In the book, The Ugly American by Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer, the episode that gives the book its title features Homer Atkins, a plain and plain spoken man, who has been sent by the U.S. government to advise the Southeast Asian country of Sarkhan on engineering project When Atkins finds badly misplaced priorities and bluntly challenged the entrenched interests, he lays bare a foreign policy gone dangerously8 wrong.
First published in 1958, the book became a runaway national bestseller for its slashing expose of American arrogance incompetence and corruption in Southeast Asia.
Donald Trump evokes memories of that arrogance and incompetence when neither quality, nor the current incarnation of those qualities, is appropriate in the vortex that faces the next president. Trump will not study, prepare, assimilate the fine details of either American domestic or foreign policy, so enamored is he with his Teflon bombast that has no place in politics and belongs inside a reality television show set and camera.
I grew up at the time the book was popular, and without then knowing the specific content of the narratives, I know the phrase “ugly American” had resonance as an admitted stereotype, even archetype, for the American political/military/industrial complex of which Eisenhower warned his compatriots near the end of his presidency in 1960. Even today, some nearly 70 years later, following another episode of misguided American foreign policy and military engagement under Dubya, there are still too many places where wearing an American flag lapel pin is ill-advised. Obama has worked almost feverishly, certainly deliberately and professionally, to try to normalize the American presence in world affairs, and a return to the kind of American attitude and presence on the world stage now, through the election of Trump, would be a disaster not only for the United States itself, but also for the whole world.
In its unrestrained, yet brutally honest endorsement of Hillary Clinton in yesterday’s edition, The New York Times, cites
· the long span of her career in the service of children, women and families,
· her highlighting of women in her address to the United Nations Bejing Conference in 1995,
· her steadfast, if unspectacular pursuit of her bipartisan work in the Senate, securing the support of Republicans like John McCain, for her mastery of the details of military needs and goals
· her intellect and command of the various files and importantly
· her experience and attention to the complexities facing the world and the next president
The editorial acknowledges her preference for secrecy, her later-explained mistaken vote for the Iraq war in 2003, and places her candidacy squarely in the eyes of undecided voters whom Ms Clinton needs in order to defeat Trump.
As the “paper of record” in the American political landscape, this editorial, while by itself will not elect Ms Clinton, give a needed shot of adrenalin on the day prior to tonight’s debate, billed as a heavyweight prize fight in the American media, with a projected audience in the 100 million range, rivaling even the Super Bowl.
Promising filmy and glossy never-never-land solutions to highly complex issues needing leadership, sophistication and compromise evokes the image of the ugly American, stomping an unduely heavy footprint all over the world map, without delivering on the needed policy ideas is not what the world needs.
And, barring a significant toe-stub tonight, by Ms Clinton, the world can only hope that she will deliver what the American pundits are calling her “minimum” to win: a home-run in political terms.
All of the subtlety of her many policy proposals will have to give way, at least for an historic moment in which, in the tradition of the gladiator fights of the middle ages, she “takes out” her political foe. He has certainly given her a arsenal of lies, distortions and fit-only-for-Hollywood conjectures on which to unleash her considerable and the public’s even stronger venom against Trump.
We will be watching.