INSTITUTIONAL MYOPIA AT STATE
Paul D. Kretkowski of Beacon – a fine blog devoted to exploring the parameters of Joseph Nye’s ” soft power” concept – had a post today that touched on what would seem initially to be a small mattter; the recommended reading list of the State Department for prospective members of the Foreign Service. Mr. Kretkowski expressed bewilderment that the famous novel, The Ugly American by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick, did not make the cut:
“The novel (really a collection of interconnected short stories) takes place around and immediately after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam in 1954, an event that underlined the difficulty a Western army had in fighting what were then called the Viet Minh. In fictional Sarkhan, some American diplomats and businessmen win local hearts and minds with their can-do spirit and willingness to get their hands dirty, while others stay isolated at the embassy by language, casual racism or bureaucracy, ignorant of the country’s growing Communist insurgency.
In other words, all the problems of U.S. diplomacy and soft power have been with us for decades, and potential solutions have been around for just as long.
…So who is reading it? Apparently it’s a required text in the Army’s special forces, which is no surprise because the book is practically a billboard for the Green Beret counterinsurgency model”
I took a look at State’s reading list and I find myself equally perplexed by the absence of a number of texts to for which the inclusion should be a no-brainer. Present at the Creation and the memoirs of George Kennan, Charles Murphy,Walter Bedell Smith are all AWOL. Nothing by Henry Kissinger, including his classic Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. In fact, no classics of any kind, even in diplomatic history where I expected to see William Appleman Williams, Robert B. Tucker, John Lewis Gaddis or Walter LeFeber, none of whom were on the list. Nor are foreign statesmen who dealt extensively with American diplomats included – you can find a lot to read on women and American multiculturalism issues but don’t bother looking for Anthony Eden or Anatoly Dobrynin; evidently what they had to say was less important to future FSO’s than what was offered by the authors of Asian American Women and Men: Labor, Laws, and Love.
George Kennan’s ” X” article – the single most influential document in the history of American diplomacy – was omitted. Why ?
There are some decent survey-type history books on State’s list and an eclectic though not insubstantial selection of books on economics – most of which however date from the 1970’s, 1980’s and early 1990’s. Nothing, however on on leadership. Nothing on strategy. No biographies. Nothing on technology, espionage or military affairs. A couple of books on terrorism from the mid-1990’s and a few books on countries that no longer exist ( note to State, Yugoslavia… kaput!) . It reads a lot like a list calculated not to offend irascible Congressmen.
When our prospective diplomats are given more books about office accounting and The Americans with Disabilities Act than they are about critical subjects that tie directly into foreign policy, State is sending a message loud and clear.
And it’s the wrong one.