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”!


Gen. John Sha­likashvili, seated above, com­man­der of U.S. Joint Forces, re­ceives a brief­ing from field com­man­ders on op­er­a­tions in Bos­nia on Feb. 9, 1996. His ser­vice, along with that of re­cent House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee im­peach­ment hear­ing wit­nesses Marie Yo­vanovitch, be­low left; Lt. Col. Alexan­der Vind­man, be­low cen­ter; and Fiona Hill, be­low right, demon­strate the skill and patriotism that im­mi­grants bring to high levels of govern­ment ser­vice.

MAR­BLE An­drew Mar­ble, PH.D., is the Au­thor of “Boy on the Bridge: The Story of John Sha­likashvili’s Amer­i­can Suc­cess.”

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