Down the Memory Hole: The Trump administration, Banned Countries and Historic Amnesia
The Trump administration announced a ban on people traveling from seven countries in late January, claiming these countries have Islamic terrorists. Those countries include Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya.
Shortly after this executive order was announced, several major media sources made the claim that President Trump has no business dealings with these seven countries. At the same time, they claimed that other majority Muslim countries, where Trump does have businesses dealings, also are home to terrorist groups.
The Washington Post stated on January 28, “But without divesting from his company, as bipartisan ethics experts had advised, Trump is now facing questions about whether he designed the new rules with his own business at least partly in mind.”
While it may be true that President Trump has no business dealings with the seven countries with the travel ban in effect, this is hardly the primary motive for choosing these particular countries.
Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya are all countries that have been seen by US foreign policy officials as enemy states for for years and in some cases decades.
The suggestion that Trump chose these countries because of his business dealings is ridiculous and the fact that many commercial media source went out of their way to make this point only underscores the foreign policy amnesia we all struggle with when it comes to the United States and the rest of the world. Let’s take a look at the historical record and these seven countries.
Iran – The US has had issues with Iran since the early 1950s. The popular president, Mohammad Mossadegh, nationalized Iran’s oil, which was unacceptable to the west. In 1953, the CIA overthrew the Mossadegh government and put in power a brutal dictatorship, know as the Shah. The Shah ran the country with an iron fist, with the use of his death squads, known as SAVAK, which were trained by the Israelis and armed by the US.
The Shah of Iran has close relations with US Presidents from Dwight Eisenhower through Jimmy Carter, but growing internal opposition to the repressive policies of the Shah eventually led to his overthrow in 1979. The new government was led by a Muslim cleric named the Ayatollah Khomeini.
The Khomeini government began with lots of support, but soon adopted repressive tactics. The US began to isolate Iran diplomatically and quickly turned to the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, who was eager to pick a fight with Iran. From 1980 – 1988, the US government provided millions of dollars to the Iraqi government to fight a war against Iran, even supplying the Iraqi government with chemical weapons that were used against Iranians. There was a period of time during this eight year war, that the US was actually providing military aid to both Iraq and Iran, with the hopes of destabilizing both countries and allowing the US greater control in the region.
During the Clinton administration, Iran continued to be a terrorist state, especially because of it’s relationship with Israel. After 9/11, the Bush administration referred to Iran as part of the Axis of Evil, along with Iraq and North Korea. Ever since then the US has claimed that Iran possesses nuclear capability and punished them through diplomatic means and by supporting internal opposition forces that have threatened to overthrown the Iranian government for years.
Iraq – The US had supported Saddam Hussein since the early 1960s when the Ba’ath Party overthrew the government. Saddam would eventually become President of Iraq in 1979, just in time to be an ally in the US isolation of Iran.
As was mentioned in the section on Iran, the US government supplied Iraqi with millions of dollars of military aid, including chemical weapons that Iraq used against Iran and against the Kurdish population.
After the Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, the US soon began to distance themselves from Saddam Hussein. Beginning in 1990, the US needed a new rogue nation threat, especially after the collapse of the former Soviet Union. The US told Iraqi diplomats that they didn’t care about their border dispute with Kuwait, but within months to US was deploying its military to Saudi Arabia in the Fall of 1990.
In order to justify a war with Iraq, the US claimed that Iraqi soldiers were killing babies who were still in incubators in Kuwait. This was later revealed to be a fabricated story that was developed by a US PR firm, Hill & Knowlton.
In January of 1991, the US began a massive bombing campaign against Iraq, a campaign which lasted 40 days until Iraq finally surrendered. However, the US left Saddam Hussein in power and according to declassified documents, wanted him to stay in power because he would provide the best opportunity for the US to intervene in the future when necessary.
The US imposed the most severe sanctions ever applied to a country from 1991 to 2002, just before the US invasion and occupation of Iraq beginning in March of 2003. During the Clinton years, in addition to harsh sanctions, the US bombed Iraq on a regular basis and funded armed groups with the hope that they would overthrow Saddam Hussein. In a 1996 interview by 60 Minutes, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked if the 500,000 Iraqi children that had died because of the sanctions was worth it. Here is what Albright had to say.
The US occupation of Iraq lasted from 2003 through the early years of the Obama administration. During those years several anti-American movements grew because of the US military occupation and the re-writing of the Iraqi constitution to favor US-based corporations. These insurgent movements despised the US occupation, with the most recent insurgent manifestation being ISIS. According to author and scholar Patrick Cockburn (The Rise of Islamic State), the US is directly responsible for creating a political climate that gave birth to ISIS in Iraq.
Syria – The US government has played an active role in Syria, ever since the 1949 CIA sponsored military takeover of that country. Beginning in 1950, the US worked to put in power various leaders, again with the CIA’s involved throughout much of the 1950s.
In 1967, during the Israeli war against Egypt, Syria also engaged in a military campaign against Israel, because Israel wanted the Golan Heights, territory that the Syrians claimed was theirs.
In the 1970s, Syria invaded Lebanon during the Ford administration, with support directly from Henry Kissinger. President Assad was an ally to the US, mostly because of his contempt for PLO leader Yassir Arafat.
Beginning in the 1980s, Assad turned a blind eye towards Islamic extremists who were committing atrocities. The US continued to see Assad as an ally and supported his regime throughout the 80s and 90s. Just after 9/11, the US recruited Syria in its war against al Qaida, despite the fact that the US kept Syria on their list of countries sponsoring terrorism.
During the Obama administration, the policy has been to provide military support to opposition forces with Syria, but not enough for them to overthrow the Assad regime. The administration hoped to demonstrate just enough disgust with the Assad regime, while quietly unwilling to actually overthrown the dictatorship.
Sudan – Sudan has been engaged in bloody internal wars since 1955, when it obtained independence from Britain. With massive oil reserves, the West and particularly the US has had an interest in that country.
By 1980, Sudan had become the sixth largest recipient of US military aid. Islamic militants eventually came to power in 1989, but the US chose to maintain close relationship with Sudan until they decided to support Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Osama bin Laden fled his native Saudi Arabia and landed in Sudan in 1990 in opposition to the US military build up in just before the Persian Gulf War. Bin Laden was collaborating with the National Islamic Front (NIF) and after years of operation, the Clinton administration lobbed 75 cruise missile into the Sudanese city of Khartoum. The bombs destroyed the only pharmaceutical factory, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of children, since they were not able to provide basic medicines. The US eventually admitted to wrong doing and they settled after a lawsuit was brought forth for the factory bombing.
After 9/11 Sudan’s status increased as a country that supports state terrorism, although the US hasn’t demonstrated any urgency in dealing with their role in foster Islamic fundamentalists groups. The Bush and Obama administrations maintain sanction against Sudan, up until the last few weeks before Trump took office, when President Obama lifted sanctions.
Libya – The US relationship with Libya has been primarily about oil since the north African country obtained independence. Thus, the relationship the US has had with the Qadaffy regime over the years has been mixed.
The US has always tried to present itself as being in opposition to the Qadaffy government, but for years the US government through the CIA always assisted him in fighting off attempted coups. beginning in the 1980s, Libya began to be seen as an enemy state, especially during the Reagan years, with attempts to assassinate Qadaffy in 1986. Sanctions were also imposed on Libya during the 1980s.
The sanctions continued through the Clinton years, until they were eventually lifted in 1999. Cordial relations continued after 9/11, when Libya condemned the attacks on US soil. However, in 2011 the US led campaign to get the United Nations to go to war against Qadaffy demonstrated that the US no longer had use for the dictator. The US disposed of Qadaffy in a brutal war that is well documented in books like The Illegal War on Libya and Arab Spring, Libyan Winter, despite the fact that the war was presented to the American public as a war of liberation.
Somalia – Somalia is a great example of how flooding a country with small arms can eventually come back to haunt the country that provides the weapons. This is what happened in Somali in the late 1980s and early 1990s, even before Siad Barre came to power.
As the United States poured in more than $50 million of arms annually to prop up the Barre regime, there was virtually no assistance offered that would have helped build a self-sustaining economy which could feed Somalia’s people. In addition, the United States pushed a structural adjustment program through the International Monetary Fund which severely weakened the local agricultural economy. Combined with the breakdown of the central government, drought conditions and rival militias disrupting food supplies, there was famine on a massive scale, resulting in the deaths of more than 300,000 Somalis, mostly children.
The tensions built up and eventually the US sent troops to engage in a counter-insurgency war that lasted for about 18 months and wound up being a nightmare for the US troops and US diplomats.
The country continued to suffer from civil war and repression, with Islamic group eventually coming to power in 2006. Since 2006, the US has viewed Somalia as significant terrorist threat, but has never really acknowledged the role in has played in the history of violence over the past 40 years.
Yemen – Yemen is another country where the US has been a major supplier of weapons over the years, eventually resulting in destabilization and anti-American sentiment. In addition to the history of US weapons trafficking in Yemen, the Obama administration escalated its drone war campaign in Yemen, with numerous targeted assassinations, often resulting in civilian deaths.
Author Jeremy Scahill writes:
For years, the elite Joint Special Operations Command and the CIA had teams deployed inside Yemen that supported Yemeni forces and conducted unilateral operations, consisting mostly of cruise missile and drone attacks. Some of the unilateral strikes have killed their intended targets, such as the CIA attack on Awlaki. But others have killed civilians—at times, a lot of civilians. And many of these have been in Abyan and its neighboring province of Shebwa, both of which have recently seen a substantial rise of AQAP activity. President Obama’s first known authorization of a missile strike on Yemen, on December 17, 2009, killed more than forty Bedouins, many of them women and children, in the remote village of al Majala in Abyan. Another US strike, in May 2010, killed an important tribal leader and the deputy governor of Marib province, Jabir Shabwani, sparking mass anger at the United States and Saleh’s government.
This brief overview of the history of US relations with the seven countries that the Trump administration has issued the travel ban against, demonstrates that the US has for decades seen these countries as enemy states regardless of which political party sits in the White House.
Sources used for this article:
Imperial Alibis: Rationalizing US Intervention After the Cold War, by Stephen Shalom
Crusade 2.0: The West’s Resurgent War on Islam, by John Feffer
Boomerang? How Covert Wars Have Created Enemies Across the Middle East and Brought Terror to America, by Mark Zepezauer
Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since WWII, by Bill Blum
Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, by Robert Dreyfuss