I've just finished Niall Ferguson's "Colossus" on America's "empire". One bit realy struck me. p212 "Shortly before the terrorist attacks of Septemeber 2001 a former CIA man admitted that the agency "probably doesn't have a single truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle Eastern background who can play a believable Muslim fundamentalist who would volunteer to spend years of his life with shitty food and no women in the mountains of Afghanistan. We don't do that kind of thing" In the immortal words of one such case officer, "Operations that include diarrhea as a way of life don't happen". This was precisely the attitude that another CIA officer sought to counter in the wake of the terrorist attacks when he hung a sign outside his office that read as follows: "Officers wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success". Significantly this was the recruiting poster used by the British explorer Ernest Shackleton before his 1914 expedition to the Antarctic. At the time of the invasion of Iraq, the short-lived office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance also sought British imperial inspiration: it relied on retired British army Gurkhas from Nepal to provide security around its Kuwait base". Now the above is part of a broader argument about how the British Empire was built and sustained by people who, in essence, went native. Gertrude Bell, for example, the first woman to graduate from Oxford with a first class degree and an Arabic speaker, was the oriental secretary to the British commissioner in Baghdad (when we ran it). She had no desire to go home whatsover. The Hong Kong banks set "porridge traps" to get their Scottish clerks who joined and stayed. Now I'm not saying the attitude of the British today is any different from the attitude of Americans today. That isn't the point. They are the dominant power. If having people who, to varying degrees, are prepared to "go and stay gone" is essential to making Western involvement in the world meaningful maybe we just can't hack it. I'm not saying I could - I've never been anywhere miserable with a runny bottom for longer than 3 weeks, and I wouldn't claim to have "went native", but it was surprising how quickly you do find compensations. You learn that there is an English language paper, you learn that the kids sell filled rolls at a certain time of night in a certain place, you get to like the solid local loaves, something changes in you so people stop bugging you to buy things, you acquire **** sphincters that could break carrots.......................none of that is going to happen if you have a Starbucks and count the days to leaving. Michael Palin in "Around the World" laughed at how every American he met in India had nothing to say but, "The pavitty. My Gawwwwd, the pavitty!!" That might be a very unhelpful attitude if you are trying to have an influence in the world.