Soon to be former US President Barack Obama once famously said with respect to foreign policy “don’t do stupid shit (or” stuff” depending on your sensitivity to salty language)”. That maxim could just have easily been applied to domestic policy. And it is something that incoming president Donald Trump might want to pay attention to.
Alas, the early signs are not hopeful.
As Mr. Trump begins to form the team that will support his administration we are learning that some of the candidates put forward hold views that are unhelpful at best and disastrous at worst, insofar as our struggle with international Islamist terrorism is concerned.
- the man nominated as National Security Adviser, retired Lt. Gen Michael Flynn (by the way he had been fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency by President Obama), has stated, among other things, that “Islam is a cancer” and “fear of Islam is rational” and believes that Sharia (Islamic) law is spreading throughout the US.
- the designated attorney-general, Republican senator Jeff Sessions, has supported Mr. Trump’s call for a ban on immigration and stated that there is a “toxic ideology” at the core of Islam.
- the probable director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, has called for listing the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, thus feeding the conspiracy theory that the group has tried to infiltrate the US government.
It is hard to believe that men with these views are in fact being considered for senior security positions. Should they be nominated, and pass Congressional muster, they will indeed make the US less safe, not more, let alone less open and democratic.
The views that these men hold serve to bolster the narratives that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Islamic State spout ad nauseum: the West hates Islam, the West is at war with Islam, Muslims cannot live freely in the West and hence should perform hijrah (migration) to a Muslim-majority nation. The citations noted above easily fit into this narrative.
These types of opinions not only lead to (and in fact have already led to) hate speech and hate crimes, but they place tremendous pressures on the US’ relationship with Islamic nations and Muslims on several levels. It is not inconceivable that some Muslim countries will be less keen to cooperate with the US on security issues if they see a US government that is inherently Islamophobic. More policies like Guantanamo and torture tactics will create more room for violent radicalisation and extremism. US Muslims will not only be subject to more suspicion and aggression but will be turned off working with authorities to address the small numbers of violent extremists in the US and less likely to report these threats, thus fulfilling a myth with which they have been already labelled. Disgust with racist policies at the highest levels will lead to fewer brave souls willing to help the FBI, either as contacts or as sources. And, in this climate of fear and division, you can kiss CVE good-bye.
The very real threat of Islamist terrorism around the world requires a bold response and collaboration at national and international levels. Working together, however, is not fostered by prejudice and conspiracy theory. These kinds of views undermine everything we have been trying to achieve over the past decade and half (not that all has been perfect in that time, but I think we were getting better).
I found it telling that 50 veteran national security and intelligence officials signed a joint letter during the presidential election campaign saying that a Trump presidency would actually put the US at risk. It now looks like they were right.