Trump’s shameful ban on visas for Iraqis

THOUSANDS OF IRAQIS put their lives in peril for the United States, and President Trump’s new ban on visas for Iraqis is a shameful way to repay them. If he is confirmed by the Senate, secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson must quickly find a way to undo the ban, and seek to contain the damage it’s already doing to America’s reputation. 

Trump said during the campaign he would bar Muslims from entering the nation, an idea that turned into the visa ban. In his executive order, Trump ordered the State Department to temporarily stop granting visas to residents of several predominantly Islamic countries — including Iraq. Now at least one Iraqi being held at Kennedy Airport is in legal limbo. 

The entire policy is offensive, since it scapegoats all Muslims for the actions of a small number of extremists. Residents of Muslim countries are the main victims of terrorism. But extending the ban to Iraq, the country whose people and freedoms so many pro-war politicians claimed to care about when they needed a justification for the 2003 war, is especially appalling. 

The truth is that no American has ever been killed by an Iraqi terrorist on American soil. Iraq and the United States are allies, bound by a strategic framework agreement. Many Iraqis worked for the United States during the postwar occupation, at great personal risk. And the United States government — which now means you, Mr. Trump — is relying on Iraqi soldiers in the fight against ISIS. 

That Trump’s policy covers Iraq, but not Saudi Arabia — a nation whose residents actually have killed thousands of Americans in terrorist attacks — underscores just how little rhyme or reason went into the policy. But while it doesn’t protect Americans, Trump’s visa ban does hand a propaganda victory to ISIS, appearing to vindicate the claim that the United States is out to get Muslims. 

It undercuts the alliance with Iraq, where some legislators are now suggesting barring Americans in retaliation. (Wonder how that would that go over with Tillerson’s former employer, Exxon, which has contracts in Iraq?) It risks chilling economic, political, and even military ties. How eager are Iraqi soldiers supposed to be about fighting with an ally whose actions blare a message that it doesn’t trust them? 

And the broader context — coming less than two decades after the United States launched “Operation Iraqi Freedom” — makes it especially disturbing. That’s what Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut seemed to be getting at with a tweet that went viral: “We bomb your country, creating a humanitarian nightmare, then lock you inside. That’s a horror movie, not a foreign policy.” 

Tillerson, who said in his confirmation hearings that he opposed a travel ban on Muslims, has done business in the Arab world and surely understands why Trump’s ban is so counterproductive. It would be best to scrap the whole policy, but at the least the State Department should make an exception for the people of Iraq. 

The Boston Globe
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