Protesters opposed to US President Donald Trump's executive order banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries gather at New York's JFK airport over the weekend. Photo: AFP
Many feared the worst of President Trump while others hoped he would become more presidential. Such hopes have been dashed by his edict on "extreme vetting" that Times columnist Roger Boyes says is "the bluntest of blunt instruments, sledgehammer-politik."
The decree suddenly banned citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering America for 90 days and suspended the refugee programme for 120 days. It was announced on Holocaust Memorial Day which reminded people of restrictions preventing Jews escaping the Nazis in the 1930s and ending up in death camps.
The countries are Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan but not Egypt, Pakistan or Saudi from where bombers previously hailed. The ban includes those with visas, green cards, returning to their homes in America, or in some cases en route to America. The ban also encompassed maybe 250,000 dual citizens in the UK including Nadhim Zahawi, a respected British MP and citizen, who was born of Kurdish parents in Iraq.
Zahawi reacted in a dignified manner but his initial inclusion makes it a major issue for MPs and the Government. Quick footwork by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who persuaded the American authorities to modify the presidential decree so it largely does not apply to British citizens, will slightly lessen the issue.
But expect more heartbreaking stories of family division, people being unable to visit dying relatives, start jobs while hundreds of Iraqi interpreters are reported as being in a visa limbo. Daesh must be rubbing its hands in glee.
The APPG last year highlighted an earlier restriction depriving British and other citizens who had visited several countries including Iraq/Kurdistan of their automatic right to enter the USA with an Esta travel document and to prove they were there on business approved by the US or to apply for a visa. This was a nuisance for those like me, my son and wife who must now go obtain a visa but it is small beer compared to the impact of the Trump edict.
Our fear last year was that this would chill investment as people found out that going to Kurdistan would complicate later visits to the US. International business groups have expressed fears that the latest ban will harm them.
No one denies that the US has the right to patrol its borders and to prevent terrorists from entering the US. But there is no evidence that current measures are failing or that a blanket ban is necessary.
It is astonishing that the move was made without consulting the State Department, which has a strong interest in increasing American soft power. Since the Cold War, the US has each year invited thousands on study tours to the US. I participated in a three week programme in 2002 which took me and a dozen journalists across the country to study how American foreign policy is made. We learned about America's rich pluralism of views.
Trump has in an instant damaged American soft power but we have also seen lawyers flock to American airports to give free advice, while an American judge has ruled that those with green cards and visas can enter. It is heartening to see American soldiers who served in Iraq standing up for interpreters who worked with them. We will see in the near future whether further changes can be made and whether the State Department can induce Trump to find a face-saving formula to rescind the order soon.
But relations and reputations has been harmed. One early victim is British Prime Minister Theresa May whose visit to see the new President has been, well, trumped by Trump's move. She did well in landing the possibility of a trade deal when the UK leaves the EU and showed great guile in trapping Trump into fully endorsing Nato.
It has also given a spring in the step to Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn who was on the backfoot over Brexit issues and can now argue to acclaim that a formal visit by Trump should be cancelled. May and Corbyn's embarrassment and opportunity are neither here nor there compared to the misery inflicted on those who saw America as a sanctuary and a friend.
Trump will probably continue to govern in this disruptive, defiant and divisive manner and this presents big difficulties for America's allies. He may retreat after he has achieved his public relations aims and the former Foreign Minister, Alistair Burt, suggest that "you smack back quite hard in the first instance" to speed that up. Burt also suggested that a diplomatic excuse for postponing Trump's planned state visit to the UK in the summer might be wise.
We have seen the worst of Trump's America but also the best of America in the actions of lawyers, judges and people demonstrating for visitors and refugees. Trump may feel confident it will please his base, and he may be right for now.
Some prominent American conservative thinkers are disgusted. Professor Eliot Cohen, a former adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, writes in The Atlantic that: "Precisely because the problem is one of [Trump's] temperament and character, it will not get better." Cohen argues it will worsen as power intoxicates Trump and those around him, and probably end in calamity such as substantial domestic protest and violence, broken international economic relationships and major alliances, and one or more new wars, even with China. He would not be surprised if Trump is impeached.
More optimistically Cohen concludes that "There is nothing great about the America that Trump thinks he is going to make; but in the end, it is the greatness of America that will stop him." The ban may be further modified or lifted but leaves a lingering bad taste.
President Roosevelt described the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 as a day of infamy. Trump's ill-considered and fruitless actions amount to a self-inflicted day of infamy for America and will long be remembered as the moment that pointlessly alienated America's allies and assisted its enemies.