Thursday, November 13, 2008

Diplomats and Dirty Dealings

Two new career memoirs shed light on the inner workings of international government and global politics. The picture is not always pretty nor all the activities entirely above-board.

In Backstabbing for Beginners: My Crash Course in International Diplomacy, Michael Soussan recounts his transformation from idealist to realist while working with the United Nations' Oil-for-Food program.
Soussan finds himself embroiled in a world of spies, corrupt oil tycoons, and dysfunctional diplomats whose office turf wars and petty personal rivalries all set the stage for a dramatic political showdown ... On March 8, 2004, in a Wall Street Journal editorial, he becomes the first insider to call for "an independent investigation" of the UN's dealings with Saddam Hussein.
The author opens his book by explaining,
In 2003 the United States and its allies had set out to create a "new Iraq" on the ruins of the old one. This ambitious agenda underestimated the damage that had been done to the Iraqi people in the thirteen years since the Gulf War. In New York, we saw the institution that was supposed to stand for international order break its own laws for seven years. The UN Security Council operated much like a drug cartel, fighting over access to Iraq's oil and, in so doing, letting the Iraqi dictator cannibalize his own country in partnership with our most respectable international corporations.
An audio interview with Soussan is available here.

In Shut Up, I'm Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government, Gregory Levey describes how he became a speechwriter for Israel's delegation to the UN and, later, aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
During his three years in the Israeli government, the Second Intifada continued on in fits and starts, Yasser Arafat died, Hamas came to power, and Ariel Sharon fell into a coma ... As Levey got better acquainted with the personalities in the government's inner sanctum, he witnessed firsthand the improvisational and ridiculously casual nature of the country's behind-the-scenes leadership--and realized that he wasn't the only one faking his way through politics.
For the sake of self-evaluation, Levey applied the Page 99 Test to his own book. What he found captures his story well:
The United Nations and the Israeli Government. New York and Jerusalem. And a bewildered twenty-five-year-old flailing about amidst it all--unsure how he even got there in the first place.

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