30.12.07

'Look out! Here comes the Spider Linguist'

In late November, I received an invitation to attend a briefing by Global Linguist Solutions (GLS), conducted over dinner in Paterson, New Jersey. The company was on the verge of gaining a multi-billion dollar contract with the Federal Government to provide translation services in Iraq. As such, they wanted to meet with leaders in the Arab-American community, because their success depends heavily on their ability to recruit American citizens fluent in the Arabic language.

The goal of the meeting was not to hire me and the other attendees, but rather to seek our advice on an effective strategy to reach out to Arab-Americans at large, who would be ideal candidates to fill the many roles available.

Sherine el-Abd with Governor John Sununu and AAI Chairman George SalemInviting me to the briefing were 2 individuals I know and trust: Sherine el-Abd, respected Republican activist, fundraiser, and operative who sits on the board of the Arab American Institute; as well as Jamal Baadani, a devoted US Marine, founder of the Association of Patriotic Arab Americans in the Military and quite simply one of the finest public servants in the community. Both Sherine and Jamal have taken roles with GLS, which is a division of the controversial Dyncorp.

Jamal BaadaniNow, one might ask, why would I, a staunch opponent of the Iraq War, even attend such a meeting? Well, because I am an American citizen, and whether I like the policy or not, it IS my country's policy and I had might as well try to make some lemonade until we can collectively get rid of this lemon. Never losing sight of the end goal, however, I brought along my Ron Paul ballot petitions and collected quite a few signatures. So let's be clear: in my ideal world, Dyncorp would be out of business and GLS would be recruiting translators for charity work and private-sector new market entry for American goods and services.

I do believe that Jamal in particular is of the same viewpoint. He was against the Iraq War from Day 1 and was deployed for highly classified missions in other countries in the region in recent years.

Look out!  Here comes the Spider linguist!Headlining the meeting, however, was former US Army General James "Spider" Marks, who ran intelligence gathering in Iraq. Now he is an adviser to Mitt Romney and the key figure at GLS. Marks led a very informal discussion and was extremely eager to forge ties to Arab-American community leaders. The recruitment goals he mentioned were steep, and GLS is going to need to work aggressively to meet them. Much of the discussion became a very frank exchange about whether extremely high pay should be the key selling point to attract applicants and translators. I reached out to 2 friends in Syria who are bilingual and is are American citizens, they bluntly rejected the idea, despite the fact that the salary we are talking about would fund a nice lifestyle in Syria for more than a few years.

At the time of our meeting, the contract was still pending, but it was finally awarded on December 7, to the tune of $4.6 billion:
"As per the contract, GLS will provide foreign-language interpretation and translation services to the U.S. Army and other U.S. government agencies supporting OIF, which included embedded Iraqi translators who will operate with U.S. forces. GLS will hire up to 6,000 locally hired translators and up to 1,000 U.S. citizens with security clearances who are conversant with languages spoken in Iraq."
There was an element of the conversation that took place that night that disappointed me. How ironic that so many within the Arab-American community hiss at the word "neocon". The many Democrats among us love to equate "neoconservative" with "Republican". But few actually understand the ideological underpinnings and many haplessly spout neocon talking points in spite of themselves. The meeting was full of discussion about how "everybody in the world wants to come to America" and other such fairy tales that evidently haven't been read by my cousins in Argentina, for example.

Such talk only strengthens the neoconservative agenda through the dissolution of American uniqueness in favor of a "propositional nation" and its imperial overtones. Our community needs to better educate itself about what neoconservativism actually is and how easily it manages to integrate itself in the mentality of both political parties through feel-good talking points.

Finally, there was a funny moment as we were leaving and the topic of Ron Paul came up. I told General Marks that I was supporting Ron, and he was facetiously incredulous. I chided him, "If I have my way, you'll be out of a job!"

1 comment:

rewinn said...

Thank you for an interesting slice-o-life.

An additional irony of which you may not be aware is that, according to an acquaintance doing rule-of-law (ROL) programs in the Middle East (presumably Iraq, but I won't ask...), it is difficult to get basic ROL texts translated into Arabic. He is literally begging for donated books in English, apparently hoping to somehow make on-the-spot translations.

And yet GLS gets a contract for HOW much money?

Do you think any stateside translators would be willing to translate ROL materials here? I know nothing of the Arab-American community, and like you hope for a swift end to Bush's playing Risk with real lives.

But while the mess continues, perhaps some small good can be done with translations done in the USA. Any pointers you could offer would be gratefully received.