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August 03, 2008

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One thing we never understood is that Asia and Europe are on a different continent than Africa and the Americas.

One thing we never understood is that Muslims and Jews don't believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

One thing we never understood is that oil comes from decayed organic matter.

One thing we never understood is that it turns out China isn't a very small country, after all.

One thing we never understood is that Russia turns out not to have a long and deep history of democracy.

One thing we never understood is that the Jews find antisemitism worrisome.

One thing we never understood is that women haven't always had equal opportunities as men.

One thing we never understood is that the internet might affect the lives of ordinary people.

One thing we never understood is that African-Americans haven't been treated equally as soon as the Civil War ended.

One thing we never understood is that in Latin America, English isn't the primary language.

One thing we never understood is that negotiation means both sides giving something.

One thing we never understood is that blogs sometimes get stupid comments.

Oh, it's just too easy.

Not foreign policy, sadly relevant:

The one thing that we never understood about people is that they enjoy having sex.

More seriously, linked McClatchy story:

[...] "Nobody in Pakistan wants to see America win," said Hamid Gul, a retired general who's a former director-general of the ISI. "That would spell danger to Pakistan in the long run. They, America, want to make us subservient to India."

"The Karzai government is totally in the hands of India," said Khalid Khawaja, a former ISI officer who served in Afghanistan in the 1980s during the war against the Soviet invasion and once described Osama bin Laden as "a wonderful person." They want to break up Pakistan and seize our nuclear assets. Today, if NATO attacks Pakistan, the Taliban and al Qaida will be the front line of our defense."

Beyond the historic fears about India lie deep Pakistani suspicions about America. The fear, fueled by the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, is that once the U.S. pacifies Afghanistan, Pakistan would be next.

"Why are we always trying to allay U.S. fears?" said Shireen Mazari, a security analyst based in Islamabad. ". . . One of the biggest blunders of our elite is to see America as a friend and ally."

"One thing we never understood is that Nicaragua does not have a common border with Mexico."

"One thing we never understood is that patriotic, conservative types from other countries tend to be patriotic and nationalistic about their own country, rather than about the US."

"One thing we never understood is that people in countries we've invaded don't usually value the lives of American soldiers more highly than they do the lives of their fellow countrypeople."


hilzoy:

"One thing we never understood is that the idea of returning to what were once their homes is a big deal for Palestinians."

and yet we had no problem understanding that the idea of returning to what were once their homes is a big deal for Cuban exiles.

indeed, we once imperiled the world over that little homeownership tiff.

I know they've got a lot of ambassador positions to fill, but you'd think they'd find someone halfway non-ignorant to post Pakistan. Aw, who am I kidding, the top of the barrel is rotten in the Bush administration, too.

When I was in Tanzania (another front in the waronterra?), the Bush-appointed ambassador there thought he was receiving a sinecure that would allow him to get some good hunting in. Instead of charismatic megafauna, however, he had to satisfy himself with blowing away crows with a shotgun.

On thing we never understood is that the parts of Pakistan that aren't really controlled by the central government, really aren't controlled by the central government.

On thing we never understood is that the parts of Pakistan that aren't really controlled by the central government, really aren't controlled by the central government.

re: ambassador in Tanzania

This reminds me of my favorite news story from the past month:

Rep. Hunter won’t visit Chadian refugees if he can’t hunt wildebeest.

just awesome

One thing we never understood was what machetes had to do with Partition.

Rep. Hunter (Republican candidate Hunter) never understood why Chadians wouldn't grant him a visa if they couldn't hunt HIM.

There is always one wildebeest who has never understood why it is he who must be eaten by the crocodile as the other wildebeesties calmly sip water.

The reason of course is that the Nature Channel would never pick up the footage if at least one wildebeest didn't get eaten with a good eal of thrashing thrown in.

That would be like watching wildebeest calmly sip water .... or play golf.

Yes, I can see it now: The Gnu Golf Channel (are you listening ABC Sports?)

One thing we never understood is the MIddle East.

One thing we never understood is anything.

What gets me is not just the stone-cold ignorance, but that there's no embarrassment present when proclaiming their ignorance. And this isn't the first time administration officials shrugged off a lack of basic knowledge.

One thing we never understood is that being an ambassador, or head of a think tank dedicated to a region, should involve actual knowledge about the nation or region.

US policy towards Pakistan has been clueless at least since and including Carter (for reference read Ghost Wars by Coll). That said, I'm not sure if India is actually a "threat to Pakistan" - depends on how you define threat.

"One thing we never understood is that oil comes from decayed organic matter."

A nitpicking point suitable for an open thread--eccentric astrophysicist Thomas Gold disagreed. But most people think he's wrong, AFAIK, so you're probably right.

A supplement to Donald's link can be found http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a2_091.html>here and http://www.straightdope.com/columns/060512.html>here. The second article is more recent, but both are worth a look.

"indeed, we once imperiled the world over that little homeownership tiff."

That doesn't seem a terribly accurate description. We imperiled the world over the notion of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. It's arguable if that was a correct decision, but that was the issue, not returning Cubans.

"One thing we never understood is the MIddle East."

One thing we never understood is what is and isn't in the Middle East, and where it is.

One thing we never understood is where the Indian subcontinent is, and that it isn't in the Mideast.

One thing we never understood is that the world's largest Islamic country isn't in the Middle East and isn't Arab.

"But most people think he's wrong, AFAIK, so you're probably right."

Clearly the answer to running out of oil lies in hunting wildebeest, waiting until they fossilize and decay, and then we have all the oil we need!

Problem solved!

One thing we never understood is that a hurricane could cause problems in New Orleans

One thing we never understood is that hundreds of thousands of unemployed soldiers with guns could cause problems for us.

One thing we never understood is why C students and 5th from the bottom of their class presidents aren't a good idea.

In fairness, Id want to see the context before proclaiming her a complete idiot. The interpretation here would be so mind-bogglingly ignorant that (Bush Administration exceptionalism aside) I just have trouble thinking that ambassador didn't know this. So maybe it was just sloppy phrasing, where "never understood" meant something like "underestimated the impact of" or "acted as if we didnt understand", etc.
(Like a basketball coach saying his team 'doesn't understand that you don't win by scoring, you win by scoring more than your opponent'. Of course everyone really understands that, but they may not look like they do by their actions on the court.)

Shorter: Im pretty sure if an hour goes by where I don't say something that could be quoted out of context to make me look like an idiot, I was likely asleep.

I hate to say this, but I think this is unfair. A quick check of Wikipedia suggests that Chamberlin is a fairly experienced career diplomat, and so probably not a completely idiot, and (b) her quoted statement has a perfectly reasonably interpretation. This would go roughly as follows: "One thing the leaders of the US government [i.e., "we"] have not, for a long time ["never"] properly appreciated ["understood"] is that the government of Pakistan has its own strategic concerns, and that from its perspective India is, was, and always will be a bigger threat than anything else, and so Pakistani policy will always be fundamentally about protecting itself from India, rather than accommodating our concerns." I'd suggest that the larger context of the article makes this much more plausible than a personal confession of total bafflement. I'd also suggest that would be totally natural, in conversation, to say something like this even if the reference of "never" was restricted to, e.g., the Bush administration.

Awfully sorry about your grandfather, btw, Cosma.

Cosma is right, btw, about Chamberlain having an extremely respectable history as a career Foreign Service appointee, not a political appointee, so I'd have to say that his interpretation is most plausible. It's usually dangerous to judge quotes without a transcript, or videotape, particularly if they're very short quotes.

[...] US Department of State

* 1975 - Foreign Service officer

* Various offices:
o Office of Israel and Arab-Israeli Affairs
o Acting Director of Regional Affairs
o Director of Press and Public Affairs in the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau
o Special Assistant for South Asian Affairs to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs
o Staff worker for Deputy Secretary of State and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs

* 1993 - 1996 - Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

* 1996 - 1999 - Ambassador to Laos (Lao People's Democratic Republic).

* 1999 - July, 2001 - Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)

* July 18, 2001 - June, 2002 - Ambassador to Pakistan.

[edit] USAID

* December 2, 2002 - Appointed Assistant Administrator. Served as head of the USAID Asia and Near East Bureau.[1]

* December 22, 2003 - Ends tenure with USAID to move to UNHCR.[2]

[edit] UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR)

* December 12, 2003 - Appointed as Deputy High Commissioner on Refugees by High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers.[3]

* January 19, 2004 - Officially welcomed as Deputy High Commissioner.[4]

* February 24 - June 2, 2005 - Appointed as acting High Commissioner on the retirement of Ruud Lubbers. Served until the appointment of former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres. [5] [6]

* February 25, 2005 - Called for donations and humanitarian aid to prevent suffering in South Sudan. [7]

* April 1 - April 22, 2005 - Toured refugee camps in Sudan and Chad, where women expressed their fears of returning home. She urged Sudan to protect its own citizens.[8][9][10]

* April 25, 2005 - Speaking from Geneva, she emphasized the need for funding and to bring security to the war-torn region of Darfur in Sudan.[11]

* June 22, 2005 - Presented the Nansen Refugee Award to Marguerite "Maggie" Barankitse, known as the "Angel of Burundi." [12]

* April 16 - April 21, 2006 - Traveled to Pakistan to view earthquake survivors and Afghan refuge camps.[13][14]

* December 18, 2006 - Visits refugee camps in Kenya where Somalis have fled both war and flooding.[15]

[edit] Middle East Institute

* March 1, 2007 - Assumes presidency of the Middle East Institute. [

This is not the record of a stupid person.

One thing we used to understand quite clearly, but apparently no longer understand, is that a hereditary aristocracy, whether of blood or of wealth, is antithetical to liberty.

I agree with the commenter who observed the problems seems to reside in the language inartfulness of the speaker. I work with some bioscience professionals all having studied beyond PhD, on a daily basis, and I have observed colleges seem incapable of undoing the syntactic cluelessness of all sorts of otherwise intelligent people, as if they have succumbed to some ancient peer group pressure which began in middle school.

However, hilzoy's post, as usual, probably entertains a host of concepts worth examining more closely. If Bush could coopt the armsLength relationship between WhiteHouse and DeptOfJustice, perhaps, too, he could pollute the diplomaticCorps.

Some of the associates with whom I interface in complex bioscience studies are foreign nationals; it is somewhat telling occasionally to notice many of these individuals learn American vernacular structures for communicating, similar to the inversion in WChamberlain's lexis. Maybe her disconnect simply is having to present too many slideshows intended to humanize UglyAmericans to south central Asian industrialist moguls. MBAs from that part of the world probably have the same sort of upended patter. In part, I attribute the denaturing of discursive speech to media, though the venerable blog seems to be setting things on a better course.

To turn the prompt into an affirmation,
One thing we always understood was acting responsibly as world citizens was going to get us into all these controversies. And now we know what seven+ years of haphazard foreign policy from the US can do to entangle us in processes that even further obligate us to study history and plan together with world community members, to place us once again on the path of peace, and bring us into accord with the Geneva Conventions which we conjointly labored to build with the help of many nations.

Peripatetic, the speaker paces the flagstone shadow near the press meeting room, slowly making progress toward the solitude of the embassy formal garden, behind the secure walls, to enjoy a quiet moment in the shade as the event dissolves into less formal discussions. Press hour ends. The ambassador is by herself. Avian species warble in the cool grounds of the colossal structure which is the outpost of her country far away. 'Did I show them how much we want to be their friends, in these difficult times in Waziristan, today?' She waxes profoundly philosophic.
It's a take.
Every body on set at 10:00 a.m.
We will do the garden scene with light from the East tomorrow.

One of the quotes long on the sidebar of my blog, Joel:

"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis

Boy, this is depressing.

Gary- Couple things.
First, you have some great quotes on your sidebar.
Second, you're good at finding depressing stories. I'm not sure I should compliment you on that, though. (Fortunately I can only read the headline and the summary. The story is probably even more of a bummer.)

"Fortunately I can only read the headline and the summary."

Why is that? (Registration is free, you know.)

Try this and generically, this, though it's basically obsolete since the Times went all free again.

You can also get access to all the archives for free through most any library membership and their online access, which you can access at home with your library membership, in most places. Ditto the Wall Street Journal and lots of other non-free online publications.

"What gets me is not just the stone-cold ignorance, but that there's no embarrassment present when proclaiming their ignorance. And this isn't the first time administration officials shrugged off a lack of basic knowledge."

Yes, the implicit assumption is that if the rest of the world doesn't function according to their world view, the fault lies with the rest of the world for being so irrational.

Speaking as someone who's heard Ambassador Chamberlin speak at a number of events on Pakistan, I think I can confirm that Pakistan's fears of India is something she understands quite well, and Cosma's parsing of her statement is most likely the accurate one.

mc,
nice to see you back after shuffling off the ALT coil.

I was right! The story was even more of a bummer than the summary! I did find this somewhat encouraging, though:

The Fourth District Court of Appeal found that the Florida state judge had overstepped his bounds because deportation is the prerogative of the federal government.

But I don't know how much I trust the Feds to do things humanely.

As for the library suggestion, I was actually headed there tomorrow, so I'll ask them about that.

O/T, and my apologies if this is stale news already mentioned on another thread, but:

RIP, Alexander-Solzhenitsyn, dead at 89.

A man with many flaws but a very great man nonetheless. He was one of my heroes. May he rest in peace.

RIP, Alexander-Solzhenitsyn, dead at 89.

Rest in Peace indeed.

A man with many flaws but a very great man nonetheless.

I agree.

"One thing the leaders of the US government [i.e., "we"] have not, for a long time ["never"] properly appreciated ["understood"] is that the government of Pakistan has its own strategic concerns, and that from its perspective India is, was, and always will be a bigger threat than anything else, and so Pakistani policy will always be fundamentally about protecting itself from India, rather than accommodating our concerns.

That's the problem - even when you parse it in the most favorable possible way it is still the rambling of a mental midget.

But, point taken, per Gary's post, she has earned her stripes working on problems in Palestine, Somalia, the Sudan, etc., etc., and we owe her our complete and uncritical thanks for getting the problems in those areas cleaned up. We should expect similar success in her current endeavors.

Yes, the implicit assumption is that if the rest of the world doesn't function according to their world view, the fault lies with the rest of the world for being so irrational.

It's not like this is a unique flaw. Indeed, everyone operates on a whole series of implicit assumptions based on their world view; several of them may even be correct.

and yet we had no problem understanding that the idea of returning to what were once their homes is a big deal for Cuban exiles.

indeed, we once imperiled the world over that little homeownership tiff.

Umm, no. I disagree with the embargo, but this interpretation of the Cuban Missile Crisis reflects the left-wing version of the John Birch Society.

so Pakistani policy will always be fundamentally about protecting itself from India, rather than accommodating our concerns.


That's the problem - even when you parse it in the most favorable possible way it is still the rambling of a mental midget.

That's unfair; it's not insane to think that Pakistan's secular elite might view the militants within its borders and the considerable friction caused thereby as a potentially greater threat to them than India. Since the secular elite generally run the government, this may suggest that their interest would be aligned with ours to a significant degree since we have no interest in seeing India go to war or threaten Pakistan.

The most charitable reading of Wendy Chamberlain's inartful statement is that the US misread the mood of the secular elite in Pakistan, and failed to understand that they, too, see India in nearly black-and-white terms. Even so much as to support Islamist groups that directly threaten them.

That still doesn't make Chamberlain sound brilliant -- e.g., what's been up with the ISI then? -- but it's not ridiculous.

L_J: Thanks! I do most all of my writing these days under my real name (and mostly on the topic of Pakistan, actually, which is certainly a change of pace from teaching Japanese 10-year-olds self-introductions), but I am definitely still lurking on the RSS feeds.

That's unfair; it's not insane to think that Pakistan's secular elite might view the militants within its borders and the considerable friction caused thereby as a potentially greater threat to them than India.

You are missing the key phrase here, "rather than accommodating our concerns". Why would Pakistan accommodate the concerns of the US over its own? Why would this be a surprise?

Perhaps she blatantly misspoke. If she misspoke so blatantly, she is unsuited for her job - it is not a career for sloppy speakers.

One thing we never understood is that Brownie did not do a heckuva job.

Clearly the answer to running out of oil lies in hunting wildebeest

True, insofar as once we run out of oil, we'll all be hunting wildebeest.

True, insofar as once we run out of oil, we'll all be hunting wildebeest.

Got any good wildebeest recipes?

I think they're good with gnu potatoes.

Not about Pakistan, but... Anyone happen to see a certain former underscored poster here get quoted in the Times Magazine today?

New McCain ad! Stay classy, John!

Even by Cosma's more charitable interpretation, she is still saying that we failed to appreciate that it isn't all about us; that other countries have their own priorities that do not necessarily align with our own. That is a really important thing to keep in mind, that I would expect a career diplomat to understand

Anyone who knows the basics about India and Pakistan knows exactly how nervous and suspicious their relationship has been ever since partition. They've gone to war enough times and with enough bitterness to make a good number of strategists fear that this is one of the likeliest starting-points for a nuclear war. Any diplomat who can say that they never realized how Pakistan feels about India is an idiot, or speaks for one.

Yes, she may have served in a number of countries, but that hardly indicates competence. In any case, the wider context is the "we" -i.e. the Bush administration. Would anyone care to place bets on their knowledge of other countries? I mean, it's not like the Republican candidate this time around doesn't know the difference between Shia and Sunni, or the geographical location of Iraq relative to Afghanistan or Pakistan, is it?

Eben if Cosma is entirely correct, this amounts to "We didn't understand that foreign nations might have concerns and interests other than the U.S." Which is Monica Goodling and Letitia Doan thinking: all there is to know about about country X is whether it's a loyal Bushie.

Even by Cosma's more charitable interpretation, she is still saying that we failed to appreciate that it isn't all about us; that other countries have their own priorities that do not necessarily align with our own. That is a really important thing to keep in mind, that I would expect a career diplomat to understand

I think we also need to understand that just because she said this doesn't mean that she thought it wasn't painfully obvious. People say things all the time that they aren't just coming to understand- after all, we usually talk to communicate things, rather than babbling a stream of consciousness about things we've just now realized.

It makes perfect sense if we view it as her speaking to someone (say, a reporter) asking for a basic understanding of the situation to relay to her readers, many of whom may have no knowledge whatsoever of the history between India and Pakistan.

I have no doubt that if I were to go back and read some recent newspaper quotes from respected economists or physicists about their fields, pretending that these statements were revelations to them at the time,they'd sound pretty stupid too. "You mean this guy is running CERN, and he's just now learning that the new collider might reveal the Higg's boson? Who'd he sleep with to get that job?"

You are missing the key phrase here, "rather than accommodating our concerns". Why would Pakistan accommodate the concerns of the US over its own? Why would this be a surprise?

Chamberlain never said "rather than accommodating our concerns"; I don't know what you're getting at.

One thing we never understood is the tendency of the news media to make you sound stupid by quoting you out of context . . .

One thing we never understood is that actual knowledge should be a requirement for a policy position.

One thing we never understood was that understanding things makes it easier to do stuff.

Back home at last -- I should say that I didn't assume, when I posted this, that Chamberlain herself was included in 'we'. I did assume that 'we' included the US government (given the context), and suspected that she did, in fact, know better, but also that her take on the government's grasp of South Asia policy would be informed. I should probably have been clearer about this. Maybe posting from the Dubai airport wasn't such a hot idea. ;)

Look, people often feel the need to say things which ought to be painfully obvious to reporters. (I'd go further and say that reporters often need to have things which ought to be painfully obvious said to them, but another time.) If the reporters only quote the painfully obvious bits - and I think there's just that one sentence from Chamberlain in the news story we're talking about - then of course they can sound like "mental midgets". For all we know, Chamberlain went on to give a detailed explanation of the structural forces which lead American governments to repeatedly ignore what their own specialists know about foreign countries, and to propose a comprehensive regional security initiative which would allay Pakistan's fears, etc., and it all got left in the reporter's notebook. As Carleton Wu says, equivalent things happen all the time to scientists, so we learn not to assume our colleagues are idiots just because they show up in the news sounding like idiots.

At least in my experience, career foreign service officers are generally not completely clueless about such basic facts of world politics, but the people running the US government often are (or at least act like they are). Also, it's reasonably common to use the first-person plural to refer to the actions of the leaders of a group (e.g., the country) to which one belongs; for instance, look at the title of this post by hilzoy, who was not, presumably, inquiring of her readers whether she had herself directly participated in disappearing children. The comment by mc_masterchef supports the idea that Chamberlain was not talking about herself.

I should perhaps add that I'd never heard of Chamberlain before this and have no particular interest in defending her cluefulness. For all I know she's a completely horrible person who eats kittens for breakfast while dictating creationist tracts. But it's just not fair to call her an idiot on this basis.

Welcome back Hilzoy! Unfortunately, its just about as hot here as in Dubai. (Or at least it feels that way...

MeDrew: Thanks. ;) -- Another thing I forgot to say while I was in Dubai: I've been in hotter places (I think Luxor during August takes the cake), but Dubai is not just really, really hot, but also humid. Very, very humid. That's what moves it from ohmygodthatisreally hot to unbearable.

...So I emailled her and asked Ms. Chamberlain for a follow-up clarifying statement.

If I get a reply, I'll let Hilzoy know.

Regards, C

One thing the leaders of the US government [i.e., "we"] have not, for a long time ["never"] properly appreciated ["understood"] is that the government of Pakistan has its own strategic concerns, and that from its perspective India is, was, and always will be a bigger threat than anything else, and so Pakistani policy will always be fundamentally about protecting itself from India, rather than accommodating our concerns.

This is less snarky than hilzoy's reading, but I'm not sure that it is, in its substance, less worrisome.

The best thing you could say here is that Chamberlin is not, herself, personally a dunce.

Thanks -

I believe Chamberlain was talking about this.

I'd like to blog it, but god I'm so depressed. :-(

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