What if the purpose of the Trump administration's travel ban is not to protect America from terrorist infiltration, as the president and his top advisers insist? What if the true aim of their anti-Muslim rhetoric, articulated over and over again, is actually to offend Muslims — and intensify their alienation from the West?
Those questions are salient because the newly revised restrictions announced on Monday, are certain to accomplish only that: They will inflame the Muslim world, without improving security in this country at all. According to actual experts on terrorism, distinct from the ideological amateurs in the White House, the ban is not just ineffectual but provocative. And again, countries long implicated in Islamic extremism and terrorist activities remain exempt from restrictions (possibly because some of those same regimes also host Trump Organization enterprises).
Only days ago, the Trump flacks argued strenuously that Iraqi immigrants are dangerous, but the revised restrictions exempt Iraq, too, after protests from our military — whose officers were enraged by the White House betrayal of Iraqi translators and others who had aided them in battle.
But backing down on Iraq doesn't answer the real riddle: Why would Trump provoke conflict with a Mideast ally, whose army has courageously charged into battle against the Islamic State? And why would he seek to fracture that alliance when Iraqi forces, advised and supported by our military, were headed toward a major victory over ISIS in Mosul?
Perhaps "chief strategist" Stephen Bannon, White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and all the Trump aides who have conceived and defended the travel ban are simply too dense to understand that bigotry doesn't work as policy. But although they often appear incompetent, they aren't quite that stupid.
As we learn more about their extremist ideology, an alternative explanation emerges: Bannon, Miller, Sessions and presumably the president himself understand very well that attacking Muslims and Islam must exacerbate divisions between the West and the Muslim world, as well as between Muslim-Americans and the rest of American society. Intensified conflict is the only foreseeable result of their actions and outbursts — and that appears to be the only result they want.
Beyond Trump's own clumsy attempts to isolate and demonize Muslims — against the advice of his military advisers — there is much documented evidence of his administration's chilling outlook. Recently, The Huffington Post revealed that Bannon sees the modern world through the prism of a frankly racist and Islamophobic French novel, "The Camp of the Saints," which envisions a dystopian future when the Christian West is overrun by millions of savage migrants from the East and South. The novel's hero, who slaughters migrants and their white sympathizers, "harkens back to famous battles that fit the clash of civilizations narrative," from Vienna and Constantinople to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Cited often by Bannon and promoted by other right-wing extremists, the book is "nothing less than a call to arms for the white Christian West, to revive the spirit of the Crusades and steel itself for bloody conflict."
Maybe that is why Trump and his gang felt no shame in expressing their callousness toward the suffering of Muslim refugees, including small children. That may also be why they felt no compunction in disrespecting a Muslim Gold Star family — and why they showed so little concern over the president's blatant call for a "Muslim ban," until that became a legal liability.
Of course Bannon, Miller, Trump and company aren't alone in adopting the cataclysmic belief that an inevitable war between civilizations has already begun. By rejecting tolerance and ecumenism, the Trump White House mirrors the Islamic State and every other jihadist group, whose shared objective is to incite enmity between Western and Muslim societies by every available means. So even as the true enemy is pushed back and obliterated on the ground — by Muslim soldiers — Trump's aggressive policies will advance their cause worldwide.
If this is the president's secret plan to defeat ISIS, they could have written it themselves.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.