November 21, 2016: The Foreign Service Explains the Day

One of the best aspects of this fellowship is the access it grants to the US embassy in each country that we visit.  Outside of a tragic terrorist attack in Libya, most Americans probably haven’t given much thought to the fine, knowledgable folks who represent US interests in hundreds of countries around the world.

Since the embassy in Abu Dhabi is one of the most prominent and direct symbols of the United States, it is a very visible target for anyone who might harbor actionable ill will against the US.  Just like in Bahrain, as in most countries in the world, the US Embassy to the United Arab Emirates sits in the heart of a heavily fortified compound.  Several security checkpoints separate would-be guests from the heart of the embassy – and even after we clear all of these formidable measures, we are still granted bright red badges that warn anyone who sees us that we require constant escort.  Even to the bathroom.

But all of this hubbub is totally worth it.

We receive a thorough, frank briefing on the UAE that confirms much of what I have seen so far while in country.  Our attaché makes a compelling case:

Often, raw material leads to a boom of fleeting wealth, but the UAE is working hard to make sure that their fortunes are not tied to the price and supply of petroleum.  The Emirates continue to diversity their economy according to the four Ts – Transportation, Talent, Tourism, and Technology.

Check what I’ve seen or read about, funded in large part by the thoughtful investment, both past and present, of vast quantities of petro-dollars:

This tower is Masdar City, Abu Dhabi draws cool breze downward through gravity and natral thermal processes into public spaces in the city below, providing energy efficient relief from the intense Arabian heat.

Transportation: The UAE is within about eight hours flight of 2/3 of the world’s population and have positioned themselves accordingly as a global air hub with two national airlines, airports that are set to serve 330 million passengers a year, and the largest port in the Persian Gulf.

Talent: Major American universities have set up satellite campuses in the UAE – students can earn degrees without ever leaving the Emirates.  One of the main purposes of my visit here is to tour the grade schools of this country, and I can tell you they wouldn’t be out of place in the US as things stand – and the government is committed to making them even better.

Tourism: That’s the whole best, biggest, most thing here…  The Burj Khalifa, world’s tallest building.  The Dubai Mall, the world’s largest mall.  Not to mention theme parks, museums, world expos, and more…  The UAE wants to be a destination.  I come from Florida, and I know the potential here – Florida’s tourism base is so strong that no one in the state pays an income tax.  Imagine Disney World on a national scale and you get a sense what the UAE is shooting for.

Technology: Yesterday, I visited Masdar City, an experimental project testing renewable and sustainable concepts on a city-size scale.  It’s walkable, supplemented with driverless electric cars, largely solar-powered, and incorporates the latest energy-efficient design concepts into its buildings which house offices and apartments for students who agree to have their energy habits monitored for the benefit of science.  Here is one of the largest petroleum powers of the 20th century using the proceeds to invest in sustainable energy – something the US, the largest petroleum consumer of the 20th century, still finds controversial…  Heck, the UAE is even planning to launch a Mars probe within the next five years – this is a country aiming for the cutting edge the way they do everything else – in the most dramatic way possible.

If Europe is the past, full of culture and history, and the US is present, a global economic and military dynamo, the UAE, a 45 year-old nation with ambition and the resources to back it up, is positioning itself as the future.

Keep up if you can.

Solar panels and reflective facades help make these prottype Masdar buildings more sustainable.