Rewarding Our Friends (A Little Thing Like Visas)

I am convinced that an important source of anti-Americanism is that it is cost free. We are also not particularly nice to our friends. Countries that treat us well get the same treatment as those that thumb their noses at us. That is why I was so happy to hear that President Bush will finally push visa free travel to the U.S. for our good friends in Central & Eastern Europe.

This may seem like a little thing to Americans because we can freely travel almost anywhere in the world. It is not a little thing to Poles, Estonians or Czechs who as soon as they found themselves free to leave their own countries learned that they often could not enter other places.

We Americans also do not understand the humiliation of a visa line. Take a day off from work, travel to the capital, stand in line for hours, sometimes outside, and then get 30 seconds to convince a foreign official that you indeed plan only to visit his country and come home again soon. It was especially humiliating to our allies in Central Europe, since they have been particularly good friends of the U.S. In the last decade, they have established free market democracies. Their countries are NATO members. Their soldiers are serving and sometimes dying for the common cause in the Balkans, Afghanistan or Iraq. Their countries are members of the European Union. They have done all they should do and yet they still do not enjoy the same degree of respect that U.S. authorities give an ordinary citizen of France or Belgium.

The visa waiver program was designed to ease travel for the citizens of countries that did not represent a significant illegal immigration risk to the U.S. It was and remains a good idea. Not only does it make travel less stressful for potential tourist and investors in our country, it also saves the U.S. government millions of dollars each year in labor costs at Embassies and Consulates. But it is an idea that was born in the seemingly benign world before 9/11. The perceived threat in those days was almost completely economic (immigration) or drugs. Since 9/11, we have seen that there are other sorts of threats. German, British or French citizens who can travel freely to the U.S. may not represent much of an immigration risk, but sometimes pose perhaps a more serious problem (recall that Zacarias Moussaoui is a French citizen). Since the nature of the threat has changed, it is time to change the response.

The improved program the President is advocating would emphasize things like security of passports, data security etc. Countries like UK or Germany already have most of the proper procedures in place and would expect no change in their visa status. Newer NATO & EU members like Poland, Estonia or the Czech Republic also have these things.

Visa-free travel is not a big gift. It is one of those things you stop thinking about once you have it. I bet most American travelers do not think about it at all. But withholding it is a relatively larger slight. We get along with a little help from our friends. It is time for some reciprocity.

Posted by Jack at November 28, 2006 4:44 PM
Comments
Comment #196751

Jack,

I’m not certain if your first sentence is correct. According to your logic, those we punish or threaten to punish wouldn’t say bad things about us. Anyway, we want democracies around the world; in a democracy, people are going to say what they want and not necessarily what we want. You label leaders from less powerful countries as “small men in insignificant countries.” I realize you wouldn’t say that about leaders who say things you like, but come on, there’s no cost to you to damn those leaders you don’t like, is there? We love to diss the French, though, you know, any country that can produce an Amelie deserves some respect.

As far as the Visa thing goes — sounds good to me.

Posted by: Trent at November 28, 2006 5:50 PM
Comment #196755

Jack, if you want to go to Canada, better hurry up, because after the first of the year, you will need a passport to get back into the country, no matter if you are US citizen or not.

Posted by: KT at November 28, 2006 6:20 PM
Comment #196761

KT

I have a passport.

Trent

Actually, I was thinking of Hugo Chavez. But I see how you might take it the other way. I will modify it. Don’t want to insult troublesome friends.

Posted by: Jack at November 28, 2006 6:45 PM
Comment #196782

Jack,

Have you seen which countries he’s talking about adding? Perhaps I missed it, but I didn’t see details in the linked article.

Posted by: LawnBoy at November 28, 2006 8:44 PM
Comment #196786

He is talking about the members of NATO & the EU that do not on the visa waiver program. It especially applies to Poland. There is some background to this issue in the Senate and in diplomatic exchanges.

I am not just asking you to take my word for it or trying to be a wise ass, but I really cannot give you one comprehensive source. Google visa waiver & Poland and after you read some of the sources, you will see what I mean.

Posted by: Jack at November 28, 2006 9:16 PM
Comment #196793

Jack,

I’m not trying to give you a hard time on this, I’m just trying to get more info on it. While in general I’m in favor of this idea, I’d be curious what countries are involved, and it looks like it’s a speech without actual substance.

Posted by: LawnBoy at November 28, 2006 10:11 PM
Comment #196795

Jack,

Why do you consider these countries our friends? I’m not saying they aren’t, just wondering what your criteria are.

Some might consider the Poles our friends because they sent troops to Iraq. Another way to be a friend would be to warn us that it was a bad idea…

Posted by: Woody Mena at November 28, 2006 10:27 PM
Comment #196798

The Poles are among the most pro American people in the world. They are willing to take risks and stand with us, not only in Iraq but also in the Balkans & other places. The same goes in different ways with the others.

BTW - They were friendly under Clinton too. I know that partisans might hold it against them that they support our president, but our president (both Clinton & Bush) is our president. You might guess that being friendly means just that. Maybe some people can see it clearer than we can ourselves.

When Bush is gone fundamental American interests will remain. I would not expect America’s friends in other countries to try to play American politics.

Re Iraq in early 2003 - it did not seem like a bad idea to most Americans. Most intelligence services, including the Russians, French, Egyptians etc thought Saddam had WMD. They did not oppose our action because they forsaw the results that occured. Rather they forsaw that they would lose contracts and money.

You cannot read the history backwards and expect someone to “warn” us when they would have believed otherwise.

I know that we all should have sold our stock portfolios in March 2000 and bought again in March 2003. But is it really much harder to know before.

Posted by: Jack at November 28, 2006 10:53 PM
Comment #196832

Jack,

Re Iraq in early 2003 - it did not seem like a bad idea to most Americans. Most intelligence services, including the Russians, French, Egyptians etc thought Saddam had WMD. They did not oppose our action because they forsaw the results that occured. Rather they forsaw that they would lose contracts and money.

You cannot read the history backwards and expect someone to “warn” us when they would have believed otherwise.

Oh, please, Jack! Not you!
Check some fact again:

Furthermore, premature recourse to the military option would be fraught with risks:

# The authority of our action is based today on the unity of the international community. Premature military intervention would bring this unity into question, and that would detract from its legitimacy and, in the long run, its effectiveness.

# Such intervention could have incalculable consequences for the stability of this scarred and fragile region. It would compound the sense of injustice, increase tensions and risk paving the way to other conflicts.

[…]

Ten days ago, the US Secretary of State, Mr. Powell, reported the alleged links between al-Qaeda and the regime in Baghdad. Given the present state of our research and intelligence, in liaison with our allies, nothing allows us to establish such links. On the other hand, we must assess the impact that disputed military action would have on this plan. Would not such intervention be liable to exacerbate the divisions between societies, cultures and peoples, divisions that nurture terrorism?

—— French Foreign Ministry’s speech at UN Security Council, 14 february 2003.

Sorry, but some nations opposing Iraq War *did* forsaw the results that occured.
And *warmed* USA about it.
And *timely*.

Don’t say you were not warmed, because you were.
You didn’t agreed or, worse, listen. That’s all.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at November 29, 2006 9:03 AM
Comment #196848

Phillippe

I did not say there was no warning. What I did say is there was a lot of disagreement. After the results of a decision are known, we can always go back and find the warnings or confirmations. In the case of a tough decision, there may well have been good arguments on both sides. After all these years, Saddam’s WMD - which he had in 1998 - is still not accounted for. I can accept that it is not there, and that the lack of accounting may be from bad record keeping, but it certainly was and is not a cut and dried situation. Looking into the future is always harder than looking into the past.

Re intelligence - you know that Libya and Pakistan had programs that were MORE advanced than we thought and even Iraq had a more advanced program in 1991 than we thought. There is a broad area of uncertainty. You have to decide where it is better to be wrong.

In this post, I was specifically addressing Woody’s point re why Poland et al did not “warn” us. I think the point remains valid that they had no particular reason to do that.

One more thing about the nature of judging history. With the same initial conditions in place, if the Iraq intervention had been more successful, we would have a whole different set of talking points.

Consider the case in Afghanistan. Many people warned that we could never push out the Taliban. After they were out in a couple of weeks, these guys were quiet. Now they are coming back and warning again.

BTW - Did France ask permission to react in Ivory Coast? I think you did the right thing there, but sometimes you have to make hard decisions.

Posted by: Jack at November 29, 2006 12:08 PM
Comment #196899

Jack

Please forgive me for going off topic.
My father-in-law sent me this.
Since you are interested in energy I thought you would like to see it.

www.youtube.com/v/ry6w3mRM-FM

Posted by: tomh at November 29, 2006 4:27 PM
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