Monday, January 25, 2010

Book Review - The Ugly American - 53 miles this week

Last week I was able to plug away at 53 miles despite two days off. I'm looking at trying to break into the 5K mile mark for 2010, however, that makes for a long year. I've really got a lot of changes going on in my life this year, including a move from Phoenix to Ft. Huachuca plannned for the August time frame, so I'll see how that may or may not disrupt my training. I usually get all weird about being in a new place and take awhile to find new running routes and settled into a new groove. I'll be living in Ft. Huachuca for only about 5 months, so that will be challenging too. Anyway, I'm setting at 200 miles for the month of Jan as of today and hope to get in about another 40-80 miles before the end of the month. I have an important marathon on 30 Jan, where I hope to qualify for Boston. The Desert Classic Marathon is a great course that is good for a qualifying time, so I hope to hit a 3:15 or less. I ran 3:13 last year and in late Dec, on the same course (only a little shorter) I hit 2:04 for 30K (good enough for a qualifying time if I kept up the same pace.

Anyway, I also finished a great book called the Ugly American and wrote this review:

The Ugly American, by Lederer and Burdick touched an important nerve when I read it because many of the mistakes that Burdick and Lederer described I made personally during an advising mission to Iraq. It is funny how some things seem to never change, and this is a perfect example. The Ugly American was written in 1958, but is as true today as it was when it was written. American’s still have not gotten foreign diplomacy right and may never get it right.

Are we American’s stupid, lazy, heartless, uncaring or not willing to sacrifice for anything? It is amazing that we are doing as well as we are as a country and for so long, when we make such strategic mistakes over and over.

There may be a time that our military/economic strength may putter out and we will need to rely on the softer side of strength that we often gravely screw up.
The Ugly American story could not have been better written. As a military officer who has engaged in missions where my primary responsibility was to mentor a foreign intelligence officer I found myself falling into the same mistakes.

These points that Lederer and Burdick brought up are so important that I thought they should go in this review, so that even if you do not read the book one will know the best recommendations for foreign diplomats that we often do not enforce. If we could follow these we would be stronger as a nation and not be laughed at behind our backs as many countries tolerate our help only to put up with us in order to take the money/aide to the bank. Please take the time to read over these because they are the most important lines of the book. These are direct quotes, but they are lessons that can be applied to any diplomat serving in any foreign land:

1. “I request that every American (and his dependents) sent to Sarkhan be required to be able to both read and speak Sarkhanese. I am satisfied that if the motivation is high enough, any person can lean enough of the language in twelve weeks so that he can get along. This should be required of both military and civilian personnel.

2. I request that no American employee be allowed to bring his dependents to Sarkhan unless he is willing to serve here for at least two years. If he does bring his family, it should be with the understanding they will not be given luxurious quarters, but will live in housing which is normal to the area; their housing should certainly not be more luxurious than they are able to afford in America. They should also subsist on foods available in local stores—which are wholesome and ample.

3. I request that the American commissary and PX be withdrawn from Sarkhan, and that no American supplies be sold except for toilet articles, baby food, canned milk, coffee, and tobacco.

4. I request that Americans not be allowed to bring their private automobiles to this country. All of our official transportation should be done in official automobiles. Private transportation should be taxi, pedicab, or bicycle.

5. I request that all Americans serving in Sarkhan, regardless of their classification, be required to read books by Mao-Tse-tung, Lenin, Chou En-lai, Marx, Engels, and leading Asian Communists. This reading should be done before arrival.

6. I request in our recruiting program we make all of these conditions clear to any prospective government employee, so that he comes here with no illusions. It has been my experience that superior people are attracted only by challenge. By setting our standards low and making our life soft, we have, quite automatically and unconsciously , assured ourselves of mediocre people.”

Those lines were written as a final plea from a “good” ambassador, pleading for better standards in order for him to keep on with his duties. Ambassador MacWhite was instead replaced with a more likeable bureaucrat who fueled the “Ugly American” persona because the demands above were highly impractical.

Until we get things right, government officials will continue to cause more harm than good in foreign lands. Too often it is the system, and not the people. Too often the positions are forced upon government officials and the training is not allowed, nor is precious seed of service planted in the civil servant. Ambassadorships are often a perk or reward for service, and not something a person has been highly trained for. Also, the tours are usually not for substantial amounts of time to foster a relationship that would afford true stewardship.
As in this story, religious men often do the best diplomacy and serve the mission spreading a positive American image. It is too bad that the people paid to do this job are the worst offenders of what truly would spread love for our country.

In the military, I see evidence that at the highest levels that they get it and they know what to do, but the proof is in the pudding. Considerable amount of time is spent on language and cultural training, but it is not followed up on and truly measured. Soldiers and Officers alike do not take it seriously and continue with missions relying on local translators and the cultural mistakes that make winning hearts and minds impossible. It is the rare unit that can carry out true counterinsurgency missions, and when the rare gem is found it is often tore down by an adjacent unit that continues to violate the very basic tenants of counterinsurgency and undo the careful work of the gemstone unit and the populace continues to resent your presence (often to fatal consequences).

So without going over book with a finer comb, I would recommend this very readable novel as a lesson to anyone who may be representing America abroad. I hope that if I ever get assigned another training/mentorship mission that I will do a better job now that I am more mature and take the reputation of America more seriously. It may come a time that we rely more on how we are perceived, if we do not have the clout, money or military strength to be the remaining world superpower.

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