Monday, June 11, 2007

U.S. desperately, urgently needs people fluent in Arabic ___uh, unless they are gay.

One wonders about our adminstration’s priorities. These articles appeared on June 8:

1. Don't Ask, Don't Translate, in the New York Times, by op-ed contributor Stephan Benjamin, a former petty officer second class in the Navy and former Arabic translator.

“The lack of qualified translators has been a pressing issue for some time — the Army had filled only half its authorized positions for Arabic translators in 2001. Cables went untranslated on Sept. 10 that might have prevented the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Today, the American Embassy in Baghdad has nearly 1,000 personnel, but only a handful of fluent Arabic speakers.

“I was an Arabic translator. After joining the Navy in 2003, I attended the Defense Language Institute, graduated in the top 10 percent of my class and then spent two years giving our troops the critical translation services they desperately needed. I was ready to serve in Iraq.

“But I never got to. In March, I was ousted from the Navy under the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, which mandates dismissal if a service member is found to be gay.”

Read the article if you’re interested in how Stephan got “caught.”

2. State desperate for envoys who speak Arabic, published in the The Washington Times.
“The State Department, in an unprecedented move highlighting its desperate need for Arabic speakers, is allowing U.S. diplomats to curtail their current assignments anywhere in the world and begin Arabic language training in September.

“Foreign Service officers who are interested in learning Arabic or improving existing skills have until the end of July to apply for more than 100 positions in Arabic-speaking countries that will open in the next two years.

"We recognize that we must improve our ability to understand and influence an area of continuing importance to our nation's well-being,’ Mr. Staples [director-general of the Foreign Service] wrote in the cable, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

"The department, on which Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen P. Hughes has put a particular emphasis on improving the U.S. image in the Arab and Muslim world, has been criticized repeatedly since 2001 for its shortage of Arabic speakers.

“Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February that her agency is ‘putting a great effort into language development for our diplomats,' and that 'this country has been underinvested in the study of critical languages like Arabic, Farsi, even Chinese, for a very long time.’

“A report by the bipartisan Foreign Affairs Council this week criticized Miss Rice for failing to request more funds for the department despite her influence with President Bush.”

I wonder if there are any gay envoys….

(Arabic script –

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