In Praise of What Has Been Lost at U.S. Embassies

Rendezvous regular Mark McDonald asked for fresh U.S. embassy stories. Here is an old one from back when America waded into Vietnam, China was a forbidding foe, and Cold War rivals could have easily blown each other off the map. If a U.S. mission needed guarding anywhere, it was Kinshasa after the C.I.A. provided matches to set the Congo ablaze. Soviet spooks worked hard to discomfit America. I dropped in regularly for updates on a nasty bush war, and a lone Marine waved as I breezed past. Often it was a guy with whom I’d done the clubs the night before along with diplomats, local luminaries. But no one else got stopped either unless something awkward bulged under a raincoat. The embassy, exposed on a leafy corner, was colonial-charming, with white-brick facade that could not stop a determined buffalo. Diplomats spoke in frank detail, often showed confidential cables to trusted visitors. A U.S. cultural center downtown was open to the street so the Congolese could stop by to discover Time magazine and Tom Sawyer, theoretically triggering warmth for America. In Nigeria, then mired in bitter civil war, the Lagos embassy was only a shade less freewheeling. When in a hurry, I’d bound up the stairs without a pause in search of the guy in charge. By 1970, U.S. missions began to swell. I was once in Monrovia, Liberia, with a diplomat fresh from Washington. He nearly fell over when he saw the Executive Mansion. The cigar-chomping president, William Tubman, had built a 9-story palace with Temptations wafting from speakers along endless corridors. When the fountain out front was turned on, no one within a half-mile had water. The diplomat saw the giant flag on top and stammered, “My God, is that our embassy?” Liberia’s currency was the U.S. dollar, and its flag was Stars and Stripes. Today, if Mr. Tubman’s palace had had Fort Leavenworth walls and an open field-of-fire perimeter, diplomat’s question would be perfectly reasonable. The change was clear after Ronald Reagan beat up Grenada in 1983 to distract attention from Lebanon. Before the smoke cleared, Ross Point Inn, best little hideaway in the Caribbean, was bristling with antennae and shielded by walls under a bed-sheet-sized American flag. Let’s not even start on the billion-dollar mission in Baghdad. These days, obviously, it is harder to get into U.S. missions. But worse, it is harder to get out. Diplomats live in cocoons, isolated from the societies they are supposed to penetrate (…..)



Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional

One Response to In Praise of What Has Been Lost at U.S. Embassies

  1. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: The fortress-like US embassies tells a lot about the US in this new century. A super power isolated and afraid of the outside world. Sad state of affairs for a country that once led the Western world under the principles of democracy, freedom and happiness.


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