Last December, we learned that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad employs 1,000 people, of which six speak Arabic fluently. The good news is the number of Arabic speakers at the U.S. Embassy has gone up 66%. The bad news is, when you start with six, that kind of increase is still pretty small.
Of the 1,000 U.S. employees at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, only 10 have a working knowledge of Arabic, according to the State Department.
That is still a slight improvement from last year when, according to the Iraq Study Group, six people in the embassy spoke Arabic.
A 2006 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report noted the shortage of speakers of Arabic, which the State Department classifies as “superhard,” is acute at U.S. embassies in the Muslim world.
In December, confronted with questions about this, Tony Snow said, “[Y]ou don’t snap your fingers and have the Arabic speakers you need overnight.” Actually, if Bush were willing to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” he could have more Arabic speakers overnight.
Fact is, we have discharged two gay soldiers (who had translating jobs) who were fluent in Arabic. Hear the story here. And an older version here.
What's more astonishing is that, in times of war, the U.S. has traditionally "waived" the gay issue. The thinking had something to do with, "the more swinging dicks in the field, the better." I.e., manpower trumps all.
Or, maybe, in times of crisis and necessity, we are forced to see past our prejudices. About ten years ago, I taught a speech class at North Central Technical College in Ohio, and I remember that one semester, an older, very Republican and vocally Christian student stood up to make a brief impromptu pro/con speech. His topic was on "gays in the military." I braced for the onslaught of gay hatred, the usual cliches about predators, cowering men, men vulnerable to blackmail or torture. Instead, he gave a moving speech about sharing a foxhole with a gay man, a man, he said, who always had his back.
Sadly, after wartime, in the U.S., discharges of gay soldiers rise again, even after clear acts of bravery on the part of gay servicemen and women.
So what's wrong? There is no reason I can think of--not national safety nor security--to discharge these soldiers who know Arabic. We need them. We're trying to better communicate with our new Iraqi friends...aren't we?