Dual Citizens' Mixed Loyalty Under
Question After September 11

By Brian Mitchell

Investors Business Daily

February 8, 2002

Chuck Johnson is the only American ever to stop a column of tanks with a Colt .45. He was a Marine captain in Lebanon in 1983 when three Israeli tanks tried to roll through his position.

Chuck blocked their way and ordered the tanks to turn back. When they tried to go around him, he drew his pistol, climbed onto the lead tank, and yanked the tank commander out of his turret.

“‘Stop those @#$%&* tanks!’” Chuck yelled into the tanker’s ear.

The startled Israeli radioed for the tanks to stop. Then he said to Chuck, “You know, we’re supposed to be allies.” His English was impeccable, which was odd, as he was from Brooklyn.

Globalization works in mysterious ways. Lately, it’s sparked a boom in dual citizens: U.S. citizens serving in foreign armies and governments, foreign citizens serving in the U.S. Army and government ­ and voting in U.S. elections. That’s raising touchy questions about loyalty and national identity. It’s also clouding debates about national interests.

“Patriotism is the missing link, the 800-pound gorilla, in discussions of American national identity and integration,” said Stanley Renshon, professor of political science at the City University of New York. “No country, and especially no democracy, can afford to have large numbers of citizens with shallow civic and national attachments.”

Renshon says at least 93 countries now allow dual citizenship. He puts the number of figures U.S. citizens who qualify as citizens of other countries at over 20 million. “And rising fast,” he said.

Ten years ago, just four Latin American countries recognized dual citizenship. Eleven do now. Many hope to hang on to prosperous ex-patriots in the U.S., like Juan Hernandez.

Hernandez was born in the U.S., but last year Mexico hired him to look after Mexicans in the U.S.

“We are betting on that the Mexican-American population in the United States will become more and more like the Jewish community of the United States,” Hernandez said on ABC’s Nightline last June. “I want the third generation, the seventh generation, I want them all to think ‘Mexico first.’”

Earlier waves of immigrants put an ocean between themselves and the old country. Today airplanes and cell phones make it almost possible to immigrate without leaving home.

“People now can live in two countries at the same time in a way that was never possible before,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “In the past, people might have lived sequentially in Italy and the United States. Now you can live simultaneously in the Dominican Republic and the United States.”

That’s good, says Peter Spiro, professor of law at Hofstra University.

Spiro says dual citizenship encourages naturalization. Immigrants are more likely to become U.S. citizens if they can keep their old passports.

“Think of it as a right of free association,” he said. “We would all abhor a rule under which we were not allowed to join other civic forms of association. A rule against dual citizenship is that kind of rule.”

But others say allowing dual citizenship only encourages conflicted loyalties. Dual citizens may swear allegiance to the U.S., but they do so with intensely personal reservations. They become, says Renshon, “50 percent American.”

As evidence, he cites a 1997 survey of Muslims in Los Angeles in which 80 percent said they owed their first allegiance to a country other than the U.S. (A third of Muslim converts said the same.)

Then there’s the 2001 study by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Of the American Muslims surveyed, 82 percent agreed that “America is a technologically advanced society that we can learn from.” But only 35 percent agreed that “America is an example of freedom and democracy that we can learn from.”

Renshon, who is also a certified psychoanalyst, says naturalized citizens

are often torn between two countries.

“The fact of the matter is that psychologically it’s just very different to have grown up in a place and to have come to it later in life,” he said.

Consider the case of Aleksander Einseln, who fled his native Estonia as a child in 1944. Einseln came to the U.S. in 1949, became a citizen and served a full career in the U.S. Army, retiring as a colonel. But when Estonia wriggled free from Russia in 1991, Einseln rushed home to take command of the new country’s army.

There are also less innocent examples of naturalized citizens who never quite became Americans:

Ali Mohamed, U.S. Army sergeant, was born and raised in Egypt and a naturalized U.S. citizen. He spied for Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist group.

George Trofimoff, U.S. Army colonel, was born in Germany to Russian parents and naturalized in 1951. He spied for Russia and was sentenced to life in prison last year.

Albert Sombolay, U.S. soldier, was born in Zaire, Africa, and naturalized in 1978. He offered himself to Jordan and Iraq to spy “for the Arab cause” during the Gulf War.

But treason is rare in any group. More common is the tendency among immigrants to conflate U.S. interests with the interests of their homelands.

This was the subject of an article by Harvard’s Samuel Huntington in the Sept./Oct. 1997 issue of Foreign Affairs.

“National interest derives from national identity. We have to know who we are before we can know what our interests are,” Huntington wrote. “Without a sure sense of national identity, Americans have become unable to define their national interests.”

The result, wrote Huntington, is that narrow commercial and ethnic interests “have come to dominate foreign policy.”

The American Founders saw a danger in foreign influence. George Washington warned not only against “entangling alliances,” but also against “passionate attachments” to foreign countries. The Constitution itself says the president must be born here.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., wants to change that. Frank has submitted a bill to amend the Constitution so that the foreign born can become president after twenty years as a citizen.

After all, things like ethnicity and national origin are not supposed to matter nowadays. Civil rights laws forbid it. But when national origin doesn’t matter, U.S. citizenship sometimes falls by the wayside, too.

President Clinton suffered an early embarrassment when he appointed Martin Indyk to the National Security Council staff in 1993. Indyk was a citizen of Australia, but not the U.S.

A quick swearing-in was arranged.