September 30, 2009

The “Ugly” American Needed in Iraq

by Donald G. Mashburn

President Barack Obama has reneged on more promises than most observers can keep up with, including his early promises to promptly pull American forces out of Iraq. Just when and how our troops leave the nation still racked by bombings and attacks still isn’t known for certain. But it’s almost certain that the U.S. will play a substantial role with both military and non-military assets for a long period of time.

No one knows what shape Iraq will be in when our troops “officially” leave Iraq, nor can anyone accurately define America’s role in the rebuilding. We can safely assume the bumbling, indecisive United Nations will continue to jockey for position in an effort to get its fumble-prone hands on post-war development for Iraq. But if violence-plagued and oppressed Iraqis are ever to see a representative government, American dollars, compassion and know-how will be major factors.

Major questions will be include mot only what will America’s role be, but also does the Obama administration have the “true grit” to stand against the bumbling United Nations? And just as we have heard wails in the past – with both French and German accents, and even from our own president! – about “bullying” and “arrogance” by the United States, it’s only a matter of time till we start hearing about the “ugly American,” a term that has been increasingly misapplied to American activity in foreign lands.

Originally, the ugly American was a good guy, homely but good, who tried to help the local people in Sarkhan, a fictitious country in Southeast Asia. In the 1954 book, “The Ugly American,” authors William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick wrote of the failures of career American diplomats, and how communists consistently outmaneuvered them during typhoons, crop failures and famines.

But the local people did receive help from some foreigners, led by Homer Atkins, a hardworking engineer, whose “fingernails were black with grease, and, “The palms of his hands were calloused.” Atkins was a homely, creased-faced man, and some of the local people gave him an affectionate nickname that translated roughly to “the ugly American.”

The authors made the title deliberately ironic, since the “ugly” American was well liked, and effective in his efforts to help the locals, while the diplomatic representatives were not prepared to deal with local realities. Over time, the label “ugly American” got switched from the good guys, and was used to refer to Americans guilty of haughty attitudes and poor judgment in foreign lands.

While a democratic Iraq is far from a certainty – no one can predict what shape the country will be in when our troops leave – one thing should be clear: Iraq will not be ready immediately for a “pure” democracy or democratic republic. The Iraqi people, who have known only terror and brutality in Saddam Hussein’s tyrantdom, and years of attacks from insurgents and indiscriminate bombings from suicidal terrorists, can’t possibly function as a democracy immediately.

The United Stated and Great Britain will play leading roles – as well they should – in rebuilding Iraq, but the United Nations, and Saddam’s favorite suppliers – France, Germany and Russia – will have their own ideas. It’ll be interesting to see how much they’ll want to ante up to cover the cost of rebuilding Iraq.

Those who opposed disarming Iraq should be told what role they play, not given an equal voice with the U.S. and the Great Britain. In that process, someone is bound to label the main “doer,” the United States, the “Ugly American.”

Obama may discover, as President George W. Bush did from the first, that his detractors can get ugly. And with Obama’s known propensity to waffle and wobble, he may over-react to the shrill calls of “Ugly American.” But he should be aware that other good people have worn the tag of “Ugly American.”

He should be reminded that the original “ugly American” was one of the good guys. And let’s hope some of his advisors are more literate than his critics – and Vice President Joe Biden! – and can help him formulate a plan for a stable Iraq that will restore the “ugly American” tag to its original meaning.

It will take some time for Iraq to achieve a decent, progressive form of government. The key word is “decent” – a decent form of government, chosen and changed by votes of the people.

And when they have it, let us hope that they and the world remember their freedom was purchased by the blood of brave soldiers who fought to end Saddam’s tyranny, and fought and died in spite of the lack of support from anti-war Liberals back home.