Donald Trump vs Barack Obama: Contrasting two American approaches to terror

Donald Trump vowed on Monday that America and its allies would defeat the 'forces of death' and keep radical jihadists from gaining a foothold on US soil.

FP Staff February 07, 2017 16:36:37 IST
Donald Trump vs Barack Obama: Contrasting two American approaches to terror

President Donald Trump vowed on Monday that America and its allies would defeat the "forces of death" and keep radical jihadists from gaining a foothold on US soil, but did not offer details about his strategy to defeat the Islamic State (IS) group.

In his first visit to US Central Command – responsible for an area that includes the Middle East and Central Asia – Trump also did not say whether he would scrap parts of the anti-IS mission in Iraq and Syria undertaken by his predecessor Barack Obama.

He accused IS fighters of leading a "campaign of genocide, committing atrocities across the world" and promised an unspecified "historic financial investment" in the US military.

Donald Trump vs Barack Obama Contrasting two American approaches to terror

File photo of Barack Obama (right) with Donald Trump. Reuters

Trump made fighting "radical Islamic terrorism" a central plank of his election campaign, and the issue is emerging as the organising principle of his foreign and domestic policies.

Trump used potential cooperation in the fight against the fighters as a reason to embrace Russia and has tried to implement an order banning refugees and nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

The ban has spurred an unprecedented battle with the courts. On Sunday, Trump tried to pin the blame for future attacks on the federal judge who has temporarily blocked his executive order.

Most experts express more concern about Americans becoming radicalised and carrying out IS-inspired attacks, rather than the group dispatching clandestine agents around the world.

The contours of Trump's policy to fight the Islamic State group abroad are still coming into focus, after less than three weeks on the job.

His call for a review of the anti-IS campaign included any "recommended changes to any United States rules of engagement."

Trump also slapped fresh sanctions on Iran's weapons procurement network on Friday, provoking an angry response from Tehran in what is an increasingly tense stand-off.

Officials said the new measures were in response to Iran's recent ballistic missile test and its support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who recently targeted a Saudi warship.

The new sanctions do not yet mean that the US has abandoned commitments it made under the deal to lift measures aimed at Iran's nuclear program, officials said.

But Trump has made no secret of his contempt for that accord, which his predecessor Barack Obama had approved in July 2015, and officials said that Friday's measures would not be the last.

"This behaviour seems continuous despite the very favourable deal given to Iran by the Obama Administration. These sanctions target these behaviours," he said. Trump's administration has not shied away from criticising, undoing and often using Obama administration's policies as a defence to justify its own. White House press secretary, Sean Spicer said, "Well, first of all, it's not a travel ban." – on President Donald Trump's executive order halting travel to the US for people from seven majority-Muslim countries. Secretary of homeland security, John Kelly added that, "This is not a travel ban; this is a temporary pause that allows us to better review the existing refugee and visa-vetting system." But that was not what their boss had said the day before. Trump defended the order and its immediate implementation in a tweet:

Spicer himself also had called it a ban at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs, saying, "the ban deals with seven countries that the Obama administration had previously identified as needing further travel restrictions."

Trump in a White House statement claimed that his policies were similar to what Obama did in 2011, when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.

That's not what happened. According to State Department data, 9,388 Iraqi refugees were admitted to the United States during the 2011 budget year. The data also show that Iraqi refugees were admitted every month during the 2011 calendar year.

The Obama administration did slow processing for Iraqi nationals, seeking refuge in the US under the government's Special Immigrant Visa program for translators and interpreters who worked with American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. That happened after two Iraqi nationals were arrested on terrorism-related charges. But that year, 618 Iraqis were allowed to enter the US with that special visa.

Also, government data shows that during the 2011 budget year, more than 7,800 Iraqis were allowed into the United States on non-immigrant visas, including tourists.

Trump, in the same statement, said that the seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.

That's misleading. There were no special US travel restrictions on citizens of those seven countries. The Republican-led Congress in 2015 voted to require visas and additional security checks for foreign citizens who normally wouldn't need visas – such as those from Britain – if they had visited the seven countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. This was included in a large spending bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed by Obama.

As the law was enacted, the Obama administration announced that journalists, aid workers and others who travelled to the listed countries for official work could apply for exemptions.

Trump, also said this the ban is not a Muslim ban, blaming the media for false reporting. "This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order," he said in the statement.

Trump is right that there are many majority-Muslim countries that have not been included in the travel ban. But he's also being misleading. The executive order signed on 27 January does not specifically say Muslims can't visit the US, but it does create a temporary total travel ban for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries. It also indefinitely bans Syrians.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani recently told Fox News that Trump had asked him to create a plan for a Muslim ban that would meet legal tests. Giuliani said he ultimately made recommendations that focused on security and what countries posed security threats.

But travel ban is just one of the many expected measures the Trump administration is expected to bring forward which are expected to be vastly different from Obama's in its plan to combat terror.

One of Obama's first moves as president in 2009 after winning his first four-year term was signing three executive orders to begin closing the detention facility at the US Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and curtail "enhanced interrogation techniques," including waterboarding. Trump said shortly after his election that "we are keeping open" the detention facility and are "gonna load it up with some bad dudes," making rescinding Obama's actions on the closure of the facility a likelihood.

The detention facility began housing detainees identified as foreign terrorism suspects in 2002 under Republican President George W Bush in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US by al-Qaeda Islamic militants.

Trump says he will also "rebuild" America's vast military, boost its anti-missile capabilities and prioritise defeating the IS group, according to the first policy statements published on the White House website.

Published moments after Trump was inaugurated as the president, the statements say he will end limits on Pentagon spending agreed by Congress and the Obama administration, and will soon release a new budget proposal outlining his vision for the military.

Moreover, Europe must pull together or risk being sidelined as Trump signals the end of a postwar transatlantic partnership credited with keeping the peace for the past 70 years, analysts and officials say.

Fears about the US president's isolationist stance became a reality when Trump challenged basic assumptions about the role of an "obsolete" Nato and backed the break-up of the European Union.

Nato groups 22 of the EU's 28 member states and many of those, led by Britain but including several former Soviet satellites in the east, believe that the US-led alliance – not Brussels – is the only real collective defence option against a more assertive Russia.

On that basis, President Barack Obama won Nato leaders' backing for the biggest military build-up since the end of the Cold War in response to Russia's Ukraine intervention and the annexation of Crimea.

Meanwhile, the EU on Monday insisted all parties must fully implement the Minsk ceasefire accords to restore peace in Ukraine, after Trump stoked fresh concerns that he could take a softer line on Russia.

Trump repeated over the weekend he wanted to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to fight the IS group, and drew fire from across the US political spectrum by playing down alleged political assassinations in Russia.

The White House also raised eyebrows by referring to "Ukraine's long-running conflict with Russia" – a framing of the situation that former national security advisor Susan Rice publicly criticised as a "distortion of... recent history".

Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in March 2014 and has supported separatists in the east of the country.

Trump meanwhile has repeatedly said that he wants to improve relations with Putin, appearing to downplay events in Ukraine to the dismay of historic US allies in Europe.

With inputs from agencies.

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