“Winning the Great Power Education: Revamping the U.S. Approach to Education Exchange”

I learned about this Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) commentary from a colleague’s LinkedIn post. Once I saw the source, CSIS, a quasi-USG, pro-US American NGO based in Washington, D.C., I knew exactly what “Great Power Education” referred to. It’s all about winning the “hearts and minds of the next generation of global leaders,” a nasty slogan used during the US War in Viet Nam in which not many hearts and minds were won among Vietnamese living outside of Saigon, the overwhelming majority of the population that was one of the keys to defeating the latest foreign invader.

In this case, it’s “the greatest nation on earth” locked in mortal combat for the “hearts and minds of the next generation of global leaders” with China, a typically US American view of life and global politics as a zero-sum game. This holier than thou attitude is embraced by many US Americans, including those Inside the Beltway who work for pro-USA nonprofits. Some (most?) are true believers while others are opportunists who spout the party line in order to get ahead or at least not become professionally marginalized.

For most of its history, the US has needed external enemies when, in fact, its most formidable enemies are domestic. The homegrown terrorists who participated in the 6 January violence at the US Capitol, egged on by a deranged malignant narcissist-in-chief and dictator wannabe, are Exhibit A. (I discuss other internal enemies in this recent essay Trumpism is Exactly Who Many of US Are.)

I discuss related issues in this 2019 essay entitled The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam. Speaking of CSIS, one of the stories I tell is about a young US-educated Vietnamese woman by the name of Chau Hoang with very close ties – nod & wink – to Fulbright University Vietnam’s (FUV) leadership who did the bidding of CSIS and the FUV/Harvard crowd by writing this blog post: In Debate over Bob Kerrey’s Wartime Role, Vietnam Confronts its Past Demons. (In case you’re just tuning in, here’s my 2016 University World News article about the disgrace that was the appointment of self-proclaimed war criminal, Bob Kerrey, as chairman of the FUV board of trustees.

The purpose of international exchange is best expressed in this quote by J. William Fulbright: There is nothing obscure about the objectives of educational exchange. Its purpose is to acquaint Americans with the world as it is and to acquaint students and scholars from many lands with America as it is – not as we wish it were or as we might wish foreigners to see it, but exactly as it is… A lot of foreigners who travel to the US, including those who study there, don’t like everything they see, hear, and experience. Many do not become friends of the USA, i.e., its government. That is as it should be. International exchange is not a charm offensive; it’s about experiencing the good, the bad, and the ugly and drawing one’s own conclusions.

I also touch on this issue in a 2011 IHE essay about a 2008 diplomatic cable that was leaked from the US Embassy in Hanoi in the pre-Wikileaks era. The cable was about the use of education as a tool (weapon) of soft power in Viet Nam. NAFSA: Association of International Educators, to its discredit and shame, refused to publish it in its International Educator magazine because the then executive director, a one-time state politician, didn’t want to “poke the bear,” a reference to the US State Department. According to a well-placed source, it wasn’t about funding, it was about pissing off someone important at State, pardon my salty language.

My previous employer censored me but that really did involve fear of alienating a USG VIP and possible payback in the form of a funding cut, the greatest fear of a nonprofit that relies heavily on USG funding. That’s the power of the written word, dear reader. It can instill the fear of god (or at least loss of official funding) in the most seasoned and well-educated people. Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1839 adage “The pen (keyboard) is mightier than the sword” is alive and well. Freedom of speech in rhetoric only. Cowards, all.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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