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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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Reader comments (26) on this item

Title Commenter Date Thread
Those who read my former comment didn't understand it. [294 words]Wallace BrandNov 18, 2016 00:01234129
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Rich McNov 10, 2016 13:52233939
Washington DC and US SD [54 words]stevenlNov 10, 2016 13:09233938
Seriously? [16 words]
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RaquelNov 10, 2016 11:38233935
Motivations [184 words]AlexNov 10, 2016 10:44233932
ignorance combined with experience is worse [122 words]mythNov 10, 2016 10:08233931
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You did the right thing .. [202 words]Anne JulienneNov 13, 2016 00:50233929
Smart Presidents, stupid commissions. [287 words]Michael SNov 10, 2016 08:28233927
3Lack of expertise and knowledge about foreign countries among US "experts" [280 words]
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Grigorij SerscikovNov 10, 2016 03:48233921
2Russia is ahead of US knowledge of local languages [144 words]dhimmi no moreNov 13, 2016 10:41233921
1Russia is ahead of US knowledge of local languages [135 words]Grigorij SerscikovNov 15, 2016 03:55233921
count Putin in [77 words]mythNov 15, 2016 09:35233921
Comment on America's Know-Nothing Diplomacy [50 words]Grigorij SerscikovNov 18, 2016 03:52233921
US is far behind in knowledge of local languages [151 words]dhimmi no moreNov 18, 2016 07:13233921

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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