Michael Soussan is the author of Backstabbing for beginners: My crash course in international diplomacy. As a young man he became a program coordinator for the united Nations’ Iraq Program. That turned out to be a steppingstone to becoming a whistleblower in what PBS NewsHour called the ”largest financial scandal in UN history.”
The discussion concentrates on Michael’s book. Backstabbing for beginners has also been filmed but I’ve only read the book and can warmly recommend it. Especially if you want to learn more about international relations. As the title of the book clearly states, it’s a crash course.
Backstabbing for beginners describes Michael Soussan’s experiences within UN’s Oil-for-food-program and the corruption within that organization. Michael Soussan started at the UN in his early twenties. And maybe there’s something about Michael because the reason he applied for a job at the UN in the first place was because he was tired of working for the private sector and thereby contributing to the destruction of the world. In short he was driven by idealism.
It is also a book about cultures of silence and that which enables them – conformism, consensus-seeking, and conflict-avoidance. Conflict-avoidance is really just a nicer way of saying cowardice because it always seems to come off as passive-aggression. I know because I’ve talked about this these characteristics in relation to Swedish culture my entire career as a stand-up comedian. The flip-side of Swedish culture is that it is also very idealistic. Take it from someone living in the country calling itself a moral superpower.
This was one of the two main reasons for me wanting to talk to Michael. These traits are truly dominant in Swedish culture. For me they are closely connected to egalitarian collectivism of that particularly Swedish brand of social-democracy. But having grown up in Sweden I have known few others. These traits are probably universal and culture and/or ideology might reinforce, or weaken, them.
The other reason for my interest is that consensus in Sweden dictates a doctrine of uncritical adulation for the United Nations. Sweden’s got UN-fever. To question the UN in Sweden is taboo. If swedes today had only known that when the UN was founded – then social democratic prime minister Per Albin Hansson – one of modern Sweden’s founding fathers, was dead set against joining. He wanted instead to see an international organization for social democratic parties. That idea became what is known today as the Socialist International. But Sweden is ruled by PC – or as we call it here “consensus-culture”. Any history that doesn’t fit the current narrative is conveniently swept under the rug and quickly forgotten.
As against the UN as Per Albin Hansson was then as completely for the UN Swedes are today. Our elected leaders shower the UN and its operations with funds. Most of the time more in the hope of securing a future job at the UN for themselves than to improve the world it seems. I won’t mention any names but Margot Wallström is definitely one of the names I’m not mentioning. When all other donors withdrew funds from UNWRA because of corruption within that UN institution she instead increased funding. Now she is retired from being the minister of foreign affairs in Sweden and instead has a cushy job at the UN.
Today, Michael Soussan is a writer living in Los Angeles where this interview was recorded. The conversation, as well as the book, was useful reminders to myself to avoid tribalism and collectivism of any sort. In the end it is up, or comes down, to you. And I hope this conversation serves as a reminder to all that idealism can often render worse results than a little cynicism. With that little nugget it is my pleasure to present Michael Soussan. Enjoy! (TO LISTEN CLICK HERE! OR “WATCH” BELOW)