch protests on the streets. The sad reality is that, with some honourable exceptions, this did not happen.
Friedman appears to embrace similar sentiments, completely omitting from his analysis any mention of why the refugee crisis even exists to begin with. No policy is cited, no specific locale, nor is any person, institution or nation mentioned that may have had a hand in the exacerbation of the situation. Trump is purely a bad character. He deserves blame. Obama and his bombing of seven (Muslim) nations in 2016 alone (dropping a grand total of twenty six thousand bombs in the process) goes entirely unmentioned.
It’s also disingenuous for Friedman to infer that the situation in Germany was somehow more temperate than might otherwise be suggested. Granted, his claim that there were no “death camps” in evidence in 1939 is true. That horror of a systematic, mechanised holocaust had yet to manifest. Yet there were camps, filled with assorted dissidents, communists, social democrats, trade unionists and assorted other “deviants”. These were not places of gentle correction. Brutal hard labour would be a more accurate description of what went on inside. Anti-Semitism and associated street thuggery was also clear and evident reality.
Europe was also on the brink of war. Large scale fighting would in fact break out just a few months after the St Louis was denied permission to dock. The refugees at heightened risk were thus sent back to a continental war zone that would expand into the largest armed conflagration in history. Let’s face it, “progressive” Roosevelt made a bad call. Obama’s bombardment of Libya and proven hand in exacerbating the refugee crisis elsewhere was also a bad call. Let’s acknowledge that, learn from it, and put opposition to Trump in some much needed context. Anything else is just dishonest.
Daniel Read is a UK-based journalist specialising in human rights and international affairs. He originally studied journalism at Kingston University, London, prior to obtaining post-graduate degrees in both human rights and global politics. He blogs at uncommonsense.me and tweets at @DanielTRead.