When President Donald Trump came into office, one of the first things he did was issue a temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. It was an early flash point for the so-called resistance, prompting Americans to protest the executive order by going to airports.
It also prompted legal challenges and rebukes from the courts, and its implementation was chaotic.
On Sunday, the White House announced a new version of the policy, and it bears little resemblance to the president’s campaign promise to ban Muslim travel to America.
There are a few reasons. To start, two Muslim-majority countries — Iraq and Sudan — are no longer affected by the executive order. Considering that other countries with large Muslim populations — like Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and India — were never on the list, even the earlier iteration hardly fulfilled Trump’s crude campaign promise.
Also two non-Muslims countries have been added to the list: North Korea and Venezuela. (Of course, North Korea does not allow its citizens to travel ….) For Venezuela, the new policy affects government officials and not citizens. Chad is also added to the list. According to a 1993 census, a little over half of the population in Chad is Muslim.
This leaves five countries from the original executive order: Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Libya. There are some exceptions here as well. Somalis will be able to travel to the U.S. but not emigrate here. Iranian student exchanges will continue, but other travel will be restricted.
It’s worth asking why certain countries are included in the travel ban. According to U.S. officials, it’s because they could not meet basic standards for improving their visa systems. In the case of Iran, this is because the government in Tehran is engaged in a proxy war against U.S. allies in the Middle East, and it has a bad habit of detaining U.S. dual national citizens on trumped-up charges.
For Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Libya, the answer is much more straightforward. These are all basically failed states with weak governments. All four are still fighting civil wars, to varying degrees. The ability of the state to perform basic services, let alone seriously screen travelers to the U.S., is almost nonexistent in many cases. Just this month, the German press reported that Berlin assesses the Islamic State holds 11,000 blank Syrian passports.
(c) 2017, Bloomberg View · Eli Lake