Donald Trump received his first classified briefing from U.S. intelligence officials on Wednesday, two days after laying out his vision for foreign policy that measures the worth of alliances by whether countries oppose the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Although there are big differences in Trump’s vision and that of the White House, there are significant similarities, analysts say. For one, both Trump and President Barack Obama are willing to look the other way when it comes to human rights violations committed in campaigns against the ISIS. More than that, both Trump and Hillary Clinton talk about a world where Muslim loyalty to the United States hinges on their condemnation of terrorism.
“I’m not impressed by either candidate,” said Raed Jarrar, government relations manager at the American Friends Service Committee, a civil rights group. “It seems that the gist of U.S. policy would continue to be interfering in other nations’ business, depending on militarism and military might and disregarding international law.”
Jarrar, an Iraqi American, said that Trump’s insistence that the U.S. should have “kept” the oil flies in the face of reality. Iraq’s parliament never handed over its oil resources to the U.S. or private companies in the first place. Trump’s proposal frames Iraq’s oil as a business opportunity (and, in a Trumpist humanitarian gesture, a way to pay for the treatment of vets) in a way similar to Clinton calling the mangled country a “business opportunity.”
Trump’s immigration proposal differs from the current regimen in that it proposes an ideological test for Muslims arriving in the United States, asking them whether they agree with American values, the progressive kind. What those values are remains to be determined, but Trump slammed honor killings and hailed “moderate Muslim reformers.” He also proposed the creation of a Commission on Radical Islam.
The “Commission on Radical Islam – which will include reformist voices in the Muslim community who will hopefully work with us. We want to build bridges and erase divisions. The goal of the commission will be to identify and explain to the American public the core convictions and beliefs of Radical Islam, to identify the warning signs of radicalization, and to expose the networks in our society that support radicalization.”
The U.S. prison on Guantanamo Bay would remain open, of course, to allow the United States to gain “human intelligence” from prisoners there.
But that was Trump reading a teleprompter. On Wednesday, he gave a less scripted interview to Fox News saying he didn’t really trust U.S. spies’ information, blaming the blunder of Iraq. That’s why he said he’d have by his side Ret. U.S. General Michael Flynn, a vocal critic of Barack Obama’s foreign policy and Republican National Convention speaker, during the first briefing.
A variation on a similar theme, the Commission on Radical Islam sounds eerily similar the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, set up in 1938 to uncover Communist plots against the U.S. Now, the questions could try to ensnare people for their lack of progressive views. That’s quite a new twist.
Trump said as much on Monday, while reminding voters of Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton having close ties to Saudi Arabian cash donated to the Clinton Foundation.
“While my opponent accepted millions of dollars in Foundation donations from countries where being gay is an offense punishable by prison or death, my Administration will speak out against the oppression of women, gays and people of different faith,” he said in his speech.
To one Arab American civil rights lawyer, Nacim Bouchita, the proposal sounded like “concern trolling,” haranguing someone while maintaining the facade of caring about their problems. American Muslims, and Christians, for that matter, who espouse progressive interpretations of faith never asked for Trump’s help. To Bouchita, Trump is trying his own triangulation.
“It’s bizarre and confusing. Bizarre because it seems like an attempt at concern-trolling from him to cater to progressive concerns over tolerance. I presume when he introduces a vetting process to take into account measures of tolerance, he’s hinting at Islamic homophobia. It’s confusing because no one realistically believes that real terrorists won’t just lie on the test.”
“As always, it’s difficult to properly evaluate a Trump proposal because it is typically vague on details and frequently revised after the fact,” he added.
The foreign policy portion of Trump’s speech seems to belie his focus on rights and tolerance, since the worth of an ally would hang on their dedication to the fight against ISIS, and not on their humanitarian record. President Obama’s administration has done the same thing, teaming up with Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to defeat ISIS, despite questions about their commitment to human rights, over Human Rights Watch allegations of summary executions of their Sunni rivals. Trump and the White House both agree that omelet creation requires the cracking of a few eggs. And while the U.S. hasn’t gone out of its way to hail Russia as an ally in the fight against ISIS, even as Russian bombers have begun to fly missions against ISIS in Syria from a base in Iran, Trump hails Russia as a key ally in the fight against the bad kind of Muslims. The good kind of Muslims, the ones on the Commission, will be there to help, too, Trump says.
“I also believe that we could find common ground with Russia in the fight against ISIS. They too have much at stake in the outcome in Syria, and have had their own battles with Islamic terrorism,” he said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. would end the practice of nation building, to the extent it ever did, something that the Russians hate seeing the U.S. do, especially when it conflicts with their own attempts at nation building in the middle east. Russian President Vladimir Putin opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq because Iraq had become a valuable client state for Moscow, just as Syria continues to be. Losing their port in Syria at Latakia, warm always, frozen never, would be a huge drag for the Russian navy. Conveniently, Trump’s friends in Putin’s Russia and Obama’s allies Badr Brigade are already both on the same page.
“Our new approach, which must be shared by both parties in America, by our allies overseas, and by our friends in the Middle East, must be to halt the spread of Radical Islam,” Trump said. “All actions should be oriented around this goal, and any country which shares this goal will be our ally. We cannot always choose our friends, but we can never fail to recognize our enemies.”
So while American values matter for Muslims trying to enter the United States, our own values against extrajudicial killings must take a backseat to Trump’s get tough approach.
Both worldviews rely on a simple demarcation of Muslims as loyal or disloyal, while Muslims themselves say they are tired of having to proclaim their animosity towards political violence as a way to prove their loyalty. Jarrar with AFSC said he saw similar patterns at the Democratic and Republic conventions this summer:
“I went to both the RNC and the DNC and I was really appalled by the level of anti-Muslim rhetoric at the RNC, the speeches and engaging in discussion with the delegates. But when I went to the DNC the presentation is different — the crowd is more diverse. There are many Muslim Americans inside the convention. The rhetoric on the stage was different, but when Bill Clinton made his speech and said that if ‘Muslims love freedom and hate terror’ then they have to gain the right of staying here, I think that sums up a lot of the assumptions on the Democratic side. We have to stay here as tools of fighting terrorism. You see the two sides of the same coin. It’s a reduction of an entire community as either being terrorists or being one who will fight terrorism and unfortunately I don’t think these things are different. That’s why I say one of them is way more overtly racist and scary and the other one is harder to detect, but when it comes to the assumptions behind policies, I don’t see much different.”