Sunday, October 21, 2012

BC2012: Backstabbing for Beginners by Michael Soussan

This book sat on my shelf until one day I made an offhand comment to my wife using the title. That night I showed her the book I had mentioned, not necessarily expecting her to read it. She loved it, and as soon as she was finished, she started bugging me to read it.

Backstabbing for Beginners: My Crash Course in International Diplomacy is Soussan's lively memoir about the years he spent working at the United Nations in the Oil-for-Food Program for Iraq. Of course, we now know the program as much for its scandal as for anything it accomplished. The author was right in the middle of the action although he was not directly involved in the scandal (he didn't profit from it, but he did know that there were shady deals with kickbacks going on).

If you have ever considered working for the UN, this book will probably dissuade you. The UN's internal office politics are even more brutal than international politics. It demonstrates how a young, idealistic person is battered by bureaucratic machinations until he finds himself drawn into playing the same Machiavellian games. In that sense, it could be a very depressing book but Soussan manages to keep it from getting too dark.

This book also shows that 1.) Saddam Hussein was a brilliant politician as well as a complete bastard, and 2.) Iraq was a totally screwed up situation long before George W. Bush got involved. Another great book for insight into the later years of Hussein's rule is The Demonic Comedy by Paul William Roberts.


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