The Department of Defense announced today a long-overdue initiative to enroll foreigners to fill critical needs in the U.S. armed forces. Under a pilot program, the armed forces will be authorized over the next 12 months to recruit 1,000 individuals who do not currently have Americancitizenship or permanent resident status.
This is something I have long argued for, because I believe that there are lots of high-quality recruits around the world who would gladly serve in return for expedited citizenship. They would bring with them the kind of linguistic and cultural know-how that is lacking in our forces today but is a vital prerequisite for success on battlefields such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Even those who do not necessarily speak a “strategic” language could be a valuable asset, as so many immigrant soldiers were in our past wars.
If there is one criticism to be made of the new proposal, it is that it is so small. It is limited to a tiny number of foreigners who speak one of three dozen “critical” languages (ranging from Albanian to Yoruba) and have lived in the U.S. legally for two years or more on certain types of visas. One third of the total must be medical professionals because of a current shortfall of doctors and nurses. That’s all fine and good, but it slights the needs of the U.S. Special Operations Command, which is eager to recruit more foreigners as was previously done under the Lodge Act in the 1950′s. And it slights needs of the regular army which could use more high-quality recruits, even if enlistments are increasing in these trying economic times.
The program was kept deliberately small so as to avoid a nativist backlash. Assuming that there is no groundswell of opposition–and who would be churlish enough to protest people volunteering to put their lives on theline to defend America?–let us hope that this initiative will expand in the future.