Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 14, 2007

Against Navarrette the Nativist

Should the armed forces be free to enlist foreign-born recruits who are not already U.S. citizens or permanent residents? I’ve argued so on multiple occasions (see here, here, and here) because I think this would be a terrific way to expand the pool of high-quality, eligible soldiers and provide a new path toward citizenship for many aspiring Americans, while also expanding the foreign-area expertise of our armed forces.

Ruben Navarrette, Jr., a member of the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, disagrees. He has written a column, posted on CNN’s website, which argues against “turning illegal immigrants into cannon fodder.” To make his case, he cites Jose Carranza, an illegal immigrant from Peru who has been accused of crimes ranging from child rape to murder. “If half the things they say about this creep are true,” Navarrette writes, “Carranza belongs on death row. But guess what? He sure doesn’t belong on an Army recruitment poster, or handling heavy artillery.”

I was thinking of replying to this specious argument when I received an email from Margaret Stock, a military reservist and attorney who is an associate professor at West Point, pointing out the flaws with Navarrette’s logic better than I could. She agreed to let me share her letter with contentions readers:

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Should the armed forces be free to enlist foreign-born recruits who are not already U.S. citizens or permanent residents? I’ve argued so on multiple occasions (see here, here, and here) because I think this would be a terrific way to expand the pool of high-quality, eligible soldiers and provide a new path toward citizenship for many aspiring Americans, while also expanding the foreign-area expertise of our armed forces.

Ruben Navarrette, Jr., a member of the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, disagrees. He has written a column, posted on CNN’s website, which argues against “turning illegal immigrants into cannon fodder.” To make his case, he cites Jose Carranza, an illegal immigrant from Peru who has been accused of crimes ranging from child rape to murder. “If half the things they say about this creep are true,” Navarrette writes, “Carranza belongs on death row. But guess what? He sure doesn’t belong on an Army recruitment poster, or handling heavy artillery.”

I was thinking of replying to this specious argument when I received an email from Margaret Stock, a military reservist and attorney who is an associate professor at West Point, pointing out the flaws with Navarrette’s logic better than I could. She agreed to let me share her letter with contentions readers:

Dear Mr. Navarrette,

I was shocked and appalled to read your column on CNN today, I cannot fathom the misplaced stereotypes about the military (and immigrants serving in the military) that went into this column.

Believe it or not, the Army actually has standards for enlistment. The Army does not take just anyone. Criminals who cannot speak English and rape 5 year olds are not permitted to enlist in the Army, even if they are native-born US citizens.

Non-citizens have been permitted to enlist in the United States Army for decades, and on the whole, they have been better behaved than their native-born US citizen counterparts. There’s a study on this issue, found on the Center for Naval Analyses website (Non-citizens in the Military, April 2005). But all non-citizens who enlist must meet stringent enlistment requirements, including passing background checks, being fingerprinted, and undergoing physical, medical, and psychological exams.

During wartime, undocumented immigrants have been permitted to enlist in the U.S. military—provided they meet the standards that every other recruit must meet. If they serve honorably, they can obtain expedited US citizenship. Please note the requirement that they serve honorably–which includes not being convicted of crimes while they are serving. And they are not permitted to enlist at all if they are criminals.

Your suggestion that the Army would enlist someone with a record like Jose Carranza’s is nothing short of insulting.

Frankly, I am surprised that someone of your caliber would suggest than the Army has no standards for recruiting soldiers. I’m equally appalled that you would refer to people like me as “cannon fodder.” In fact, today’s Army soldier must be physically fit, highly intelligent, skilled in the complexities of modern warfare, law-abiding, and able to work successfully as a member of a team under conditions of incredible stress and in diverse climates and cultures. “Cannon fodder” is a derogatory term that shows a deep ignorance of the requirements of the modern Army.

Sincerely,
Margaret D. Stock
Lieutenant Colonel, Military Police Corps, US Army Reserve
Harvard College ’85, Harvard Law School ’92, Kennedy School of Gov’t ’01)

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Prodi’s “Evolution”

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi suggested on Sunday that dialogue with Hamas might help the Islamist terror organization “evolve.” It was not immediately clear what Prodi meant by “evolution” through “dialogue,” though his spokesman was quick to explain that in no way was the Prime Minister calling for a reversal of EU policy—which keeps Hamas on the EU terror list and shuns the organization.

The Italian government has been flip-flopping on the matter for the last few weeks. Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema voiced discomfort at the policy of isolation, and warned against “giving Hamas to al Qaeda.” A few days before, the leader of D’Alema’s party, Piero Fassino, had suggested the need for a strategy for dealing with Hamas. Fassino used ambiguous language that implied the need for dialogue; yet, after a visit to Israel with Socialist International, Fassino has since retreated from his statement. Meanwhile, D’Alema has also backtracked somewhat, noting in a parliamentary address on July 24 that he “never suggested that the international community open direct negotiations with Hamas,” and that he meant only to highlight “the need to encourage a return to a Palestinian process of national reconciliation.”

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Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi suggested on Sunday that dialogue with Hamas might help the Islamist terror organization “evolve.” It was not immediately clear what Prodi meant by “evolution” through “dialogue,” though his spokesman was quick to explain that in no way was the Prime Minister calling for a reversal of EU policy—which keeps Hamas on the EU terror list and shuns the organization.

The Italian government has been flip-flopping on the matter for the last few weeks. Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema voiced discomfort at the policy of isolation, and warned against “giving Hamas to al Qaeda.” A few days before, the leader of D’Alema’s party, Piero Fassino, had suggested the need for a strategy for dealing with Hamas. Fassino used ambiguous language that implied the need for dialogue; yet, after a visit to Israel with Socialist International, Fassino has since retreated from his statement. Meanwhile, D’Alema has also backtracked somewhat, noting in a parliamentary address on July 24 that he “never suggested that the international community open direct negotiations with Hamas,” and that he meant only to highlight “the need to encourage a return to a Palestinian process of national reconciliation.”

To be fair, Italian politicians are not the only ones contemplating dialogue with Hamas: more than 100 British parliamentarians called for dialogue because “peace results from discussions between enemies as well as friends.” Britain’s former shadow Foreign Secretary and one-time chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, Michael Ancram, went even further, in a Sunday Telegraph editorial in early July, by recommending that newly-appointed Middle East Envoy Tony Blair should “dance with wolves.”

As for Prodi himself, at least he is consistent. After all, in his first interview after winning last year’s parliamentary elections, in April 2006, he said to al-Jazeera: “I shall commit myself at the European level to shape a new position with respect to the new Palestinian government. I am looking with great attention at the signs of an opening being made by Hamas.” Soon after, Prodi spoke to then-Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on the phone, becoming the first European head of government to do so.

We shouldn’t wonder, then, what Prodi meant when he linked dialogue with Hamas to its possible “evolution.” Clearly, the Italian Prime Minister is being optimistic. Yet, can he point to any evolution at all since April 2006? How long will Europeans resist the temptation to engage in dialogue with Hamas?

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Fidel at 81

Yesterday was a happy day in selected parts of Havana—Cuba’s leader turned 81. Fidel has been ailing, and his younger brother Raul, who is also the defense minister, has been the head of a caretaker government since July 31, 2006. Many suspect the elder Castro, who once had the stamina to give ten-hour speeches, will never regain the strength to run his homeland.

Fidel has resisted economic liberalization of any kind, but for several years he has acknowledged that change is coming. At the beginning of this decade, CNN quoted El Maximo Lider as saying, “I believe that the ideals of socialism, which are so generous and appeal so much to solidarity and fraternity, will one day disappear.”

The general assumption is that socialism in Cuba will disappear when Fidel leaves this world to visit Marx. There are already reports that Raul has moved to push the island’s Soviet-like economy in the direction of Chinese-style reform. The accounts appear plausible if only because every outside observer believes that things must change soon.

While we in the West are always optimistic when communist nations change their leaders, we are usually disappointed by the reality of the change. Today, we have to remember that, despite all our hopes, political repression has gotten worse under the younger Castro’s watch.

So what will America do when Raul finally takes over? Let’s try something different; our current approach to Cuba is obviously not working. American policy is hostile enough to give the Castro brothers an enemy—something all communist tyrants need—but not threatening enough actually to get rid of their repugnant regime. No wonder Fidel is the world’s longest serving national leader.

We could try to kill Cuban communism by swamping it with consumer goods, or by tightening the embargo. The point is that change must come to Havana, and that Washington’s perspective on Cuba must change.

Yesterday was a happy day in selected parts of Havana—Cuba’s leader turned 81. Fidel has been ailing, and his younger brother Raul, who is also the defense minister, has been the head of a caretaker government since July 31, 2006. Many suspect the elder Castro, who once had the stamina to give ten-hour speeches, will never regain the strength to run his homeland.

Fidel has resisted economic liberalization of any kind, but for several years he has acknowledged that change is coming. At the beginning of this decade, CNN quoted El Maximo Lider as saying, “I believe that the ideals of socialism, which are so generous and appeal so much to solidarity and fraternity, will one day disappear.”

The general assumption is that socialism in Cuba will disappear when Fidel leaves this world to visit Marx. There are already reports that Raul has moved to push the island’s Soviet-like economy in the direction of Chinese-style reform. The accounts appear plausible if only because every outside observer believes that things must change soon.

While we in the West are always optimistic when communist nations change their leaders, we are usually disappointed by the reality of the change. Today, we have to remember that, despite all our hopes, political repression has gotten worse under the younger Castro’s watch.

So what will America do when Raul finally takes over? Let’s try something different; our current approach to Cuba is obviously not working. American policy is hostile enough to give the Castro brothers an enemy—something all communist tyrants need—but not threatening enough actually to get rid of their repugnant regime. No wonder Fidel is the world’s longest serving national leader.

We could try to kill Cuban communism by swamping it with consumer goods, or by tightening the embargo. The point is that change must come to Havana, and that Washington’s perspective on Cuba must change.

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Blaming the West (Again)

Last week, I wrote about one example of those who blame the West for Africa’s problems. I disputed the claim that the wide suspicion among many Africans about Western medicine can be laid at the feet of a handful of “Western medical miscreants.” This week brings another pertinent instance of this tired intellectual practice.

Over the past seven years, Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe has destroyed his once-prosperous country. Kicking white farmers off their land, he has turned a country that once exported food into one where most of the people are starving. Upon the death of COMMENTARY contributor Jeane Kirkpatrick last year, I wrote that the tragic trajectory of Zimbabwe from authoritarian to totalitarian rule proved her thesis on “Dictatorships & Double Standards” to be correct.

What does South Africa—which neighbors Zimbabwe and has absorbed millions of its refugees—have to say about this catastrophe? Nothing, according to the dictates of President Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy.” But now, according to a leaked South African government report, we find the true culprit in all of this mess: Great Britain.

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Last week, I wrote about one example of those who blame the West for Africa’s problems. I disputed the claim that the wide suspicion among many Africans about Western medicine can be laid at the feet of a handful of “Western medical miscreants.” This week brings another pertinent instance of this tired intellectual practice.

Over the past seven years, Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe has destroyed his once-prosperous country. Kicking white farmers off their land, he has turned a country that once exported food into one where most of the people are starving. Upon the death of COMMENTARY contributor Jeane Kirkpatrick last year, I wrote that the tragic trajectory of Zimbabwe from authoritarian to totalitarian rule proved her thesis on “Dictatorships & Double Standards” to be correct.

What does South Africa—which neighbors Zimbabwe and has absorbed millions of its refugees—have to say about this catastrophe? Nothing, according to the dictates of President Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy.” But now, according to a leaked South African government report, we find the true culprit in all of this mess: Great Britain.

“The most worrisome thing is that the UK continues to deny its role as the principal protagonist in the Zimbabwean issue and is persisting with its activities to isolate Zimbabwe,” the government document says. “None of the Western countries that have imposed the sanctions that are strangling Zimbabwe’s economy have shown any willingness to lift them.”

The Americans and the EU have actually been very willing to lift the sanctions—targeted on Mugabe and his cronies—and have made the conditions for removing sanctions abundantly clear: respect for the rule of law; an end to the violence against opposition activists; and the instituting of free and fair elections. The suffering of the Zimbabwean people can be laid at the feet of the Mugabe regime and those who abet him—namely, South Africa itself. And while South Africa blames Great Britain for Zimbabwe’s plight, a British coup to topple Mugabe ought not to be taken off the table.

Last week I referred to Mbeki’s AIDS policies as “murderous.” His active abetting of a genocide next door is no less horrific.

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The Media vs. the American People

Are reporters above the law? Should they be?

We have lately been running laps around this block in connection with the 2005 leak of the NSA terrorist surveillance program and the 2003 exposure of Valerie Plame’s CIA status. The first of these two episodes did not land any reporters into trouble, but a federal grand jury is still hearing evidence in the case and there was movement in it last month. The second led to Judith Miller of the New York Times being put in the slammer by a court. There she remained for 85 days, until she disgorged the identity of her confidential source: Scooter Libby.

Another issue is now compelling us to running around the block yet again: the anthrax attacks of 2001 that killed five people. Steven J. Hatfill, the bioterrorism expert who was named in the media as a suspect, has brought a civil suit against the government for violating his rights under the Privacy Act. In order to demonstrate how the government trampled on his privacy, Hatfill wants to obtain the notes of journalists who received disparaging information about him from confidential sources in the FBI and Justice Department.

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Are reporters above the law? Should they be?

We have lately been running laps around this block in connection with the 2005 leak of the NSA terrorist surveillance program and the 2003 exposure of Valerie Plame’s CIA status. The first of these two episodes did not land any reporters into trouble, but a federal grand jury is still hearing evidence in the case and there was movement in it last month. The second led to Judith Miller of the New York Times being put in the slammer by a court. There she remained for 85 days, until she disgorged the identity of her confidential source: Scooter Libby.

Another issue is now compelling us to running around the block yet again: the anthrax attacks of 2001 that killed five people. Steven J. Hatfill, the bioterrorism expert who was named in the media as a suspect, has brought a civil suit against the government for violating his rights under the Privacy Act. In order to demonstrate how the government trampled on his privacy, Hatfill wants to obtain the notes of journalists who received disparaging information about him from confidential sources in the FBI and Justice Department.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, the same judge who presided over the trial of Libby, is hearing the matter. Yesterday, he dealt a blow to the five reporters whose notes are being sought. “The names of the sources are central to Dr. Hatfill’s case,” he wrote in a 31-page opinion.

Is this good news or bad? Attorneys and lobbyists for the news media argue that forcing a breach of confidentiality in this way will impair the ability of reporters to gather the news. Government officials are unlikely to tell reporters what they know, goes the argument, if their identities might one day be disclosed.

True enough, but the law is the law. Journalists cannot merely declare themselves above it, whether they are disclosing U.S. counterterrorism programs or besmirching the reputation of an innocent individual. (Hatfill was never charged with any crime but in 2002 was named by Attorney General John Ashcroft as a “person of interest” to the investigation.) The press, of course, does enjoy First Amendment protection, but this is hardly unlimited and does not constitute a license to do or say as one pleases regardless of the consequences, as so many journalists seem to believe.

If members of press think we are ill-served by the laws as they stand, they can lobby to change them. A bill to do just that and establish a “shield” for journalists is currently before the U.S. House of Representatives. But successive congresses have considered such a bill only to reject it. I have argued, on a number of grounds, that such a bill is a bad idea whose time has not arrived. Thus far the American people, acting through their elected representatives, would seem to concur. Until such a law is passed, journalists are obliged to follow the rules as they stand or, as Judith Miller chose to do, defy the courts, which means defying the duly passed laws of the United States and taking the consequences.

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