I have some property in a rustic part of Colorado not far from the 120 mile long Rainbow Trail in the Rockies. I also get a decent tax deal on the land because I have an arrangement with a cattle farmer to allow grazing on the land. Colorado is a “fence out” state meaning that if cattle come into a ranch area, those cattle are free to roam everywhere — unless “fenced out” by property holders.
This is probably a bad metaphor for what is happening today geopolitically in the United States — but the fenced out/fenced in realities of modern America are a useful template to think about an evolving “fortress mentality” among Americans — both inside the country and between the United States and the rest of the world.
For the most part, America has not maintained high fences to those from abroad. America has maintained over the two plus centuries of its formalized nationhood a fairly low bar to immigration and travel here. In fact, much of the nation’s success is due to the fact that America has been the direct beneficiary of the rest of the world’s brain drain.
This may be in danger today as American borders are thicker than ever and that fear about allowing terrorists inside the nation is so great that whole classes of foreign visitors are subjected to a fickle, unpredictable, and inhospitable visa application and review process that telegraphs our national disinterest and ambivalence about nations and their citizens who aren’t lucky enough to be included in a U.S. visa waiver program.
There are sophisticated methodologies that can help screen bad people from good — and we need to rely more on these and less on the clunky, expensive, and inefficient visa interview process that blocks so many from coming to America — particularly from developing nations — and which often charges them $100 for the application fee, only to find that they have in the end been rejected.
The back side of neoconservatism has always been isolationism. They go hand in hand.
Today, we really need to promote people to people exchanges. This is the best way that the rest of the world can understand that our objectives as a country are diverse, benign, hopeful, and not consistent with the image that Bush, Cheney, and Rove have generated.
I am speaking on this subject today with two colleagues from conservative circles who believe as strongly as I do that the United States is undermining itself by not promoting more visa-waived travel from countries in Eastern Europe like Poland and Hungary. I am also a great believer in the benefits of trade, people-to-people exchanges, and unrestricted travel in cases like Cuba. As Republican Congressman Jeff Flake recently said at a New America Foundation meeting I chaired: “When it comes to traveling anywhere in the world, I would rather have a Communist nation trying to block me rather than my own government.”
For those free today and on short notice, I will be joining James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation and Dan Griswold of the Cato Institute today at 12:00 noon in Room 2200 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Sandwiches will be provided.
— Steve Clemons