Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar recently found herself at the center of a controversy after her remarks to a Somali group were mistranslated and widely shared. The reality of the situation is that the main thing she said reflects a U.S. policy pre-dating her entry into the country, and most of it shouldn’t have been controversial.
However, as Juan Villasmil, who wrote an article about the situation for The Spectator, said on Twitter, the American right go “psyopped” by activists from the breakaway African state of Somaliland, who cynically released and spread an inauthentic translation of her remarks. There are valid criticisms of what Omar had to say and how it relates to her politics within America, but most missed the truth that there is no country too obscure to not have someone in its pocket in the U.S. Congress, and Omar is far from unique.
America has always had strong immigrant and ethnic lobbies, and furthermore, has hosted many political exiles who whisper in the ears of power demanding this or that treatment of their homeland. It is past time that Americans learn that such people are rarely credible when discussing U.S. policy towards their country of origin and should usually be ignored. Instead, the American government should listen to those who have no loyalty but to America.
The United States has had a lot of immigrants and diversity from it’s founding, and though the sources of immigrants have varied over time, there have always been movements trying to garner America’s favor towards various countries. In the semi-modern era, it was the America First Committee which took the most famous stance lobbying against American involvement in the affairs of other countries in the lead-up to the Second World War.
Charles Lindbergh and the committee have been smeared as anti-Semitic for decades after Lindbergh said of Jews within America, “The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race…But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them.” It’s fair to argue about if this was a relevant point, or if he was advocating the right policy, but it is obviously true that Jews within the United States were moved by the horrible persecution of their brethren under the Nazis and wanted the United States to get involved in order to help them.
However, we don’t invade Myanmar to protect the Rohingya, even in an era of the doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect,” and it wouldn’t be controversial to say that we shouldn’t. There are many prominent examples of ethnic groups or nationalities lobbying for their people, such as Irish-Americans supporting the IRA, Cuban-Americans pushing the embargo, Chinese-Americans supporting Taiwan or opposing the Chinese Communist Party, Persian-Americans who support restoring the Shah, and groups such as AIPAC supporting Israel. Such special interest groups don’t always advocate for bad policy; for example the Armenian and Greek lobbies, which are effectively the anti-Turkiye and Azerbaijan lobbies, recently successfully pushed to cut military aid to Azerbaijan, something I supported. However, this was the right decision for a variety of reasons. The aid was against U.S. law, but for decades a waiver had been granted on spurious grounds; it wasn’t in America’s interests to continue the aid.
Of course, many if not most immigrants to the United States have not devoted themselves to concern for their prior country. Commonly, they are happy to have left their problems behind and become passionately devoted to their new homeland. One prominent example is the German revolutionist Carl Schurz, who arrived in America in the mid-nineteenth century and ultimately served in many roles that contributed to the growth of our country, including as a newspaper publisher, a Union general in the Civil War, and the Secretary of the Interior; later in life, Schurz would be a senior statesman in America’s anti-imperialist movement which arose in opposition to the annexation of Hawai’i and the Spanish-American War.
For those unable to learn these obvious things from mere observation, the great political theorist Machiavelli also directly covered this issue in a chapter titled “How dangerous it is to believe exiles” [II.31.] He points out that those who have been deprived of their homeland will abandon you and any promises they have made as soon as someone else can deliver their home back to them. Machiavelli further argues,
“As for their vain promises and hopes, their desire to return home is so intense that they naturally believe many things which are false, and to them they add many things with guile, so that between the thing they believe and they things they say they believe to fill you with hope, they fill you up with so much hope that If you rely on it, you either incur expenses or undertake an enterprise in which you are ruined”
It is a great irony then, that there was so much discourse about the Bush Administration being filled with students of the Machiavelli scholar Leo Strauss, who then proceeded along this exact course in Iraq, and produced for America those exact results. Currently, exiled Russians and Persians try to fill our heads with such stories about how the public of those countries yearn for liberation, while Ukrainian-Americans demand that we save their country from Russia.
It should be obvious that the people who risk their lives fleeing a country will tend to hate the government or conditions there more than people who stay and tolerate or even support the government. In other instances, they blame a nearby country for their own problems, and arrive here with Old World hate they insist on holding onto, claiming if we were from there we would know that their prejudices are correct. Recently, after expressing opposition to continued military aid to Ukraine, Senator J.D. Vance was challenged with the question, “How do Ohio Ukrainian-Americans feel about this,” as if that is somehow relevant.
America was famously called a “melting pot,” but people somehow take that to mean a “stew pot,” which becomes better if it is filled with an infinite number of distinct parts; in reality a melting pot is where wax comes together until it can no longer be differentiated, influenced by all the prior contributions but a homogeneous mass. To many of us who have no other home, it is maddening that a mass of ethnic activist groups are treated as credible advisors regarding their homelands while they shamelessly prioritize a country that isn’t America. It is fine for people to hold onto cultural heritage, but no one within our country expressing loyalty to another country—be that loyalty inherited, ideological, or bought—should be trusted regarding American policy towards that country.