Thursday, May 24, 2007

No Friend Left Behind (Update)

Those who boast they warned the rest of us of the 'Pottery Barn rules' -- if we break it, we bought it -- now want to leave the store without paying.

[posted by Callimachus]

Congress finished work this week on a step toward remedying the injustice of Iraqi interpreters who have helped us but who are denied immigration rights into the U.S.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed legislation granting special immigration visas to hundreds of Iraqi and Afghan translators whose lives are endangered because they helped U.S. forces.

By a vote of 412-8, the House passed the legislation that was also embraced by the Senate earlier this year.

The measure, which President George W. Bush is expected to sign into law, would grant up to 500 special visas for the foreign translators and interpreters who have helped in the U.S. war effort.

"These translators and interpreters who serve bravely alongside our troops need our immediate assistance. Singled out as collaborators, many are now targets by death squads, militias, and al-Qaeda," said Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat.

... Lawmakers have complained that last year, the United States accepted only 202 Iraqis out of its 70,000 refugee slots worldwide, despite the worsening refugee crisis.

The House of Representatives bill was H.R.1790, a bill that would "amend the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 to expand the provision of special immigrant status for certain aliens, including translators or interpreters, serving with Federal agencies in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and co-sponsored by Berman. The Senate passed its version of the bill (S.1104 April 12 by unanimous consent). It got through the House with bipartisan support, on a vote of 412-8. The eight opposed, all Republicans, were Deal (Georgia), Gingrey, Goode, King (Iowa), Kingston, Paul, Tancredo, and Whitfield.

* * *

Britain's Channel 4 picks up on the plight of Iraqi translators who have worked for and with the British military. Not surprisingly, the threats they face now are similar to those the American terps live (and die) with. But their prospect of salvation is even weaker:

For less than £10 a day, hundreds of Iraqis are putting their lives on the line as interpreters for the British Army in Basra. Many have now fled, having received death threats.

They claim they're being systematically targeted and murdered. The militias, jostling for control of Basra, consider them traitors. At least two have been killed this month.

Unlike the American government, which has announced plans to resettle 7,000 particularly vulnerable Iraqi refugees, the British government has made no such commitment.

The story is tragic, and well-told in this article by Jonathan Miller:

Thousands of local Iraqis got jobs with the British in Basra; drivers, cleaners, cooks, but interpreters were the brightest and best.

A lot of them are young graduates, trusting and full of hope for the future. Four years on, with Iraq - and their dreams -- turned upside down, many are now on the run, dumped by the very people they'd trusted and had wanted so much to help.

* * *

Michael Moran of the Council on Foreign Relations puts the question directly to Democratic presidential contender John Edwards: "You’ve laid out a fairly detailed timetable for how you’d like to see the drawdown take place in Iraq and the eventual withdrawal. There’s some skepticism about the ability of the United States to affect things in Iraq once we do withdraw, and the possibility of a genocide is something you’ve made reference to. So, how does that change your figuring on what the United States would have to do if you did get out and then this happened?"

Edwards answers by not answering at all:

First of all, the long-term stability and chance for success in Iraq is dependent on the Iraqi leadership itself. My view is that until and when we shift the responsibility for Iraq to the Sunni and Shia leadership, it's unlikely based on history that they're going to reach any political reconciliation. And so we need to do that in a smart, orderly way by telling them we’re doing it, withdrawing troops over a period of ten to twelve months. We ought to engage in every effort we can to help bring them together, to encourage political compromise, and we ought to engage the Iranians, the Syrians, and other countries in the region into helping stabilize Iraq. The Iranians clearly have an interest in a stable Iraq. They don’t want refugees coming across their border, they don’t want the economic instability, and they don’t want a broader Middle East conflict between Shia and Sunni. The Syrians have a similar interest, although they’re Sunni, not Shia.

And then, the president has a responsibility beyond that. We have interest in the region, that’s obvious, we need to maintain a presence there, in Kuwait, in Afghanistan, maybe in Jordan, depending on what we can agree to there, and we definitely need to maintain a naval presence in the Persian Gulf. And the president has got to prepare for the two things that you raise. One is the possibility that the civil war becomes all-out, so that it can be contained, and the second is the possibility of genocide. My view is that this is something that’s crucial for America to plan for. In the case of the civil war, there are strategies for dealing with it, to contain it—buffer zones, moving away from population centers. And in the case of genocide, this is something we clearly need to be doing with the international community, not America doing this alone. We have to prepare for that. I’m not going to say now this far in advance exactly what the mechanism should be, but America has to have a plan for that.

In a little under 400 words, Half are devoted to suggesting Iraq will be more stable without the U.S. there than with it there. When he gets around to the "what if you're wrong about that" alternative, his answer is "America has to have a plan for that," but clearly he hasn't got one of his own. So what good is he? He punts it to "the international community," which, in the language of Darfur and Rwanda, translates into "let them die."

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