A few years ago, I retired the Department of Health and Human Services. During my last years of federal service, I was an international assignee.
Because I was both new to and naive about USG “foreign service” my tour was eye-opening. As I found myself routinely unable to complete “impossible tasks” assigned to me, I felt obliged to “explain” to my foreign service superiors what they failed to grasp about laboratory work. Slowly I realized that Van Buren is correct: my task was to spend money. I was supposed to “demonstrate” that the money had “been spent”. In my case, I was supposed to demonstrate that I had “built laboratory capacity” and “strengthened laboratory infrastructure”. Because laboratory-testing demonstrations are not as dramatic as chicken-processing demonstrations, I am especially grateful for his book. He tells the story I have to tell on a grander scale and in a more entertaining way.
I wish that those who understood the pretentiousness of our “do something” foreign policy could hear what Van Buren has to say. He is not the only foreign service assignee to have witnessed our national ineptitude.
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