Very soon after inauguration, Donald Trump signed an executive order blocking people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entry to the US. Why exactly these countries? The reasons often provided and often alleged for this selection tend to match up rather badly with facts about these countries, and are dotted with holes in reasoning. Making a possibly unjustified assumption that some sort of thinking went into figuring out exactly which countries were included in the ban, let’s investigate some theories and see what comes closest.
Theory 1: Keeping out Terrorists
The administration’s officially provided reason for the ban is incredibly blatantly false. Zero of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists hailed from any of the seven countries covered by the ban (so Trump would’ve likely been closer to blocking these by randomly choosing seven countries), nor did the San Bernardino shooter who pledged alliance with the IS. Saudi Arabia, a long-recognized breeding ground for radicalization and the production of terrorists, is not blocked by the ban.
Theory 2: Keeping out Muslims
This very common accusation among liberals for the motivation behind Trump’s ban still matches up with specifics very poorly. The ban neither blocks several countries with the greatest percentage of Muslims in the population (like Morocco) nor the countries that politically exhibit the most fundamentalist implementations of Islam (like Saudi Arabia and Qatar). In fact, many of these countries are countries with relatively larger diversity among those in the Muslim world, both in terms of non-Muslim sects and different sects of Islam itself (which unfortunately contributed to the elevated magnitude of sectarian clashing in several of these countries).
Theory 3: Blocking Countries the Islamic State is in
This is quite inconsistent with the countries selected as well. The IS has failed to have significant headway in Iran (which, in fact, has been one of the most crucial players in the fight against the IS), one of the countries included, but controls a macroscopic amount of land in Lebanon, not one of the countries included in the ban. With errors in both directions, this is by quite a stretch not what these seven countries have in common, but is still much closer than the above two approximations.
The ban does not respond to support for the IS, either: Qatar is the country against which the most substantive claims of secret funding of the IS has been made, and is not on the ban list. Most of these countries the IS has managed to control parts of have governments that have repeatedly denounced the IS. At least the ones on this list for which it’s clear what the government of the country is, which brings us to…
Theory 4: Blocking Countries with Political Instability or Refugees
Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo produce lots of refugees, but they aren’t included in the ban. Maybe Trump is only blocking Muslim refugees? This isn’t the case either: Afghanistan has a gigantic outflux of Muslim refugees, but Afghanistan didn’t make the block list.
Nevertheless, there is one striking trait that many countries on Trump’s list posses: countries in political strife. Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia are all countries with several major threats to the current de jure government, the last three to an extent that it is hard to say exactly what the government of the country even is, especially if one puts a requirement of minimum effectiveness in their definition of a government.
But what about Iran? Iran is doing substantially solidly as a country, particularly in its region. Yes, they may have had a Twitter revolt and other clashes, but these have amounted to nowhere near what nearby countries have seen.
Regardless, it seems that this theory would be the closest to the reasoning behind the selection of countries: blocking politically unstable countries, but tacking on a slice of hating on Iran while at it. With Iran taken out, the political situation is the stark connecting link among Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. Now if only this made sense as a justification for the ban.