So as you know, yesterday the Daily Telegraph claimed it talked to a Romney ‘advisor’ who suggested that Barack Obama simply doesn’t grasp the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ heritage that makes the US-UK ‘special relationship’ such a cornerstone of US security. This seemed like a more than usually explicit suggestion that Barack Obama may be (shall we say) lineage-ly incapable of understanding just what this whole being an American thing is really about. Suspicion fell quickly on Romney foreign policy advisor Nile Gardiner who specializes in the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’ and has — as Laura Rozen points out — a rather Blimpish penchant for invoking the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ peoples and their heritage as a cornerstone of his foreign policy views. Gardiner quickly, flatly — if rather implausibly — denied that he was the source in question, though he did concede that the Telegraph reporter had contacted him for the article in question.
[Late Update: This morning a knowledgable source at the Telegraph confirmed Gardiner’s denial, i.e., that he was not the source of the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ quote in the original article.]
But permit me an impolitic question: is Nile Gardiner a citizen of the United States or a foreign national? This is not a rhetorical question. I do not know the answer. But not for lack of trying. One of our reporters posed the question today and has not received a response. Gardiner is British by birth and worked for many years in various capacities as a staffer to former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher before decamping to Washington in 2002 and later being appointed, in 2006, to run something called the Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation. His bio there notes approvingly that Nile”was recently named one of the 50 most influential Britons in the United States by the London Daily Telegraph.” And that sounds like he’s a Briton. But perhaps they’re speaking loosely.
Nor is Gardiner an ‘advisor’ in some vague meaningless sense. He’s part of what Foreign Policy reporter Josh Rogin refers to as the ‘shadow National Security Council’ Romney set up last year just before the primaries began to heat up. Specifically, Gardiner is the Co-Chair on Romney’s Working Group on European Affairs. The Romney campaign calls it his ‘Foreign Policy and National Security Advisory Team’. And interestingly, after the controversy over the article began to blow up on Wednesday, the author of the Telegraph article later tweeted that the ‘advisor’ in question was a “member of the foreign policy advisory team.” But who knows?
Personally, I do find something at least a bit odd about a presidential candidate having as a key foreign policy advisor someone who is not even a US citizen. Not the end of the world. But pretty uncommon and, well, just odd. David Frum worked as speechwriter in the Bush White House before becoming a naturalized US citizen. Martin Indyk was, if memory serves, still an Australian citizen when he was a Middle East advisor to then candidate Bill Clinton. But he had to get naturalized to actually work in the White House as a foreign policy hand and later as an ambassador. Needless to say there are quite a few foreign policy advisors who are foreign born — Kissinger, Brzezinski, Albright, Khalilzad, etc. But all are US citizens, which of course makes all the difference in the world. And I’m scratching my head to think of many who don’t even hold US citizenship.
Now, here are more two reasons for being interested in this.
As I just noted, candidate Bill Clinton, I think, had someone in at least something of an analogous position. But Romney isn’t any presidential candidate. He’s made a staple of his campaign the importance of having real Americans from America who know how to be an American and what it means to be an American and how our American system works. So if his advisor on policy towards Europe isn’t even an American at all, I’d find that odd. As I’ve written before, citizenship matters a lot — precisely because it’s not synonymous with heritage. It’s the basis of our unity as Americans.
My other reason for being interested in this is something my friend Mike Lind always had a good way of capturing — which is the way that on the American right, Brits, particularly conservative Brits, amount to something like Americans by proxy. Sure, they don’t carry US citizenship. But by possessing the ur-Anglo-Saxon-ness and the heritage thing and the stiff upper lip and some Great Books rearing they’re practically more American than we are. Sort of like the yeast that makes the bread. So a Brit like Nile Gardiner is sort of more one of us — at least in some Platonic ideal form — than the Mexican-American son of immigrants in San Diego or Los Angeles. And certainly he might get the centrality of our Anglo-Saxon heritage more than someone like Barack Obama who’s the son of a Kenyan and born in Hawaii and even spent time as a kid living in Indonesia.
But all that aside, is Nile Gardiner an American citizen?
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.