Ogged recommends enthusiastically an article by Alif Sikkiin which argues at great length that learning Arabic isn’t quite as hard as it’s cracked up to be. He argues that, instead, the reason we don’t have more fluent speakers working for the U.S. government is our foreign policy itself:
The thing is, it’s not like there aren’t a good number of Arabic speakers in the US. They do exist, both among people of Arab heritage and those who started learning as adults. The elephant in the room in these discussions about Middle Eastern languages is the fact that most people who feel positively about Arabic culture generally speaking, and who like Arabs as people, are not going to want to be associated with this country’s putrid foreign policy. In the course of my studies I’ve met a lot of people (and not heritage students, either) with fantastic Arabic. Not a single one of them wants to enter government service or the military. The dilemma for the US government is that the only way people become really good at a language is by spending a lot of time in contact with the culture and its people, and this is incompatible with the foreign policy view of the peoples of the Middle East as objects to be manipulated to suit US interests.
There’s an old term for this: “going native.”
To be successful as a diplomat or soldier-ambassador requires a certain degree of empathy and respect for the people and culture of the other society. At the same time, however, one needs to have sense of “us” and “them” that prioritizes the interests of one’s country over those of others. Those who lack the latter mindset are of little use in the service of their government, regardless of their other skills.
To some extent, the United States views the peoples of all countries as “objects to be manipulated to suit US interests” — and the peoples (or at least governments) of those countries have that view of the United States and all other countries. Otherwise, why have borders?