'The Ugly American' 50 Years On

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Fifty years
on, and nothing has really changed. Oh, sure, JFK started the Peace
Corps in response to the book, but that was like answering cannon
with firecrackers. The principal problems with US foreign policy
outlined in this work of fiction are still with us and are worse
than ever.

The book is
a collection of vignettes held together by the story of a newly
appointed ambassador to a Southeast Asian country. There is the
harmonica-playing Air Force Colonel, the Catholic Missionary Priest,
the Chicken Farmer, and the ugly engineer. These are the good guys
each trying to make life a little better for the people in the villages.
Then there is the distracted Naval Attaché, the junketing
Senator, the pompous professional operatives, the gushing schoolgirl
recruits, and an incompetent State Department. The overall thrust
of the book is that the "professionals" undo all the good
that is being done by ordinary Americans.

The battle
is over whether to spend foreign aid on showy projects or on aid
that would really make a difference. The few thousand dollars for
the Chicken Farmer who could have revolutionized poultry production
in the jungle outback is impossible to obtain, but millions are
available for a superhighway that is not really needed (especially
since a lot of it will end up in the pockets of the politicians).

But
the book goes deeper than that. The authors made it clear that we
were going to be involved in a full-fledged war in Southeast Asia.
That war would be fomented by arrogant politicians who had no clue
what they were doing but nonetheless manipulated and were themselves
manipulated. The war had to happen. And it did.

In the fifty
years since The Ugly American was published, we can hardly
say that US diplomacy has been successful. The Vietnam War cost
us many, many lives not to mention the lives of far more Vietnamese.
We're embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hugo Chavez is
on a roll in Venezuela. Bolivia is going down the tubes. Africa
is a mess. The Middle East is still in conflict and it is getting
worse instead of better. Russia is flexing its muscle. China is
rattling sabers.

This is largely
the result of a totally politicized foreign service. We have lost
our roots. We promote democracy as if that was what made our country
great when it was really Liberty that made us special. Tax and tax,
spend and spend, elect and elect. And as we have lost our focus
on Liberty, we and the rest of the world are suffering.

Imagine how
it will be with a consummate politician with no real foreign policy
experience as Secretary of State.

December
25, 2008

Ed Lebeau
[send him mail] lives
and works in Jenks, OK. He was warped for life by his father who
had him read F. A. Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty while he was
still in high school.

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