If you’re fighting a war against an enemy who speaks a language â€” or several â€” you don’t know, you’re at a disadvantage. It would be hard to make sense of captured documents or question “enemy combatants,” glean useful intelligence from civilians or simply to make new friends for your side.
Donated computers with translation software would help, but it’s just not the same as being conversant in your foe’s language. You want your soldiers to be able to speak the language. But in Iraq, writes Jeff Stein, national security editor at Congressional Quarterly, “The war has been hobbled by a lack of language abilities in Iraq.” Part of the reason, says Stein, is the United States has sent people into theater with sub-par training.
The other reason: The military has been flushing its ranks of many Arabic and other language specialists â€” because they are gay. Yes, that’s not news. But there’s 300 ex-military linguists versed in the languages the enemy speaks who aren’t putting sorely needed expertise to work.
Democratic Congressmen Tom Landos (D-Calif.) and Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) want to change that.
Landos, chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Ackerman, chair of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, have asked the State Department to hire the linguists dismissed from the military because of their sexual orientation. In a letter to Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, they wrote:
[O]ur nation’s under-investment in critical foreign languages presents an urgent and immediate threat to our national security, a threat that cannot be ignored while we train new foreign-language experts. Therefore, we urge you to consider using your authority to immediately initiate a process of interviewing and hiring for positions at the State Department those former servicemen and servicewomen with critical language skills who have been dismissed from our Nation’s armed services as a result of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
It’s a good idea and long overdue. The military needs all the linguistic help it can get â€” even if it fired the help it needs only to get it back through the State Department.
Too bad it has to happen in this round-about, costly way.