In Defense of Ilhan Omar, by Dave DeCamp

Ilhan Omar is not everyone’s cup of tea, but she actually makes some good points if you look at what she has actually said. From Dave DeCamp at antiwar.com:

President Trump held a rally in North Carolina on Wednesday after a week of criticizing certain freshman members of Congress, drawing much media attention. Of course, the cries of racism from the left are nothing new to hear, but in specifically targeting Rep. Ilhan Omar (Dem-Minn) the president hit a new low. Omar needs to be defended. Despite what you think of her domestic policy, she has been one of the most consistent antiwar voices in Congress.

When Trump brought up Omar the crowd started chanting “send her back.” As disgusting as that chant is, it’s no surprise to hear at a Trump rally. Xenophobia is nothing new from Trump or his base. it’s what he built his campaign on. But Just calling Trump “racist” doesn’t work, the Democrats should have learned this from the 2016 election. What needs to be addressed is the falsehood of Trump’s claims against the congresswoman.

Trump started his attacks on Omar during the rally with, “Representative Omar blamed the United States for the terrorist attacks on our country, saying terrorism is a reaction to our involvement in other people’s affairs.” The crowd responded with boos, clearly not educated on Osama bin Laden’s motives for the attacks on September 11th.

Bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa was entitled “Declaration of Jihad Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holiest Sites. (Expel the infidels from the Arab Peninsula).” Bin Laden’s jihad against the US started because we were occupying his holy land (a point this author has been making a lot lately).

Even George W. Bush’s Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admitted in 2003 that US troops in Saudi Arabia had “been Osama bin Laden’s principal recruiting device.” It doesn’t seem like President Trump learned this lesson of history. The US is preparing to send 500 ground troops to Saudi Arabia amid tensions with Iran, two US defense officials told CNN (although it has not been formally announced). Of course, if Omar criticizes this move the president will probably use it as proof that she is “pro al-Qaeda.” But trying to prevent more terrorist recruitment is in the interest of the American people and the troops overseas.

Trump was referring to comments Omar made in 2013 after an al-Shabab attack in Kenya. “Nobody wants to face how the actions of the other people that are involved in the world have contributed to the rise of the radicalization and the rise of terrorist acts,” the congresswomen said on a local Twin Cities TV show. “Nobody wants to take accountability of how these are byproducts of the actions of our involvement in other people’s affairs.”

Somehow acknowledging or even questioning the cause of terrorism is considered radical in this country. We are supposed to believe that we were attacked on September 11th because those crazy Muslims hate our way of life and are jealous of our freedom, not because we occupy their land. For Trump, it’s just too easy for him to make Omar’s point about terrorism seem so crazy. Especially since she is a black Muslim immigrant who wears a headscarf and speaks with an accent.

“She smeared US service members involved in ‘Black Hawk Down’ — in other words, she slandered the brave Americans who were trying to keep peace in Somalia,” Trump said, referencing a tweet by Omar from 2017.

Omar did not “smear” any US troops. She responded to a twitter user who said the worst terrorist attack in Somalia’s history was the battle of Mogadishu, also known as “Black Hawk Down.” The twitter user listed US service member casualties and left out Somali casualties to which Omar responded, “In his selective memory, he forgets to also mention the thousands of Somalis killed by the American forces that day!”

The tweet was resurfaced in April of this year, and of course Omar’s critics came out in full force. God forbid a Somali refugee wants the deaths of innocent Somalis – caught up in that disastrous military operation – to be remembered.

One of the more ridiculous claims Trump made this week was that Omar and her freshman colleagues are “pro al-Qaeda,” based on nothing. If anybody is “pro al-Qaeda” it’s the president who arms Saudi Arabia, while it is known the Saudis are arming al-Qaeda in Yemen. What makes this claim even more baseless is that Omar has been fighting to stop US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and end US involvement in the war in Yemen altogether.

Trump brought up Omar’s criticism of his policy of aggression towards the Maduro regime in Venezuela, “Omar blamed the United States for the crisis in Venezuela.” But all Omar did was speak the obvious truth that US sanctions play a role in the suffering in Venezuela. No matter what is to blame for the country’s failing economy, US sanctions do not help.

“A lot of the policies that we have put in place has kind of helped lead the devastation in Venezuela and we have sort of set the stage for where we are arriving today,” Omar told “Democracy Now!” “This particular bullying and the use of sanctions to eventually intervene and make regime change really does not help the people of countries like Venezuela and it certainly does not help and is not in the interest of the United States.”

The Center for Economic and Policy Research had determined US sanctions were responsible for the deaths of 40,000 Venezuelans in a report they released in April.

Omar is one of the very few members of Congress who oppose intervention in Venezuela. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), when asked about US intervention in Venezuela said, “I defer to caucus leadership on how we navigate this.” Caucus leadership wants regime change in Venezuela, lining up with Trump and his neocons.

The Somali-born congresswoman has been nothing but consistent on her antiwar views. She has been part of the effort against US involvement in the war in Yemen, an outspoken critic of Trump’s Iran policy and signed a bipartisan letter to the president, supporting his announcement of withdrawing troops from Syrian and Afghanistan.

Omar even criticized President Obama’s foreign policy, when she said he was just a “pretty face” who got “away with murder.” “We can’t be only upset with Trump. … His policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was,” Omar told Politico in May. “And that’s not what we should be looking for anymore. We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because they are polished. We want to recognize the actual policies that are behind the pretty face and the smile.” A refreshing thing to hear a Democrat in Congress say.

And of course, Omar has been a critic of Israel’s influence on US politicians. Omar’s very mild criticism of Israel has gotten her the most backlash. She tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamin’s baby,” when referring to a story that journalist Glenn Greenwald shared on twitter. The story was about a US politician condemning Omar’s criticisms of Israel. When asked who was paying politicians to be pro-Israel Omar responded in another tweet, “AIPAC!” The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee is one of the largest pro-Israel lobbying organizations in the US and has lots of influence on US politicians. Both republicans and democrats condemned these statements as “anti-Semitic”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats released a statement on Omar’s tweets, “Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive.” This no doubt paved the way for Trump to attack Omar.

In the middle of these attacks from the president, Omar introduced legislation on Wednesday to protect our constitutional right to boycott Israel. The resolution said, “Affirming that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Fox News Host Tucker Carlson recently had a segment on his show criticizing Omar saying, “Ilhan Omar is living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country.”

Omar responded to Carlson by calling him a “racist fool.” But what if she takes a different approach to the criticism? Carlson is known to be opposed to regime change wars and may even have the president’s ear. President Trump has made opposing endless war part of his rhetoric, although his actual policy has not shown that.

Imagine how powerful it would be for Omar to request a closed-door meeting with Trump about war, or ask Carlson if she can come on his show? Carlson often says he is a fan of open dialogue between people with opposing views, Omar should challenge him to see if he really means that.

The chants of “send her back” should be condemned, but just calling everybody “racist” will only further divide the country. Omar should try to work with her enemies to end our wars and stop the suffering of Muslims in the Middle East at the hand of the government she is now a part of. Don’t let these attacks distract you congresswoman, keep fighting for peace.

Dave DeCamp is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US foreign policy and wars. He recently joined Antiwar.com as an assistant editor. He is on Twitter at @decampdave.

 

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