Friday, April 14, 2006


This young Iraqi learned two ugly lessons about the great American State Department in one shot.

Najah Ali, an Iraqi flyweight boxer, has every right to feel aggrieved. When he was in the spotlight during the 2004 Olympics, the State Department was only too happy to exploit him for propaganda purposes. But when he applied four times for a student visa to study in this country, that same State Department found reasons to turn him down. It's enough to make any fair-minded observer cry foul.

What made Mr. Ali useful to American diplomacy at the Olympics in Athens was his ability to speak English and his willingness to praise the United States. He didn't do all that well in the ring, where he lost in the second round. But he stood tall as a symbol of his struggling country's efforts to right itself. As chronicled by Geoffrey Gray in yesterday's Times, he offered to give interviews, routinely praised the United States' invasion of Iraq and declared Americans the best people he met in Athens.

None of that cut much ice when he applied for a student visa, at considerable expense and danger. American officials who interviewed him questioned whether Mr. Ali was really a serious student and expressed concern that he might not leave the United States once his studies were completed. Never mind that the University of Houston had already interviewed him and was eager to get him. Never mind that I.B.M. expressed interest in employing him in Egypt should he choose not to return to Iraq. There was just too much risk that Mr. Ali might actually like the country he had been praising and might choose to stay here.

Lesson one: the Bush adminstration will use you and throw you out like toilet paper any chance they get
Lesson two: who gets to come to the US and who doesn't is often based on arbitrary and nonsensible evaluations


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