Embassy view

Robert J Callahan is a former press attache at the American embassy in Baghdad. His report on the difficulties faced by diplomats and journalists in the war-ravaged country makes for (unintentionally) revealing reading. He almost seems proud of his fellow officer’s ignorance:

Among American diplomats, fewer than a dozen had sufficient Arabic to use in an extended conversation and, like the reporters, none spoke Iraq’s other languages. That meant that either our contacts spoke English or we relied on interpreters. In the case of the most senior Americans – the ambassador and a few other civilians, generals with three or four stars – the interpreters were superb. But the rest of us, diplomats and journalists, had to rely on bilingual Iraqis who often weren’t professional interpreters.… 

Callahan’s report reads like a boy’s own adventure. The brave US are just trying their best to bring order to Iraq, he says, though, of course, he admits they can’t actually speak to real Iraqis due to the appalling security situation. An imperial mindset is alive and well in the US diplomatic corp.

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