Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rational Immigration

We are told we have an immigration problem in this country. What is really being said is that we have a problem with immigrants from Mexico, too many of whom are entering illegally. We don’t seem to have a problem with Canadians, Asians or Europeans, although in the past we have had periods of large waves of Asian and European immigrants. In most all instances, the driver for these immigrations have been economic --- people believing in the American dream, and maybe our values and freedoms and government systems, and who want to participate in them.

The current Mexican immigration is huge in numbers. Where it was once a southern California issue that became a southwestern US/Rio Grande issue is now almost a national issue as enclaves of Mexican immigrants have dispersed across the US. The arguments against this immigration include its sheer volume, its drain on US social service systems, the taking of jobs from US citizens, and the unwillingness to assimilate into American language and culture. The proposed “solutions” have included a 1000 mile fence to seal the border, and the roundup and return of the offenders back to Mexico.

These solutions are nonsense. The truth is, national unemployment is as low as it has ever been, so it doesn’t seem that Mexican workers are displacing too many American workers. Most Mexicans are here in the first place to work to support families in the US and/or Mexico. US employers (principally farm and industrial) tell us they are needed to fill jobs that would otherwise go vacant. In the meantime, these people are providing key inputs to many local economies.

Cultural assimilation will not happen if you concurrently refuse to let people become part of the citizenry. And we have always supported many bi-cultural identities and celebrations in America (African-American, Irish-American, Asian-American, Latino-American, even Native-American). These immigrants would not be “draining” our social services if they were allowed to fully pay into those services through taxes and other social rights and obligations. We have a reality of @12 million illegal immigrants in this country. Do we really think we are going to round up 12 million people and put them on trains back to Mexico?

As Americans, we are all of immigrant backgrounds, including what we now know about our Native American population. Our real problem is the attractiveness of our own success, and we cannot undo what has already transpired. Bring the illegals into legality, either as citizens or as certified immigrant workers, and let us move on. Then put an intelligent plan in place to manage future immigrants, including denial of services for those without certification. Pardon the past and accept our reality. We need to focus on the future.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Remembering Diplomacy

Do you remember the good old days of American diplomacy? An overseas visit by the President of the United States used to be a special event, well-prepared by solid advance field work that resulted in notable historical moments. Sure, politics and diplomacy were often married with a bit of show-biz spectacle, but that was all right. Those events in all their theatricality served to move forward international relations between countries and cultures.

There is the visual memory of Nixon with Mao in China. Of Ford with Brezhnev in Moscow. Of Reagan in Europe and Iceland with Gorbachev. Of Carter in the White House Rose Garden with Begin and Sadat. Of George the Elder on the phone patiently building a truly international coalition to resist aggression.. And of Clinton brokering peace in the Baltic and attempting to do the same in the Middle East.

Each of these instances marked the willingness of our President to put his reputation and commitment on the line by talking directly to people with whom we had substantive differences of opinion. But by showing respect for those differing opinions rather than contempt, and being confident and capable of defending our own beliefs without arrogance, we were able to engage in discussions and actions that led to positive change.

That was a very different environment than what we have seen these past seven years. Where are the grand ceremonies, the historic decisions, the major steps forward in “getting along and working together”? Versus refusing to even talk to those with whom we disagree, and publicly humiliating and insulting our adversaries. Our visual memory today is of giving a backrub to a friendly head of state and publicly embarrassing her. But we cannot demonstrate leadership around which friend and foe can coalesce.

How do explain such posturing to people such as Nelson Mandela, who embraced his captors and through quiet diplomacy subsequently obliterated the apartheid of South Africa which had imprisoned him for most all of his adult life?

“You talk to the most awful in order to get what you claim to be looking for ---Peace. And you will be surprised ... You don’t negotiate with your friends. You negotiate with the person you regard as your enemy.” (Bishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Elusive Rationale of Iraq

With our Iraq misadventure, we have engaged in a continuing shifting rationale to try to continually justify the support of the American population in what has become a huge mistake. But no rationale is credible any longer.

When we initiated America’s first unprovoked first-strike war by attacking Iraq, it was to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of an unstable dictator apparently willing to unleash them. We all know how that rationale turned out.

When no such weapons were found, we discovered instead that our real mission was to rid the Middle East and the world of that same horrendous dictator (conveniently ignoring other bad leaders in the world).

Despite having been told on the deck of an aircraft carrier “Mission Accomplished,” we found out instead that in the course of removing that dictator we had simultaneously destroyed Iraq’s economic, social and organizational structures with no plane to recreate these. (So much for Iraq paying for its own liberation with its own oil revenues ...) Most of the trained Iraq workforce (police, military, infrastructure, teachers, etc.) were sent into the streets to now be unemployed. So our mission then became to bring democracy and stability to Iraq. To a country that had already had stability (albeit in its own undesirable way) but with absolutely no experience or preparation for democracy.

As we began to fail on both the democracy and stability fronts, our mission then became one of defeating terrorists in Iraq before they could hurt us here at home. Of course, there were no terrorists in Iraq until we created an environment and haven for them to eb there.

And now as Iraq descends into outright civil war between the Sunni and Shi’ite Islamic sects, we escalate our troop levels to buy time for the transitional government to take control of its own country. Except that it is a Shi’ite government trying to take control over a Sunni minority that has a long history of domination over the Shi’ite majority. And who really thinks this can ever succeed in anything but trading one domination for another?

We are now stuck in the middle of something that has nothing to do with us, but which we have unleashed. When we chose to invade a country with no awareness or consideration of its history, its makeup, its dynamics, its aspirations, or its internal conflicts, why would we have ever thought that we would be welcomed as “liberators”? Of course why would they not want us to go home?

We are stuck in our own folly. And no shifting rationales-of-the-day can hide the calamity of our inadequate planning, arrogance and foolhardiness.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Palestinian Peace Not Apartheid

For those who share my high interest in the seemingly never-ending greater Middle East political nightmare, particularly with respect to the Israel/Palestine aspect, I would highly recommend to you President Jimmy Carter’s recent book “Palestinian Peace Not Apartheid.”
Unsurprisingly, this book is not without controversy. A number of people have said that this book is biased against Israel, is pro-Palestinian, and that the use of the term “apartheid” is inappropriate to describe the structure Israel has put in place to manage the Palestinian territories under their control. Several members have resigned their positions on the Board of the Carter Center in protest of this book, saying that the book now makes it impossible for President Carter to serve as a trusted neutral intermediary in any official or unofficial negotiations. Brandeis University outside of Boston did allow President Carter to speak on campus, but refused the filming of a documentary showing his talk or interviews of students regarding Carter’s writings.

In my own readings of this book, I find such reactive comments completely inappropriate and unjustified, but not a surprise. I have no doubt that President Carter fully expected that his perspective would generate some strong reaction. He has acknowledged that he is hoping to stimulate some fresh dialog into a situation that has remained largely stale and unchanged for some time, especially as the U.S. has largely abandoned any meaningful attempt to make genuine and balanced initiatives in this arena.

Structurally, the book includes an excellent snapshot history of events and players in the Israel / Palestine area, from ancient to modern times. It then goes into detail as to the modern events in the area, with the narrative built predominantly around his personal meetings and dialogs with many of the leading Israeli and Palestinian political players in that region (both during and after his presidency and continuing to this day). It is a fairly fast read that belies its significance. It is an important read if you are grappling as many of us are with understanding the real why’s of that area

I found his writing to be very even-handed towards both the Palestinian and Israeli sides of the issue, telling the positive actions and in the negative actions of each side. If one is a “100-percenter” who believes that one side is all correct and the other side is all wrong, then yes you will find this book “biased.” But if one believes that no one (or nation) is perfect, that each political entity must acknowledge and take responsibility for and correct their imperfect actions or self-centered motivations, and must keep their commitments made, then this book will provide some possible starting places to find accommodations that must recognize the needs of all parties.

President Carter is neither a wholesale accuser nor apologist for either side. But if apartheid means treating people as second-class citizens in their own country --- as we did in America for several hundred years, as Britain did in Scotland and Ireland (and elsewhere) for almost a century, and as South Africa did for generations --- then perhaps the label may well be accurate.

Perhaps it may be true that one should negotiate from a position of strength. But in the end, it is only fairness that will be successful in achieving a permanent end result, Otherwise an unresolved problem is simply continued for years in disguised form at great human, economic, and spiritual cost. If you think one side is all bad and wrong, and the other all good and right, then you are part of the problem that prevents a resolution.