The Baffling Inclusion of Chad in the Travel Ban
The arbitrary inclusion of Chad as part of the new travel ban has mystified almost everyone and angered at least one U.S. ally:
“I’m scratching my head about this decision,” said Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic International Studies. “I’m not going to even try to make sense of this one,” he added.
The central African nation, bordered by countries mired in conflict and revolt such as Libya, Sudan, and the Central African Republic, plays a big role regionally in the fight against terrorism. It houses the headquarters and provides troops for the multinational task force fighting the terrorist group Boko Haram. Additionally, Chad houses the headquarters for the French counterterrorism mission in the region and is a member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, a U.S.-led project that aims to address “terrorist threats and prevent the spread of violent extremism” in the region.
Banning Chadian citizens from coming to the U.S. underscores how preposterous the entire policy is. The U.S. isn’t being made more secure by keeping Chad’s citizens out, but the administration is pointlessly alienating a cooperative government solely for the sake of creating the appearance of being “tougher.” The decision to put Chad on the list happened over the objections of people in both the State and Defense Departments:
President Trump’s decision to impose his updated travel ban on Chad came over the objections [of] Pentagon and State Department officials, who argued that alienating the nation, one of America’s more reliable counterterrorism allies in Africa, risked harming long-term national security interests, administration officials said on Tuesday.
No one who knew anything about the relationship with Chad was in favor of doing this. All of them understood that it risked undermining that relationship for no good reason, but their informed views were disregarded:
Officials at both departments were opposed to banning travelers from Chad, concerned about American interests, as were diplomats at the American embassy in the capital of N’Djamena, administration officials said.
U.S. diplomats in Chad are still trying to figure out why this happened, but they are understandably having difficulty making sense of an absurd decision. Putting Chad on the list reflected what some in the government see as the slapdash approach to the entire process of making the policy:
At the Pentagon, several Defense officials expressed anger that years of close work could be jeopardized by what one characterized as a “casual” process that failed to take into account America’s long-term interests in the region.
In addition to baffling and angering our own officials, the decision has also angered a major ally. Because Chad cooperates so closely with France on security issues, the French government is now urging that Chad be taken off the list:
“We learnt with surprise of the United States’ decision to expand its entry ban on Chadian citizens,” French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne said.
“Chad is a decisive partner in the fight against terrorism. It has mobilized from the start and paid a heavy price in this battle.”
France considers its former colony as its main ally in the fight against Islamist militants in West Africa and the headquarters of its 4,000-strong counter-terrorism Operation Barkhane force is in the Chadian capital N‘djamena.
Even if one wants to argue that U.S. interests in the region are exaggerated, it doesn’t make sense to damage relations with a state that cooperates with Washington on shared security concerns for the sake of a piece of security theater. All of this drives home that the policy isn’t just useless when it comes to U.S. security, but it is also hurting our security interests by damaging relations with some partner governments for no good reason. It is also potentially damaging U.S. ties with other countries in the region, and the African Union just denounced Chad’s inclusion as “unjust.” The official justification that Chad had not done enough to share relevant information was described by a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria as ““really, really weak.” Indeed, the argument for the entire ban is very weak, and in this case it is extremely feeble.