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Educating Americans for service abroad

IWP supporters Barry and Ann Sullivan have spent years in Africa and Europe, and they have noticed a trend among representatives of the U.S. abroad – these individuals are often not well-informed about foreign history and culture. The Sullivans feel strongly that Americans who are abroad in both business and political capacities must be more well-versed in these subjects.

In the 1970s, Mrs. Sullivan had many positive experience with U.S. diplomats in Brussels, spending several years interacting with heads of state and their associates. There, she met Americans, some of whom understood European culture, and she observed how they were better able to formulate policy and conduct business as a result.

During the same period, Mr. Sullivan confronted a lack of such understanding abroad. Charged with running a charitable foundation involved with the conservation of African wildlife, which had a lease of over a million acres and a half of land in Zambia, he met various heads of state and bureaucrats in addition to American officials. He soon discovered that these U.S. officials – and even U.S. businessmen – lacked sufficient education about foreign affairs and foreign cultures.

Mr. Sullivan remarks, “I don’t think foreign policy is that difficult if you understand cultures.” For instance, in many parts of Africa, it is customary to “bend” the truth to someone outside of one’s own family, and say what the other person would want to hear. If an American is trying to do business or formulate policy, a misunderstanding of this custom could be disastrous.

Mr. Sullivan relates a story that occurred in the Kenyan port of Mombasa in the 1970s. A United States ship was unloading a donation of yellow corn for the Kenyans, but this corn was subsequently thrown in the water. The people were offended by this gift of corn for two reasons. First, their cattle only ate white corn! Secondly, the locals perceived this doubtlessly good-willed donation as an effort by the U.S. to dump extra grain on the African markets, thereby putting the local markets out of business. A better understanding by U.S. officials of the local culture and needs would have prevented this waste of corn and perceived insult to the Kenyans.

At another time, Mr. Sullivan was in a car with a senior official in the Zambian Cabinet. This gentleman recounted stories of the years and years of foreign aid that Zambia had received, and explained how grateful he was for this assistance. For instance, the Chinese had been building the thousand-mile-long Tanzam Railway from the copper mines of Zambia to Dar es Salaam. He remarked that, “the Chinese are really different than other nations that have provided aid.”

Mr. Sullivan sat in silence for a while. As the car pulled out of a tunnel into the sunlight, he suddenly realized why they were different. He asked, “The Chinese don’t leave any bastard children, do they?” “No, they do not,” the Zambian official replied, and that was what made them different. The Chinese ran their railroad-building operation like a military camp, did not allow the workers out of the camp, and sent them all back to China after the railroad was completed. Truly, the conduct of the Chinese had made an impression on the Zambian public.

Mr. Sullivan believes that, although America differs vastly from China, Americans could learn from this story. What Americans do abroad can also largely influence the opinion of foreign publics, for better or for worse. He contends that the State Department, as well as other U.S. organizations that operate abroad, should have access to a larger group of Americans who are well-educated and prepared to deal with questions like public diplomacy and the opinion of foreign publics. This is why he and Ann support IWP.

They find that, “The Institute has such an interesting but different approach to looking at foreign affairs…” Reflecting on IWP President John Lenczowski’s comparison of a foreign policy with well-integrated instruments of power (such as intelligence, military affairs, economic warfare, political warfare, and public diplomacy) to the harmony that can be created by the coordination of instruments in an orchestra, Sullivan comments that: “IWP not only teaches the ‘horns’ and ‘drums’ of international affairs – instead, it provides a much wider range of assets and skill levels that one should have in executing foreign policy.”

Indeed, IWP is fortunate to have supporters and friends like Barry and Ann Sullivan – who see even beyond the excellent education it provides. The Sullivans know that, equipped with knowledge and insights from their time at the Institute, IWP alumni will positively influence U.S. foreign policy and relations with foreign governments and publics – and many have done so already.