Did the Pentagon’s Twitter Account Subtweet Donald Trump?
Official feed tweeted story of Iraqi refugee turned U.S. Marine just before immigration order
by KEVIN KNODELL
On Jan. 25, 2017, news outlets reported that U.S. Pres. Donald Trump was poised to sign a sweeping executive order that would “temporarily” stop the admission of refugees — and ban admissions of people into the country from several predominantly Muslim countries. Syrians will be banned indefinitely.
That morning, as reports of the executive order spread, the Pentagon’s official Twitter feed shared a photo of U.S. Marine Cpl. Ali J. Mohammed, an Iraqi refugee born in Baghdad. The tweet included a link to an article on the official U.S. Marine Corps website about his current service in the fight against terrorists in his ancestral homeland.
Mohammed’s family had worked with the U.S. military after the 2003 invasion to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. His sister worked as an interpreter for the Marines.
“Seeing her work so closely with these Americans, how much she trusted them and seeing how much they wanted to help us made me idealize them as a child,” Mohammed recalled. “It is part of the reason I decided to join the Marine Corps.”
But like many Iraqis who worked with the coalition, Mohammed and his family soon learned that the new Iraq was still a dangerous place. After receiving threats, his family left when he was 16 years old.
He learned English in the United States while trying to support his family and going to school. In November 2014, he joined the Marine Corps. Today he’s in Northern Iraq working with U.S. Marines advising Iraqi troops fighting the Islamic State terrorist group. His fluent Arabic, and familiarity with specific local dialects has been an asset.
He told U.S. military public affairs personnel that he ultimately hopes to join Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command and put his linguistic skills to use there. Arabic speakers in the military are often in short supply and are highly valued — particularly in special operations units.
Staff Sgt. Ayman Taha, an Arabic speaking economist who joined the U.S. Army ended up joining the 5th Special Forces group in the early days of the Iraq War. Taha died in an explosion in 2005 while fighting terrorists in Iraq. Taha was born in Sudan, one of the countries listed in Trump’s executive order.
Trump’s executive order would have barred both Mohammed and Taha from entering the United States.
Though not as far reaching as his promise to impose a “complete and total shutdown” on “all Muslims” entering the country, the order — which Trump signed — evoked strong responses. The move was met by cheers from refugee opponents and immigration hawks, but also with concern by others across the political spectrum.
The conservative National Association of Evangelicals issued a statement pleading for the White House to continue accepting refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East and elsewhere.
“News reports that the Trump administration plans to make severe cuts to the admission of refugees based on their religion or national origin are alarming,” the NAE stated. “We call on President Trump to declare his support for the continuation of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, which is critical at a time when the world faces a significant refugee crisis.”
The timing of the tweet about Mohammed definitely caught the attention of several Twitter users. The same day, someone at the National Park Service tweeted about Japanese internment.
Some Twitter users expressed deep disapproval of the story and questioned Mohammed’s loyalty. Some said that he and others like him should be removed from the military.
The Pentagon is under new leadership with Trump’s pick James Mattis — a respected figure in military and diplomatic circles. He formerly served at U.S. Central Command and developed close ties with military and diplomatic figures from several Muslim countries.
A retired general well known to Marines who served under him by his call-sign “Chaos,” Mattis stayed mostly quiet during the 2016 campaign and has generally avoided discussing politics that do not directly tie to his professional expertise as a former military officer.
However, in a rare interview with Politico, he blasted Trump’s campaign promise to bar Muslims from coming into the country saying it made America appear as if “we have lost faith in reason” and damages relations with key allies in the Middle East.
“They think we’ve completely lost it. This kind of thing is causing us great damage right now, and it’s sending shock waves through this international system,” Mattis said.
It’s unclear whether the timing of the tweet was intentional — and if so, who approved it. The story on the Marine Corps website was published on Jan. 23 — two days before the tweet went out.
However, whether it was or wasn’t, the tweet served a more general function of highlighting the service of an individual Marine. The U.S. military has long prided itself in crafting Americans into warriors regardless of their background or national origin.