Saturday, August 9, 2014

Opening the Door: Evaluating Current Immigration Restrictions

This article was first published on Rightly Wired.

In a previous article, I advocated a balanced approach to US immigration policy which combined strictly controlled borders with a welcome to all who want a better life in America. Now I will examine how our current immigration policy compares to the “walls with open doors” approach.
The current immigration rules are more restrictive than many people realize. There are basically three ways to get a green card which permits permanent residency and employment. 

First, there is no limit on the number of immediate family members (spouses and minor children) who can legally enter the US in a given year, but this category contains a minority of all those who wish to come to this country. For those who do not have an immediate family member (as defined above) who is already a citizen, there two other options but each has a numerical limit on how many may enter. 

The second method is to get an employment based immigrant visa. Special categories are each allotted a certain number of immigration visas (green cards). These visas are for certain types of people who may have special skills or who will invest large sums of money to create jobs. The number of these visas is limited to 140,000 each year. 

The third way to get a green card is to enter to win one of 50,000 green cards through the Diversity Visa Lottery reserved only for citizens of countries who have not accounted for more than 50,000 immigrants in the past five years. One’s chances are pretty slim, however, since the 2014 lottery received 14,633,767 applicants. 

In addition to all of the above limitations, there is an additional cap on how many immigrants may enter for each country. The result of all these restrictions is a large backlog of applicants. This backlog of would be immigrants who cannot come to the United States because of these quotas is, in many cases, over twenty years.

This policy should immediately be suspect since there is simply no harm done to a country by allowing more immigrants to enter it. Many purported detriments of allowing free immigration are raised, but they all fall apart under the slightest scrutiny (if you do know of a solid argument against free immigration, please let me know in the comments). 

The reality is that immigrants are a net benefit to our economy, and allowing an immigrant to enter the US is often a huge benefit to that individual who may come from a desperately poor situation in their home country. Even if Americans don’t want to help poor foreigners, we should at least not actively harm them by taking away their best available option.

Dividing up would-be immigrants into categories and defining a different quota for each is a clear example of government engineering and social planning which we conservatives know does not work. A new policy is needed. The extraordinarily restrictive regulations now in effect, can be remedied in a number of ways, but I think a simple approach of just giving out more immigration visas would solve most of the problems. 

We should pass a law today stating that all qualified applicants will receive a green card. We would not need to change the other requirements for a green card (background check, medical exam, etc.); we should simply ensure that no one who would otherwise qualify for an immigration visa is rejected because of a quota.

Making legal entry into the United States easier would also help to assuage the problem of illegal border crossings. If it is easier and cheaper to come through an established, controlled border crossing point than to be snuck across a desert by “coyotes” or crammed under the floorboards of a truck, then people will choose the more comfortable option. Replacing our extremely restrictive immigration policy and opening the doors to immigrants is economically, politically, and ethically the right thing to do.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hitting The Wrong Target: The British Misunderstanding of the American Center of Gravity (Part 3 of 3)

This is part two of a three part series on the New York and Philadelphia campaigns during the American War for Independence. Previously: Part 1 - Part 2

Fascinatingly, Thomas Paine recognized precisely the British mistake with respect to positional and wrote about it in his pamphlet The American Crisis. In an issue published a few months after the British capture of New York, Paine wrote that the action would only serve to raise up more opposition and that the opposition would be effective because the army still existed. He addressed the pamphlet to Lord Howe writing, 

          I have no other idea of conquering countries than by subduing the armies which defend them: Have you done this, or can you do this? If you have not, it would be civil in you to let your proclamations alone for the present; otherwise you will ruin more Tories by your grace and favour than you will Whigs by your arms.

Were you to obtain possession of this city, you would not know what to do with it more than to plunder it. To hold it, in the manner you hold New York, would be an additional dead weight upon your hands; and if a general conquest is your object, you had better be with out the city than with it. When you have defeated all our armies, the cities will fall into your hands of themselves; but to creep into them in the manner you got into Princeton, Trenton, &c. is like robbing an orchard in the night before the fruit be ripe, and running away in the morning.[1]

In this passage, Paine taunts Howe for fighting a losing battle because he is attacking the wrong target. He perceives that invading cities only makes loyalists (Tories) unhappy with the British, whom they want to support, more than actually hurting the cause of the patriots (Whigs). He correctly points out that if the British can destroy the American army, they can take the cities with ease, but taking the cities does not give them power over the army.

Another American writer who noted the futility of the British strategy was General Charles Lee. Early in the war Lee wrote a sneering letter to General Burgoyne in which he asserted the uselessness of the British actions. He wrote in part, “I should not perhaps be extravagant, if I advanced that all the ships of the world would be too few to transport force sufficient to conquer three millions of people unanimously determined to sacrifice every thing to liberty; but, if it were possible, the victory would not be less ruinous than the defeat. You would only destroy your own strength.”[2] Although clearly an overstated argument, Lee touches on the weakness of the positional warfare strategy. Taking the cities does not stop the resistance of people and armies which are not in the cities, and those forces will carry on the fight despite the potential loss of New York.

Even British citizens noticed that the conquest of New York was did not give them a significant advantage. An article from a London newspaper republished in the Virginia Gazette accuses the British strategy of being mere “shifting their position”[3] rather than doing anything to decisively defeat the rebellion. The writer goes on to review the British progress up to mid-1777, 

To sum up the whole, we possess in America a tract of land of about twenty miles round in one of the provinces, whilst the Americans, undisturbed, keep Georgia, North and South Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New England, and carry on an extensive trade to most parts of the world. Thus hath millions been expended, the country overloaded with taxes, and we are as nigh conquering America as we were three years ago.[4]

While this account seems to be from an observer more sympathetic to the American cause than many Englishmen, it makes clear the magnitude of the task of conquering all the states and the inadequacy of the British strategy at accomplishing that task. Even if the British could take and hold every major city in every state, they would still only control a fraction of the total area of the state, and the revolution could continue in rural areas.

If the British sought reconciliation in addition to military victory, then their targeted center of gravity should have been American hearts and minds. The people who wanted independence certainly had their reasons for wanting it, and those reasons do not simply vanish when far away cities are taken or their army is defeated. Only by changing hearts and minds could the British hope to see the patriotic Americans decide that the status quo of the early 1770s was better than independence. As it was, the British strategy only served to harden hearts and minds against them. During the British campaign against New York, future Vice President George Clinton wrote to Washington to offer the services of New York militia. In the letter he notes that too many people are eager to join the fight for independence writing, “The men turn out of their harvest fields, to defend their country, with surprising alacrity. The absence of so many of them, however, at this time, when their harvests are perishing for want of the sickle, will greatly distress the country. I could wish, therefore, a less number might answer the purpose.”[5] If the British really wanted to make the Americans stop resisting British rule, their positional warfare strategy was a poor way of pursuing that end.

The misinterpretation of the American center of gravity by the British leadership resulted in the survival of the Continental Army which was eventually successful in working with French support to defeat the British army and win the war. This mistake was recognized by persons on each side of the conflict and may have been exploited by the Americans. The success of the British campaigns against New York and Philadelphia coupled with their ultimate failure of their policy objectives is an illustration of the importance of correctly perceiving the enemies center of gravity in a war. Even an effective strategy coupled with successful tactics and operations will not achieve policy objectives if they are directed against the wrong target.

[1] Thomas Paine, The American Crisis No. II (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Gazette).
[2] Charles Lee to John Burgoyne, 1 December 1775, Accessible Archives.
[3] Janus, “From A London Paper Of A Late Date,” Virginia Gazette, 30 May 1777.
[4] Ibid.
[5] George Clinton to George Washington, 15 July 1776, in FamilyTales, ed. Hans Brough,

Monday, August 4, 2014

Hitting The Wrong Target: The British Misunderstanding of the American Center of Gravity (Part 2 of 3)

This is part two of a three part series on the New York and Philadelphia campaigns during the American War for Independence. Previously: Part 1

The British choice of New York and Philadelphia as targets to crush the American rebellion is telling as to what they thought the enemy’s center of gravity was. They apparently thought that capturing major cities would result in the accomplishing of their policy objectives, but they obviously did not. This dissonance is due to the fact that the British misjudged the American Revolution’s center of gravity. The colonies did not see themselves as being united at all, much less united by big cities, and so capturing those cities was never likely to produce victory. The reason why the colonists were revolting was not to keep control of those cities, so they would not stop revolting because they were gone. In order to achieve their policy objectives, the British would need to divine the real center of gravity for the revolt, which was, most likely, the Continental Army. If this was indeed the case, Howe would have been better served to march directly at Washington instead of attempting to coax him into defending Philadelphia. Since Washington would be unable to escape back to New York, it is likely that the Americans could have been forced into a pitched battle with the British which the British would be all but certain to win. The Continental Army was one of the few entities which united the colonies; it represented the militant revolutionary spirit of those patriotic colonists in favor of independence. Destruction of the army would have left the colonies with only local militias which could, in time, be wiped out by British regular armies. Without the Continental Army, the only thing keeping the movement going would be political voices, Congress and local legislatures, which lacked the hard power to actually convert their desires into results.

An interesting fact is that Howe seems to have thought that the army was indeed the center of gravity, despite his strategy of attacking cities instead of Washington. Hammond notes that during the march to Philadelphia Howe preferred to abandon the agreed upon plan of destroying the colonists’ powder magazines and instead attacked the army which had come south through Philadelphia to meet them.[1] It is possible that Howe used the attack on Philadelphia as a means of luring the Continental army into a direct confrontation, but the planning of the campaign seems more focused on taking the city while avoiding Washington’s force (hence planning of a southern advance through the Chesapeake if Washington moved south rather than staying in the north to meet in battle). Whatever Howe’s ultimate belief about the American center of gravity, his movements during the Philadelphia campaign do not indicate that the army was his primary target.

The American war effort went on largely unchanged by the loss of these cities. Even after the conquest of their de facto capital of Philadelphia, the Congress continued to meet and converse with Washington and other military personnel. Hancock wrote to Washington that Congress would convene the day after the loss of Philadelphia and they were able to respond to intelligence reports and adjust plans accordingly.[2] John Adams wrote to his wife that they knew they would need to move even before the British reached the city.[3] It was something on which they planned; evacuation of the city was not a catastrophic blow but a necessary inconvenience. Lafayette seems to be one of the only people who thought the loss of Philadelphia was a major problem writing that it “will, I fear, be attended with bad consequences for America.”[4] Whether or not his concerns had merit at the time, it is clear from the ultimate outcome of the war that the British victories in major cities were not successful in defeating the Americans. The operation of resistance to the British was not dependent on the cities, it was dependent on the military capability of the revolutionaries, and this capability was embodied by the army.

Despite the unimportance of major cities compared to the Continental Army, Washington seems to have agreed with Howe that the cities were important points of contest in the war. While he prepared to move his main force to New York to face the British threat Washington sent a letter to the newly appointed General William Alexander, better known as Lord Sterling, which displays Washington’s desire to hold New York. He writes, “…supposing New York to be an object of great importance, and to be in their view, I must recommend your most strenuous and active exertions in preparing, to prevent any designs or attempts they may have formed or make against it.”[5] Notably absent from Washington’s order to defend New York is why he thought it was so important. One possible clue is in the phrase “an object of great importance…in their view.” It is possible that the reason Washington wanted to defend New York is simply because he knew the British wanted it and therefore saw a benefit in denying it to them. Equally likely, however, is that he actually thought that the cities were important to the overall war effort. Believing this, however, would make him equally mistaken as Howe.

[1] W.H. Moomaw. "The Denouement of General Howe's Campaign of I777." The English Historical Review 79, no. 312 (1964): 498-512. (accessed March 12, 2014).
[2] John Hancock to George Washington, 12 September 1777, in FamilyTales, ed. Hans Brough,
[3] John Adams to Abigail Adams, 14 September 1777, in FamilyTales, ed. Hans Brough,
[4] Lafayette to Adrienne de Lafayette, 12 September 1777, in FamilyTales, ed. Hans Brough,
[5] George Washington to Lord Sterling, 19 March 1776, Accessible Archives.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Hitting The Wrong Target: The British Misunderstanding of the American Center of Gravity (Part 1 of 3)

237 years ago today, the British campaign against Philadelphia was underway. This is part one of a three part series investigating why the British lost the American War for Independence despite the success of their campaigns against New York and Philadelphia.  

The British and Americans used a strategy of positional warfare in the taking and defending of cities during the 1776-1777 campaigns against Philadelphia and New York. The British army was tactically and technologically superior to the continental army, and, as such, they were successful in taking the cities. The taking of two major population centers in the American colonies did not stop the rebellion, however, and the British eventually lost both cities and the war. These campaigns illustrate that incorrectly divining  the enemy’s main center of gravity in a war will not lead to accomplishment of policy objectives even if the strategies employed are successful in themselves.

In 1777 the American Revolution seemed to be failing as the British had the advantage. The Americans had yet to achieve a single major victory, and their army spent most of its time on the run. Given the strength of their position, British general William Howe determined that he would crush the rebellion once and for all by taking the two largest cities in the colonies, New York and Philadelphia.

The policy goal of the British in the war is somewhat obvious. They wanted to pacify the North American colonies which were in rebellion in order to restore the economic benefits which stemmed from their inclusion in the empire. The strategy used to accomplish this goal is the reason for the campaigns against New York and Philadelphia. These campaigns represent a choice to attack American population centers, engaging in positional warfare to take and hold as many cities as possible.

The Campaign for New York began in July of 1776 with the landing of British troops on Staten Island. From there the force grew, as Aaron Burr observed in a letter a month after the initial landing, to approximately 16,000 men with an expectation that the total troop level would soon rise even further to 25,000.[1] Moving up the coast, the British decisively defeated Washington’s army on Long Island, forcing it to retreat to Manhattan. Howe’s forces attempted to capture the army there, but Washington managed to escape across the Hudson River.  By December, who American army was forced to evacuate into Pennsylvania and the British controlled New York City for the remainder of the war.

With General Clinton left in charge of New York City, the British forces under the command of Lord Howe continued to succeed in New Jersey, so Howe now made Philadelphia the main objective (perhaps at the expense of other New York campaigns such as Burgoyne’s expeditions to the north and his ultimate defeat at Saratoga). The plan of attack for the Philadelphia campaign was a tactical calculation to force George Washington, whose force was still in the North, to make a decision. If Washington moved south to defend Philadelphia, then Howe would move his force further south, landing in the Chesapeake Bay and moving up the Susquehanna River toward Philadelphia. If Washington stayed in New Jersey or moved north, then Howe could use the Delaware River for his advance.

In a letter to Lord George Germain, Britain’s Secretary of State for the Colonies, Howe preferred the Chesapeake landing from the start because it would be difficult to cross the Delaware River with his entire army.[2] A further reason he gave was the removal of 3,000 regulars who were to reinforce Howe’s army for a Northern approach to Philadelphia.[3] Another factor that influenced Howe’s decision was the intelligence gathered and reported by Captain Sir Andrew Snape Hammond. Although Hammond advised that the Delaware approach was better than the Chesapeake, he was able to gather intelligence to show that both were feasible given the movements of Washington’s army.[4] The choice of the Chesapeake plan reveals that the British had no respect for American naval capacity; the approach proposed by Hammond was in an area of considerable river defenses by the Americans, yet neither Howe nor Hammond seemed to think this was a problem. They successfully landed about fifty miles south of the city and began to move inland. On the way they met Washington’s army, which had indeed come south to defend Philadelphia, at Brandywine and decisively defeated them, driving them back to the northeast and allowing the British to take and occupy Philadelphia without further opposition. While the battle was won by the British, the Americans survived with most of their army intact, and Washington thought that the American casualties must have been fewer than those of the British as he wrote in a letter to John Hancock he wrote “our loss of men is not, I am persuaded, very considerable; I believe much less than the enemy.”[5] He further noted that morale was still high writing, “Notwithstanding the misfortune of the day, I am happy to find the troops in good spirits.”[6] John Hancock wrote back to General Washington indicating that he thought they ought to retake the city immediately given that the morale of the troops was still high.[7] While both Washington and Hancock were disappointed by the loss of Philadelphia and thought that it ought to be recovered, neither considered it a major blow to the conduct of the war. Accordingly with Hancock’s request the Americans did attempt to retake the city immediately, attacking via Germantown in early October. Despite outnumbering the British, the American attack proved futile and they were rebuffed. The Marquis de Lafayette wrote of the engagement: “Our Americans, after having stood their ground for some time, ended at length by being routed.”[8] After this battle the British and American armies withdrew for the winter to Philadelphia and Valley Forge respectively. Despite the capturing of the city, the British were not able to capture the patriot leaders in Congress. The Congress had already evacuated the city and moved to York, Pennsylvania while military supplies, normally routed through Philadelphia, now went through Reading and the war continued.[9]

[1] Aaron Burr to Timothy Edwards, 10 August 1776, in FamilyTales, ed. Hans Brough,
[2] W.H. Moomaw. "The Denouement of General Howe's Campaign of I777." The English Historical Review 79, no. 312 (1964): 498-512. (accessed March 12, 2014).
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] George Washington to John Hancock, 11 September 1777, Accessible Archives.
[6] Ibid.
[7] John Hancock to George Washington, 12 September 1777, in FamilyTales, ed. Hans Brough,
[8] Lafayette to Adrienne de Lafayette, 12 September 1777, in FamilyTales, ed. Hans Brough,
[9] Moomaw. 1964.