LAS VEGAS — Mitt Romney tells good jokes. I had the chance to hear a few of them this month at a political fundraiser in Las Vegas, where the Republican presidential contender gave his audience a few good chuckles before going into his domestic and foreign policy agenda. His platform seemed sound enough analytically — until he demonstrated an aggravating hypocrisy in his reply to my query on one of his key foreign policy positions. It’s a stance that should give pause to all Americans who are considering voting for him. I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that “jihadism” is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, “…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration.”
Romney, whose Mormon faith has become the subject of heated debate in Republican caucuses, wants America to be blind to his religious beliefs and judge him on merit instead. Yet he seems to accept excluding Muslims because of their religion, claiming they’re too much of a minority for a post in high-level policymaking. More ironic, that Islamic heritage is what qualifies them to best engage America’s Arab and Muslim communities and to help deter Islamist threats. I am an American-born citizen of the Islamic faith. I stand as a living symbol of all that America offers in its system of liberty, justice, and, most of all, opportunity. I am also proud of my Muslim heritage and beliefs, and, true to the American work ethic, I have worked tirelessly to raise up the voices of disaffected Muslims everywhere and help them, too, share in America’s promise. As a private American citizen, I negotiated Sudan’s offer of counterterrorism assistance to the Clinton administration in 1997 when the U.S. government had no relations with that country’s leaders. I felt there was still an opportunity at that time to unravel the metastasizing terror network being organized by Osama bin Laden and his followers. I later initiated dialogue with an Arab counterintelligence official in the summer of 2000 that could have resulted in the extradition of Mr. bin Laden to a friendly Muslim country and neutralized Al Qaeda’s pre-9/11 planning. That summer, I also helped negotiate a cease fire in Kashmir, which brought peace to a region that has known constant conflict since partition between India and Pakistan. In early 2001, I notified national security adviser Stephen Hadley that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency and militant Islamists, some of whom I had worked with during the cease-fire campaign, were actively engaged in the sale and distribution of Pakistan’s nuclear technology. Mr. Hadley asked me to make recommendations on how these proliferation activities could be stopped. I did so, mindful that, as an American Muslim whose father was a pioneer in Pakistan’s nuclear program, I risked harming the name of my family. But for the sake of my duty as a citizen, I helped the U.S. government expose the illicit transfers. A.Q. Khan, who headed Pakistan’s nuclear program, was arrested a few years later. The point I make in enumerating these efforts to contribute to U.S. national interests is that Americans of the Islamic faith — even when they have no formal role in government — are committed to helping our nation defend its interests. And we have done so. Why, then, should we be excluded from holding positions that carry the highest levels of responsibility? Imagine how a qualified American Muslim FBI director, sensitized to the genuine concerns among Arab and Muslim communities about civil rights violations, would be able to ensure that FBI actions and policies target the real bad guys, not communities as a whole. Imagine how an American Muslim CIA director or defense secretary whose understanding of cultural differences in places that breed Islamist violence would ensure that intelligence was not biased by bigotry or lack of understanding and that defense strategies were constructed on data acquired from authentic sources. If Romney wins the White House, he will probably rely on those who know Mormonism best to help him explain it to those who distrust it most. It is time for him to reconsider his views on who should help America craft the right policies that attack the scourge on civilization that Islamic extremism has become. He, and other candidates for the presidency from both political parties, should actively begin searching for American Muslims and Arab Americans who can serve in primary decisionmaking cabinet level posts. To do otherwise is to risk promulgating policies that once again put the U.S. straight in the sights of the terrorists who seek to bring America down.
Mansoor Ijaz is chairman of The Crescent Investment Group, a private equity firm based in New York.