A billboard at the Trump International Golf Club Dubai. Photo: AFP / Karim Sahib
A billboard at the Trump International Golf Club Dubai. Photo: AFP / Karim Sahib

Critics of President Trump’s temporary travel ban on seven Muslim nations should remember the Chinese proverb, “Kill the chicken and let the monkey watch.”

The much-criticized measure was a warning to the governments of the Gulf States, Turkey and Pakistan, who walk a fine line between support for Western counter-terrorism efforts and concessions to jihadists. It has had precisely the result that the White House intended, as a Dubai security official indicated on January 29. As Reuters’ Zawya.com reported:

Dubai’s deputy chief of police and public security, Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, has praised US President Donald Trump’s recent decision to temporarily ban citizens from seven Muslim-majority states, saying in a series of tweets it was a ‘preventive measure’ to safeguard the country.

Kudos to President Trump for his brave decisions… they (these people) can only be dealt with through preventive measures,” he said in an Arabic-language tweet dated January 29 on his official Twitter account.

“Trump banned the citizens of countries in the embrace of Iran and prevented the Iranians from entering… sound decision,” he added in another tweet…. “It is not necessary for America to host backward people, it has received enough before,” he said in one tweet. “What would a Yemini, Iraqi, Iranian, Somali or a Syrian do in America? They have destroyed their countries, they should not destroy America.”

Counter-terrorism officials in Muslim countries contending with a jihadist minority view Trump as an ally against their domestic enemies.

More importantly, Trump has suddenly won admiration in Erdoganist circles in Turkey, who held the Obama administration in contempt. Writing in Al-Monitor, Hurriyet Daily News columnist Mustafa Aykol reports that Trump is the hero of the pro-government press, despite (or perhaps because of) the immigration halt.

Like the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Aykol observes, Turkey is relieved by Trump’s election victory. “President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the ultimate authority, has so far said nothing about the ‘Muslim ban.’ Moreover, his propaganda machine, consisting of at least 10 national newspapers, several TV channels and thousands of social media trolls, has also been unusually silent about the issue. Daily Sabah, the flagship of the pro-government empire, has been absolutely silent on the ban. Daily Star, another key newspaper, published only a small and neutral report. Daily Aksam did run a headline on the ban, but only with a subtitle: ‘He [Trump] must be given a chance.’”

“It is not necessary for America to host backward people, it has received enough before”

As cited by Aykol, Daily Sabah columnist Hilal Kaplan wrote in a Turkish-language commentary that “the American president who is responsible for destabilizing the seven banned Muslim nations was none other than former President Barack Obama. It was of course bad that American Muslims were in trouble, but what really mattered were ‘Muslims in our region.’”

Obama helped overthrow Libya’s leader Muamar Qadaffi and Egypt’s President Mubarak, and backed Syrian jihadists against the Assad government with just enough firepower to keep the civil war going without a hope of finishing it. The US allowed the Sunni extremists who formed ISIS to operate undisturbed in the hope of directing them against Assad – a point made forcefully by Gen. Michael Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency under Obama and now Trump’s National Security adviser.

The Obama administration’s dalliance with jihadists of various stripes helped throw the region into chaos, and contributed to the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria which has killed half a million civilians and displaced perhaps ten million. These problems turned up on Turkey’s doorstep, literally so in the case of the two million Syrian refugees now housed in Turkish refugee camps. The Syrian Civil War also raised the prospect of an independent Kurdish entity on Turkey’s border with Syria linking up with the Kurdish autonomous zone in Iraq. That is Erdogan’s nightmare: the Kurdish-majority provinces in Turkey’s southeast have a far higher fertility rate than ethnic Turks. Demographic pressures are a serious long-term threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity, as I reported in Asia Times last year.

Turkey also suspects that the Obama administration gave aid and comfort to the military coup plotters of July 2016, who appeared inspired by the rogue Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. I doubt that Obama helped instigate the coup, but the Gülenists had some backing in the US intelligence community, as I reported here. Erdogan’s turn towards Moscow in the aftermath of the coup was motivated in part by his distrust of Washington, and Gen. Flynn has been at pains to return Turkey to the NATO fold.

Although Pakistan has said nothing about the immigration ban, its actions suggest that it got the message from the White House. After years of prevaricating, Pakistani authorities finally arrested the radical Muslim cleric Hafiz Saeed, accused of planning the 2008 Mumbai massacre carried out by Pakistani jihadists.

Through a combination of incompetence and weakness, the Obama administration contributed materially to violence in the Middle East, threatening the stability of traditional American allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. In addition, it encouraged the Iranians to assert their military power in the region, which the Sunni states view with alarm. If the Obama administration did not create ISIS, it stood godfather to the birth of the movement, as Gen. Flynn observed and reported during his tenure at Defense Intelligence.

In that respect, Ms. Kaplan at the Daily Sabah is punctiliously correct to blame the Obama administration for the humanitarian and strategic catastrophe which has befallen her region during the past several years. Western pundits who protest the supposed inhumanity of Trump’s temporary immigration halt said not a word while the Obama administration steered the region towards disaster and half a million Syrians died in their country’s civil war. Their objections should be read as politically-motivated hypocrisy.

The governments who have to deal with the consequences of American fecklessness, by contrast, want the United States to be strong and assertive. They are engaged in an existential war against jihadist elements who threaten to reduce them to chaos, and look to the United States to show determination. That is why Trump is suddenly so popular in the Middle East.

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