Review of ‘Spreading the American Dream’

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Historian Emily S. Rosenberg’s Spreading the American Dream, traces America’s global expansionism during the first half of the twentieth century. Written in a somewhat dry, textbook style, without footnotes or references, this book looks at the country’s economic and cultural expansion from 1890 to 1945 as it changed from a primarily private endeavor led by American business to one dominated by government.

An interesting book in many ways, but the author gives an unbalanced view, with a bias to the economic aspects and only touching lightly on the cultural. In the introduction the author states that she wants readers to consider if America, in its expansionist mood, fell victim to the same sins as other expansionist powers, but except for slight references to the many contradictions in the American message to the world, she doesn’t offer much to enable a reader to come to any logical conclusion.

For example, when she talks about the great Chicago Exposition of the late 1800s, she points out that America’s prowess in manufacturing agricultural implements was showcased while the over production, land misuse, and crushing debt faced by American family farms was ignored. Nowhere in the book, for example, does she address the stark contradiction between the American cultural message about its exceptionalism and the way it treated women (who make up half the population) or minorities (blacks and Native Americans). While selling the American dream to other countries, it was withholding that dream from a significant percentage of its own citizens. She does point out many of the contradictions in the economic sphere—America pushing for free and open trade while fiercely protecting its own industries—a case of do as I say, not as I do.

Despite these deficiencies, the book is useful to anyone who wants to understand the beginning of American global hegemony. It only needs other material to fill in all the blanks.

I received this book as a gift. For months, I let is gather dust on my book shelf, until the 2016 election and the question of America’s place in the world began to occupy my thoughts more and more. While I was not wildly impressed by it, I’m glad that I read it nonetheless. It gives me a point of departure for further reading and study. I give this book three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Morning in South Africa’

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Despite a history of discrimination and racism and a current government that is lackluster at best, and mired in corruption, South Africa, according to John Campbell, an American diplomat who served in the U.S. Embassy from 1993 to 1996, during the transition from apartheid to a black-led government, believes that the country’s well-established rule of law will enable it to weather its current crises. In Morning in South Africa Campbell discusses the history of the country, its hot button issues of land reform, health care, education reform, and the economic inequality that persists more than 20 years post-apartheid.

Campbell believes that a closer relationship can be forged between the U.S. and South Africa, to the benefit of both countries, but it must wait for a new government to replace that of current president Jacob Zuma, who as president has made many of the country’s problems worse.

Written from the perspective of someone who represented U.S. interests in the country, but at the same time got to know the culture and society well, this Council on Foreign Relations volume should be required reading for every member of the incoming American administration, but in particular, the new political occupants at the Department of State, not just for what it can teach them about South Africa, but for what they can learn about how American diplomats work to support and defend the Constitution, and on behalf of all Americans, regardless of who occupies the White House. It should also be required reading for all Americans; a primer on foreign relations through the lens of relations with one country.

I received this book as a gift.

I give Campbell five stars for this excellent study.

Review of ‘Fifty Years of U.S. Africa Policy’

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In 1958, the U.S. Department of State created the Bureau of African Affairs. It joined the other geographic bureaus within the department which are charged with managing day-to-day diplomatic affairs with various parts of the world, marking the first time that relations with African countries were handled directly rather than through colonial capitals in Europe.

Fifty Years of U.S. African Policy edited by Claudia E. Anyaso, a former State Department official, uses files from the archives of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) and essays from former State Department officials dealing with African affairs to give the history of the first 50 years of US foreign policy relating to the African continent. I received a free copy of this book from the editor.

The essays, many from those who served as Assistant Secretaries of State for African Affairs – officials responsible for day-to-day policy for the region – show the ups and downs of American official attitudes toward Africa, ranging from the early days when many senior officials in Washington, in the administration and congress, had more sympathy for white regimes in Africa than the fledgling independent black states, to the turmoil of having to deal with disease, poverty and violence – and during the past two decades, terrorism – that plague too many African countries.

This is not, as one might assume from the title, a scholarly book. It is a view from the trenches by the senior Foreign Service Officers and political appointees who were charged with managing affairs directly, often having to deal with opposition within our own government as they strived to conduct diplomacy. In some cases, as in the case of our ambassador to Kenya in 1998, having to conduct diplomacy and deal with a tone deaf Washington bureaucracy as her embassy was blown up by terrorists, readers will get an intensely personal look at what it’s like to represent the world’s greatest power in a region that is little understood by the powers that be in our capital.

This is a book that is highly recommended for anyone who wants to understand how U.S. foreign policy is carried out in those areas of the world that seldom make the front page of American newspapers, and only appear on the evening news when there is a crisis.

I give this four stars.

Review of ‘Mission Creep: The Militarization of US Foreign Policy’

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Since World War II, when Franklin Roosevelt sidelined the State Department in favor of the War Department to facilitate the defeat of the Axis, the US military has assumed an ever increasing role in the conduct of non-military missions abroad that were once the purview of the Department of State. There are a number of reasons for this – institutional, political, and cultural – that are examined in Mission Creep: The Militarization of US Foreign Policy? edited by Gordon Adams and Shoon Murray. In a series of essays by senior American diplomats and academics, this growing trend is analyzed.

I received a copy of this book for review. Looking at it from the perspective of someone with 20 years military experience and 30 years in the US Foreign Service as a diplomat, I commend the editors and contributors for tackling a complex and controversial subject with the degree of detachment and objectivity they have. While some justify the tendency to use the military in non-core tasks abroad (building bridges, communicating with foreign audiences, and a host of tasks traditionally reserved for diplomats and civilian development specialists), the fact is that this quick-fix mentality can, as the authors point out, have long term negative consequences. They make it quite clear that the military undertakes these tasks for ‘show’ primarily – that is, they’re aimed to facilitate military operations, and their long term viability and contributions to the countries in which they’re undertaken are often ignored. In addition, the military, for all its training, gung-ho attitude, and funds, lacks the expertise and cultural sensitivity to conduct such missions properly, and there is often ‘blowback’ that our diplomats have to go in and clean up.

This is a good book for anyone interested in international affairs, though not one that I’d recommend for light reading. Some of the recommendations offered by the authors have about as much chance of being implemented by our political leadership as a snowball going through hell without losing weight, but they are to be commended for having the courage to ‘think the unthinkable.’

I give Mission Creep four stars.

The Dangerous Life of American Diplomats: In Their Own Words

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In the Line of Fire: American Diplomats in the Trenches Paperback – December 24, 2014, edited by Ambassador (retired) Charles Ray

It’s probably no exaggeration to say that most Americans know very little about what American diplomats really do. Except for the occasional tragedy, such as the attack on the American diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya in 2013, resulting in the deaths of four Americans (including the ambassador), people don’t realized just how hazardous the life of a diplomat can be – thanks in large part to the highly distorted images in popular media that often show diplomats as dilettantes more interested in attending cocktail receptions than doing ‘real’ work.

     In this book you’ll find stories from those who have served in diplomatic positions overseas – stories of events that often never made the headlines in the U.S., but are all too common occurrences in a diplomat’s life.

     Included are the names from the Memorial Plaques in the diplomatic lobby of the U.S. Department of State that list the names of over 200 Americans who, over the past 200-plus years have given their lives in the service to their country abroad, and who have often been unheralded except by their immediate family and colleagues. These essays represent those who serve silently – giving voice to their valor and dedication as they, in the words of one of the writers, ‘do what we’re paid to do.’

This book, along with my other books, is available at the store link on my other blog: http://charlesaray.blogspot.com/p/shop-at-charlies-store.html.

You can also order directly:

Paperback:  http://www.amazon.com/Line-Fire-American-Diplomats-Trenches/dp/1505672724/

Kindle version: http://www.amazon.com/Line-Fire-American-Diplomats-Trenches-ebook/dp/B00REL47RA/

Diplomatic Life: A State Department Yankee in the Defense Department’s Court

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Installment of my reverse biography – life as a Foreign Service Officer. Serving in the Department of Defense.


Diplomatic Life: It’s Not All Parties

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The first in a series of articles about my 30 years as a US Foreign Service Officer.


My wife Myung petting young lions at Antelope Park, near Harare, Zimbabwe.
My wife Myung petting young lions at Antelope Park, near Harare, Zimbabwe.

Foreign Service Veterans Seek to Dispel the Myths

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Capitol Hill, Washington DC
Capitol Hill, Washington DC (Photo credit: KP Tripathi)


Excellent article in ‘Government Executive‘ Magazine about visit of FSOs to Capitol Hill.


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Secretary Clinton and former Secretary Baker Launch Diplomacy Museum

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaking at launch of new US Diplomacy Center. Former secretary James Baker III is behind her.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaking at launch of new US Diplomacy Center. Former secretary James Baker III is behind her.

James Baker, III, Secretary of State in the George H. W. Bush administration, speaks at opening of US Diplomacy Center.
James Baker, III, Secretary of State in the George H. W. Bush administration, speaks at opening of US Diplomacy Center.

Artist's concept of the US Diplomacy Center and Museum.
Artist’s concept of the US Diplomacy Center and Museum.



The Need for a US Diplomatic Code of Ethical Conduct

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French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-...

Nowadays, especially since the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, professions and organizations around the world are paying more attention to the need for ethical professionalism standards to guide their activities. Research has shown that cheating has become more commonplace, especially among young people, and while there is not enough data to indicate whether or not this is a clear global trend, it is nonetheless worth being concerned about.

What is inarguable is that any profession needs a grounded ethical code to guide the activities of its members if it is to be successful in our increasingly globalized world.

It’s worth thinking about just why this is so. First; a clearly understood code of ethical behavior helps guide the individual member of the profession in carrying out his or her responsibilities, and protects the individual from outside pressure to ‘bend the rules.’ A sound code is invaluable in explaining the profession to outsiders, and aids in professional interactions with those within and outside the profession. More importantly, for professions that serve the general public, a code establishes the expectations that those being served have regarding that profession.

For 30 years, until I retired in September 2012, I served in the US Foreign Service (and for 20 years before that in the US Army), working at a number of American diplomatic posts both in the United States and abroad. During my service as an American diplomat, I was often dismayed at the lack of understanding most people outside the profession have of what diplomats do. The most common phrase I heard throughout that time was, “a diplomat is someone sent abroad to lie for his country.” From the inside, I knew this to be false. Most of my colleagues were decent, dedicated individuals who operated according to a strict ethical code, serving often in dangerous situations, and performing heroic, but unheralded jobs in the service to their nation and its people.

Why, then, did people fail to understand the profession? There are probably a lot of reasons, but one that impressed me most was the fact that, while there are reams of regulations concerning proper ethical conduct, nowhere was there a clearly defined code of ethical conduct easily accessible to diplomats or the outside world. Other than anecdotal information, or the often distorted and inaccurate portrayals of bureaucratic and snobbish diplomats in popular media, there was no easy to access and understand code of ethical professional behavior that told anyone what the profession of diplomacy is all about.

It became clear to me, therefore, that diplomacy, as any other profession, would be best served if it was made accessible to the general public. Diplomats would be more effective in carrying out their important tasks if they knew, not just what they should avoid doing, but what they are expected to do. Our current ethical regulations, though scattered about dozens of volumes and almost requiring a law degree to fully understand, effectively distinguish between right and wrong behavior, but they are useless in helping professionals make the often hard choice between two courses of action, both of which are ‘right,’ but one of which might be more appropriate and effective. The individual is left to his or her own personal code of behavior in making such decisions, and, while the right (or appropriate) decision is made in most cases, it would be more effective if the individual had aspirational guidelines to help in the decision making process. Furthermore, such a code would help outsiders better understand the reasoning behind the decisions made.

Like the US Military Code of Conduct, promulgated after the Korean War and the unfortunate collaboration with the enemy by many soldiers who had not been prepared for the propaganda employed against them, a diplomatic code of conduct, introduced during the beginning of a career and constantly reinforced throughout that career, would better prepare our diplomats for the world in which they must operate today, where they must contend not only with officials of the governments to whom they’re accredited, but with the many nongovernmental groups and individuals who impact foreign affairs in ways not thought of in the early days of international diplomacy.

No longer should American diplomacy be burdened with the image of ‘someone sent abroad to lie for his or her country.’ As the new US administration prepares to face the challenges of the next four years, establishing a well-understood, respected, professional corps of diplomats should be one of its top priorities.

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