Monday, October 17, 2005

Morning Retch: Why so few Arabic speakers?

Actually this was yesterday morning, but the article in question is too important to miss.

If you were to take a guess, how many fluent Arabic speakers would you think the US State Department had working for it? According to Jennifer Bremer, the answer is 27. Twenty seven individuals who can communicate with any nuance in the part of the world that we've made an arena for a conflict that threatens our economy and international prestige!

Bremer describes the Byzantine bureaucratic classifications and budgetary constraints that ensure, four years after 9/11, that this shortage is not going to be remedied any time soon. If you want a peek into how the permanent Foreign Service works, the article is worth a full read.

But she skips lightly over what is probably the real source of the shortage: very few competent Arab-Americans want to be the face and voice of US foreign policy in the Middle East.

Strong disincentives, from poor pay to tight budgets and widespread Arab American doubts regarding U.S. Mideast policy, stand in the way of a rapid buildup in Arab American diplomats.

Maybe Arabic speakers know something the policy makers who run the diplomatic service don't: US policy toward Arab countries, particularly support for the worst impulses of the lawless Israeli state and of dictatorial regimes with oil, is simply not viable. Smart Arab Americans have better things to do than front for arrogance and oppression. And while they are at it, they have to fend off, over and over, the racist suspicion too often directed at them by their neighbors in this country. No wonder the State Department can't recruit.

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