Why talented, loyal immigrants eagerly serve
This Ukraine scandal has shown how readily immigrants and their children can have their patriotism challenged. The latest spotlight is on naturalized American Fiona Hill, PH.D., the president’s top adviser on Russia and Europe, who has been criticized as being a Democratic mole on the White House National Security Council.
Earlier, Donald Trump Jr. and others similarly attacked Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who is Canadian-born, as being “an anti-trump, Obama flunkey.” Then there was former Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy’s assault on Ukraine-born NSC Ukraine expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman: “I don’t know that he’s concerned about American policy. … He has an affinity for the Ukraine.”
But here’s the deal: firstand second-generation Americans often are the most distinguished, professional and nonpartisan patriots of them all.
Hill, the daughter of a British coalminer and a midwife, has a doctorate from Harvard, was the intelligence community’s senior expert on the former Soviet republics under both presidents Bush and President Barack Obama, and took leave from her position as director of the Center on the United States and Europe to serve for two years on the NSC.
Vindman fled Ukraine with his family at 3. Now he’s a decorated lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, a former diplomat who served in high-profile assignments in the U.S. embassies in Kiev and Moscow, and a Harvard-educated Ukraine expert now working for the NSC.
Then there’s Yovanovitch. A native of Canada who moved to Connecticut at 3, she became an American citizen at 18. This Princeton graduate grew up speaking Russian and, as a foreign service officer, has served four Republican and two Democratic administrations. As a sign of her nonpartisanship, President George W. Bush appointed her ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, then to Armenia. Obama named her ambassador to Ukraine in 2016.
Consider Gen. John Shalikashvili, the 13th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Our nation’s only foreign-born chairman was truly multinational. Born in Poland, he escaped to Germany after surviving the Warsaw Uprising and immigrated to the United States as a teenager. Given his patriotic Georgian father, he even considered himself Georgian as well.
Shalikashvili, too, served with distinction, playing a central role in guiding the U.S., Europe, and beyond through the chaos that followed the end of the Cold War. This foreign-born warrior-diplomat helped end the carnage in Bosnia, oversaw the rescue of 500,000 Kurds in the wake of Gulf War I, helped secure “loose nukes” in the former Soviet Union, and was a driving force behind NATO’S partnership for peace and the transformation of militaries in Central Europe.
What motivates immigrants to public service? While reasons vary, for many it’s partly out of gratitude to America for taking them in. Shalikashvili’s most vivid memory from his 1958 naturalization ceremony was the judge saying, “It doesn’t matter which boat you came in on, because we are all in the same boat now.” And when he took the oath of service a few months later, he actually felt tingles run up his neck.
For Shalikashvili, being both a war refugee and a senior American military officer was a force multiplier. Because of his wartime upbringing, “I gained a firsthand appreciation for what Americans fight for and how very important it is that when we do fight, we win.” Secondly, this dual identity also meant he’d serve his country well precisely because he could look beyond just the interests of the United States.
Examples abound. As Gen. Colin Powell’s assistant, Shalikashvili took trips to the former Soviet Union with I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the under secretary of defense for policy. Libby later recalled how Shalikashvili
talked about “understanding the perils of people who live outside the glow of democracy and” — most critically — “what it means to be dedicating your life to bringing freedom to those areas.”
These deep motivations of immigrants to serve well have been on full display during the impeachment hearings.
Yovanovitch has similarly said her background — her father fled the Soviet Union and then the Nazis, and her mother grew up “stateless” in Germany — has given her a special empathy for those who had endured poverty, war and displacement. Little wonder she has served in the kinds of posts — Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and eventually Ukraine — that political donors and friends of the president don’t covet
“I am an American by choice,” Hill told the impeachment committee. “This country has offered me opportunities I would never have had in England.” Little wonder she takes pride in being “a nonpartisan foreign policy expert, who has served under three different Republican and Democratic presidents.”
And Vindman? “I am a patriot,” the Purple Heart recipient stated forthrightly in his opening remarks to Congress, “and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country, irrespective of party or politics.”
If he were still alive, Shalikashvili surely would support Hill, Yovanovitch and Vindman. To those asking if they were really patriots, he’d be offering a hearty shout out of “Tak,” “ja,” and “yes”!