Information Warfare: What'd He Say?

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May 26, 2007: While it's nice to see more folks in the U.S. government studying Arabic, the payoff from all of these programs will be far in the future. Right now, things are in pretty bad shape. For example, of thousand or so State Department officials in Baghdad in 2005, only six were fluent in Arabic. There is still a severe shortage.

Since the late '90s the number of Arabic language programs in US universities has more or less doubled from about 150 to about 300. The Department of Defense has increased its Arabic language training even more than that. In the past seven years the number of Americans studying Arabic abroad has increased markedly as well, in the case of the University of Cairo from it's now about 300, double what it was ten years ago.

Things could be worse. Back in the early 1960s, when the United States sent the first large number of troops to Vietnam, there were only 3-4 officers in the Armed Forces who spoke Vietnamese. Most American "advisors" did their business in French, which was one of the most common second languages in the United States at the time. Relations with France had been quite warm since World War I, and through World War II. Many of the parents and grandparents of the U.S. troops in Vietnam were quite keen on knowing some French, which was the most popular second language in Vietnam.

There is a similar situation with English in Iraq, and the Middle East in general. Most scientific and technical books are published in English, and very few get translated into Arabic. So lots of Arabs learn English. Unfortunately, in Iraq that meant a disproportionate number of Sunni Arabs (who monopolized education, as well as most everything else) and supporters of Saddam in general, knew English.

 


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