Critics, activists and politicians alike have drifted into a state of borderline hysteria in the wake of Trump’s sweeping immigration executive order. The move halted all immigration for 120 days to improve the vetting process, limits the refugee admissions into the United States to 50,000 a year, enacts a 90-day ban on admissions from seven Muslim majority countries and bars all admissions from Syria.
The order has been met with support and relief by some and full-throated opposition by others. Of those opposed, many are voicing their opposition visually with the use of a heartbreaking image of a Syrian boy who tragically lost his life when his refugee boat capsized while attempting to flee from Turkey to Greece. The young boy’s name was Alan Kurdi, and the image went viral in 2015 according to NPR:
The drowned boy was 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, from Syria, part of a group of 23 trying to reach the Greek island of Kos. They’d set out in two boats on the 13-mile Aegean journey, but the vessels capsized.
Reports state that Kurdi’s family fled their home city in Syria after repeated ISIS attacks. His family, like many others, settled in Turkey and were attempting to flee to Greece when the overloaded boat of their human traffickers capsized, killing many onboard, including Alan Kurdi and members of his family. The image of Kurdi became synonymous with the struggle of Syrian refugees and spread around the world.
It has resurfaced in the headlines and Twitter handles of politicians and news outlets, wishing to associate Kurdi’s death with Trump’s executive order, taking place two years after his death.
The Huffington Post banner:Image Credit: Huffington Post/Screenshot
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy:
To my colleagues: don't ever again lecture me on American moral leadership if you chose to be silent today. pic.twitter.com/XW7sjmCcXh
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 28, 2017
Former Harry Reid staffer Adam Jentleson:
This is someone Trump would ban from entering America. pic.twitter.com/09x4Gng3Kl
— Adam Jentleson ? (@AJentleson) January 25, 2017
While there is much debate to be had over Trump’s executive order, let’s establish some very important facts one should remember when using this specific photo to attack the President:
When this photo was taken, President Obama had been in office for nearly seven years.Image Credit: NILUFER DEMIR/AFP/Getty Images
One does not recall President Obama being blamed for Kurdi’s death in front page headlines or his imagery being used by politicians to score political points against the other team. Yet, it was President Obama and his administration who had immense power to affect the fates of those in the region who suffered the most, like Kurdi’s family.
Businessman Donald Trump had just announced his long-shot candidacy for president at the point this photo had been taken.
During Obama’s tenure, his administration repeatedly failed to act decisively to bring the Syrian Civil War to a close.Image Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images
According to a chorus of foreign policy experts, President Obama was in the very least complicit in the creation of the power vacuum which fanned the flames of the Syrian humanitarian crisis. The dithering and ham-handedness of his administration plagued and created insatiability in the region for years. Writing in the New York Times, Peter Wehner notes:
In 2012 Mr. Obama rebuffed plans to arm Syrian rebels despite the fact that his former secretaries of defense and state, his C.I.A. director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff supported them. He repeatedly insisted he would not put American soldiers in Syria or pursue a prolonged air campaign. He refused to declare safe havens or no-fly zones. And it was also in 2012 that Mr. Obama warned the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, that using chemical weapons would cross a “red line.” Yet when Mr. Assad did just that, Mr. Obama did nothing.
The president, perhaps fearful of offending the pro-Assad Iranian government with which he was trying to negotiate a nuclear arms deal, chose to sit by while a humanitarian catastrophe unfolded. As Walter Russell Mead wrote in The American Interest, “This crisis is in large part the direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to stand aside and watch Syria burn.”
The Obama administration has a horrendous track record of taking in Syrian refugees, just like Kurdi.Image Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
According to the National Review:
The Syrian Civil War touched off in 2011. Here are the Syrian-refugee admissions to the U.S. until Obama decided to admit more than 13,000 in 2016:
Fiscal Year 2011: 29
Fiscal Year 2012: 31
Fiscal Year 2013: 36
Fiscal Year 2014: 105
Fiscal Year 2015: 1,682
To recap: While the Syrian Civil War was raging, ISIS was rising, and refugees were swamping Syria’s neighbors and surging into Europe, the Obama administration let in less than a trickle of refugees. Only in the closing days of his administration did President Obama reverse course — in numbers insufficient to make a dent in the overall crisis
The Obama administration’s complete withdrawal from Iraq left a power vacuum which created ISIS, the very force which led Kurdi’s family to flee.Image Credit: Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images
Writing in US News, foreign policy expert Danielle Pletka notes:
Image Credit: YOUNIS AL-BAYATI/AFP/Getty Images
When the United States fled Iraq in 2011, the country was stable, reasonably integrated, and on the road to new prosperity and unprecedented freedom. As the troops left, however, the Obama administration also yanked other less visible supports for the new Baghdad government. Counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation ended for all intents and purposes. Vigilance about Sunni-Shiite cooperation also ended. The resulting wedge between Shiites and Sunni has been disastrous for the nation and for its military, which can do little to defend against extremists.
And so we come to the unravelling of the post-Saddam Iraq that the United States helped build. The Islamic State is on the march. It is well trained from the conflict in Syria, well-armed by friends of al-Qaida in the Gulf, and it has tossed the Iraqi government from Mosul, the country’s second largest city, from Tikrit, in the Sunni heartland, and is headed for Baghdad. This was far from inevitable, but Obama’s choice to walk away from the Middle East sealed the fate of Iraq and too many others.
Even experts at NPR begrudgingly agree with the assessment that the Iraq withdrawal inexplicably helped create ISIS.
Critique President Trump all you want — as with all leaders, his critique is often deserved — but pinning the horrors and tragedies of a past administration on the current one is an unfair practice, especially if you were conveniently silent while those tragedies were occurring.