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Lack of expertise and knowledge about foreign countries among US "experts"

Reader comment on item: America's Know-Nothing Diplomacy [article]

Submitted by Grigorij Serscikov (United Kingdom), Nov 10, 2016 at 03:48

Dear Dr Pipes,

I have been receiving your letters since 2005 but have never before written a comment. Your recent post has really touched an area which has always perplexed me– i.e., the lack of expertise and knowledge about foreign countries among the people in the US who supposed to make important decisions and/or to contribute to decision making process.

The examples are legion: the US embassy in pre-Khomeini Iran was one of the biggest US embassies in the world in terms of staff. Yet, there was just a handful (i.e., virtually counted on one hand) of people who could speak Farsi fluently; Kai Bird in his book "The Good Spy" writes that in the 1970s and 1980s Robert Ames was one of few CIA field officers who spoke Arabic fluently and who was ridiculed by his bosses for spending too much time on learning "useless language"; the situation when cronies and donors to election campaign are sent by the US presidents as ambassadors abroad is nothing but aberration.

No wonder that on professional level Americans abroad have seldom distinguished themselves as intimate subject matter experts. No wonder that Brabourne in the CIA Journal "Studies in Intelligence" complained 50 years ago that the agency's language training was insufficient at best to prepare staff to compete with KGB agents abroad "A man with a six-moth or one-year quickie course in one of the less common languages usually cannot compare with the product of the Soviet instates." (1)

Kind regards,

Dr Grigorij Serscikov

Brabourne, Martin L.: More on the Recruitment of Soviets, Studies in Intelligence (declassified or unclassified articles from the CIA's internal journal), Vol. 9 (1), 1965, pp. 39–60, p. 53

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Daniel Pipes replies:

Thank you for these confirming points.

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