How the U.S. can lose the fight against terrorism

A Syrian boy eats bread as waits in line with his mother as hundred of Syrian families wait to register at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees headquarters, in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. By executive order, U.S. President Donald Trump imposed a 90-day ban, Friday, that affects travel to the U.S. by citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen and puts an indefinite hold on a program resettling Syrian refugees.

There's an important fact that's been given short shrift in the non-stop media coverage since the weekend regarding President Trump's travel ban on arrivals from seven mostly-Muslim countries. The angry protesters flooding America's airports to protest the ban have been remarkable -- but let's be honest, it's only half the story. If America was that unified in its opposition to Trumpism, The Donald never would have become the 45th president in the first place. Less visible are the millions of citizens who aren't gathered all in one place, who more quietly support any harsh measure targeting the Islamic world, including Trump's don't-call-it-a-Muslim-ban Muslim ban.

Here's one of those voices:

"It shows me that he means what he says," Judith Wilkenroh, 72, a retired social-services worker from Frederick, Maryland, said Monday. "He's just unafraid. He's just going ahead like a locomotive, and I like him more and more every time he does something."

Of course, he's moving ahead like a locomotive on a policy that makes absolutely no sense -- targeting arrivals from nations whose refugees haven't been responsible for any terror attacks on U.S. soil during the last four decades, while ignoring other countries such as Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers (and where Trump incorporated eight new businesses last year, but I digress...). For the die-hard president's supporters, the bold announcement of fact-free policies to address their fact-free fears is the very essence of Trumpism.

I was struck by that this morning after reading an interesting column by my Inquirer colleague Mike Newall, about a local woman's efforts to memorialize Philadelphia's lost immigration portal of the late 19th- and early 20th Century. Then I made the mistake of reading the comments (I know, I know -- never read the comments!) and found myself lost in a paranoid fantasy world where the "good immigration" of the readers' Irish or Italian or whatever ancestors has been supplanted by an eight-mile backup at the San Diego border checkpoint comprised only of dudes named Osama with "dirty bombs" in the trunk. Even though the real-life reality of Trump's Muslim ban is keeping out impassioned doctors and college students who love the American way of life, or sick patients in desperate need of health care.

And here's the thing. There's always going to be a reasonable debate between protecting civil liberties and taking harsh security measures that keep people safe. A good example of that is airport security -- where many Americans complain about invasive searches, et cetera, but where it's also worth noting that no planes have been hijacked since 9/11. A bad example of that is what Trump just did -- policies that don't target actual bad guys but inflame the world's Muslims against America.

It's not hard to imagine that Trump's executive order -- which almost explicitly frames the United States as in a state of war with Islam -- will aid those "bad dudes," as President Trump calls them, in any efforts to recruit more young jihadists. But less abstractly, Trump and his co-president Steve Bannon managed to alienate the allies who have been helping us in fighting the actual bad dudes of ISIS.

Consider these Iraqi troops risking their lives to fight besides Americans to drive ISIS out of the region:

In Mosul, where Iraqi forces are battling militants in a bid to oust the Islamic State terror group from its last major urban stronghold in Iraq, soldiers expressed anger at the ban, saying it could prevent them from visiting relatives in the United States.

"It's not fair, it's not right. I should have the right to visit my family,"Assem Ayad, a 23-year-old soldier deployed in Mosul who has three cousins living in Texas, told AFP news agency. "This decision was made because there are terrorist groups in Iraq. But there are also innocent people" including those who are fighting against militants, added Ayad.

Another Iraqi soldier, Haider Hassan, told AFP he has a cousin living in the United States who he wants to visit. Referring to U.S. military personnel deployed in Iraq, Hassan asked: "Why would they ban us from coming to America when they are in my country and have bases here?"

There's a bigger context here -- and it transcends the arrival of President Trump. America's effort formerly known as "the global war on terror" has been going on for a remarkable 16 years now, an endless war that -- although less intense than it was a decade ago -- now seems to span across several continents. Increasingly, our "forever war" is taking place with little scrutiny or debate from the media, from Congress, or the broader American public.

Here's something that happened during President Trump's first week, but in the deluge of chaos it didn't get nearly as much attention as it deserves:

In what an official said was the first military raid carried out under President Donald Trump, two Americans were killed in Yemen on Sunday — one a member of SEAL Team 6 and the other the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born al Qaeda leader who himself was killed in a U.S. strike five years ago.

Some context:

Contrary to earlier reporting, the senior military official said, the raid was Trump's first clandestine strike — not a holdover mission approved by President Barack Obama. The mission involved "boots on the ground" at an al Qaeda camp near al Bayda in south central Yemen, the official said.

"Almost everything went wrong," the official said.

An MV-22 Osprey experienced a hard landing near the site, injuring several SEALs, one severely. The tilt-rotor aircraft had to be destroyed. A SEAL was killed during the firefight on the ground, as were some noncombatants, including females.

Defense Secretary James Mattis had to leave one of Washington's biggest annual social events, the Alfalfa Club Dinner, to deal with the repercussions, according to the official. He did not return.

This war is now on its third president. It's taking place under dubious congressional authorization, to say the least. It does take out some members of terrorist groups such as affilates of al-Qaeda, at  least according to the government, and that's a good thing. But drone strikes and the occasional covert operation like this one have also killed many innocent civilians -- at least 116, according to our own government, and probably many more --and has damaged America's global image and credibility. The legal justification for killing an American citizen -- especially an 8-year-old girl -- is highly dubious, and experts say the death of Nawar Anwar al-Awlaki is already a huge propaganda tool for jihadists. Do you feel safer now? Really?

Maybe one day, America will elect a new president with the courage to end the "forever war," and with the wisdom to deescalate tensions with the Muslim world rather than needlessly ramping up anxiety. Barack Obama should have done a lot more in this regard.

And President Trump is clearly not the man for the job.