Think of it as the real-world feedback loop from hell. In October 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and launched a “war on terror.” With the invasion of Iraq a year and a half later, that war would begin to spread across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa. It would, in the end, collapse states, turn cities into rubble, help spread terror groups across the region, and above all, unsettle and displace staggering numbers of people on a planet already in turmoil. That invasion of Iraq, for instance, led to a Sunni-Shiite civil war, urban ethnic cleansing, a disastrous American occupation, and the creation of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group that would later morph into ISIS (whose leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, met other key figures of that future movement in an American military prison). The subsequent war against ISIS began after militants from that terror outfit took several of the country’s largest cities in 2014, while the American-trained Iraqi military collapsed and fled. In the course of that war alone, an estimated 1.3 million Iraqi children were displaced. (According UNICEF, conflicts have displaced 30 million children on this planet in recent years.) Refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan in particular headed for Europe, which, in turn, helped spur the growth of right-wing populist movements there that thrived on anti-immigrant platforms, only increasing the pressure on the displaced of this planet… and so it went.
Developments over the years in Central and South America, thanks in part to a set of grim U.S. policies there, spurred similar rounds of disintegration, displacement, and flight — and in the rich country to the north, a similar growth of right-wing populism. From the moment Donald Trump descended that escalator in Trump Tower in June 2015 to announce his entrance into the presidential race, he would denounce immigrants (Mexican “rapists”) and hail the “great, great wall” that he was going to build to protect the United States from them. He followed up with Muslim bans, rejected small numbers of Syrian refugees, and lately has touted the supposed way in which the various migrant feedback loops from American policy merged — Islamic terrorists secretly crossing our southern border (fake news!).
As TomDispatch regular Arnold Isaacs suggests today, the results domestically when it comes to U.S. policy towards migrants (legal or not), the displaced, and refugees could hardly be meaner or uglier. It’s a record of vindictiveness, right down to the mistreatment of even the smallest children at our southern border, that might seem hard to match, but don’t underestimate Donald Trump.