November 05, 2007

Americans Abroad

On the surface, study-abroad programs may not seem like the most vital weapon in the counterinsurgency fight. But as Abu Muqawama read this article in Sunday's New York Times, political warfare was very much on his mind. Americans who have spent time immersed in foreign cultures and are conditioned to learn foreign languages would have, on average, a much easier time adjusting to the challenges of counterinsurgency warfare than those Americans who have no experience abroad. (Abu Muqawama has no scientific study to back up this assertion, but it's common sense, right?)

Universities that value their international affairs programs and train their graduates for careers as diplomats or international businessmen take study-abroad very seriously. Georgetown University, for example, sends 58 percent of its student body abroad for some period of time during the four-year curriculum. You would think the U.S. Military Academy would send a similar percentage of students abroad, right? No. Just 15 percent of USMA graduates study abroad.

The service academies, though, are trying hard, post-9/11, to create new opportunities to send cadets and midshippeople (or whatever the hell they're called) abroad at some point in their studies -- even if it's only for a summer of intensive language study. They need resources from Congress -- as well as some creativity when it comes to their anachronistic yet demanding engineering curricula.

Abu Muqawama -- despite attending a university that encouraged students to study abroad -- was actively discouraged by his university ROTC program from taking a semester out of his oh-so-vital-to-future-combat-experiences ROTC training. In retrospect, this was madness. ROTC programs and the service academies must made every effort to ensure that future military officers are exposed to foreign cultures before they get sent to have tea in some shack in Paktia Province, Afghanistan or run a small village in al-Anbar Province, Iraq.