Flash Points

Lessons Learned and Not Learned in Malawi, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan

By Jade Wu

Subjects: Memoir, United States Foreign Policy, International Relations, Peace, Conflict Resolution
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Hardcover : 9781438465456, 320 pages, July 2017

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Note on Names, Terms, and Statements

Part I. Fresh in Malawi
Flashback One

1. Decisive Call

2. Biggest Fear

3. Settling In or Just Settling?

4. Navigating Intricacies

5. Disturbing Trends

6. Meeting the President

7. No Longer a Guest

8. Politically Correct

9. Working the System

10. Lesson Learned

11. Changed and Unchanged

Part II. Crisis in Kosovo
Flashback Two

12. Manhattan of Humanitarians

13. A New Class

14. No Perfect Solution

15. Dicey Meeting

16. Showdown in a Salon

Part III. Surprise in Iraq
Flashback Three

17. Ultimate Rejection

18. Embarrassing America

19. Behold Iraqi Americans

20. He-whore or Husband?

21. Eye-openers 1–?

22. Fredericks of Baghdad

Part IV. Numbers in Afghanistan
Flashback Four

23. AK-47 as an Accessory

24. Not Here to Question!

25. Who We Were

26. Outnumbered in Kunduz

27. Separate but “Equal”

28. Female Problems, Policy Implications

29. Security Twists

30. Rocking the Boat

31. West Knows East?

32. Not at Any Cost

Part V. Bureaucracy in Washington
Flashback Five

33. A Route Less Taken


A compelling, intimate account of how US foreign assistance in war zones and developing countries does not achieve its intended goals.


Honorable Mention, 2017 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards in the Political Science Category

From the hot savannah of Malawi to the cold, damp gray of Kosovo and into the volatile war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States and other donors have invested enormous financial and human resources in major peacekeeping and development efforts. Why then is the world no closer to being a "better and safer" place? Both a salient critique of US foreign assistance and a thought-provoking memoir, Flash Points describes the issues with personnel, language, and gender dynamics, as well as the cross-cultural challenges that often undermine and betray the best intentions of policy makers comfortably situated in Washington. Revealed in illuminating flashbacks, Jade Wu recalls her experiences in each of these four countries highlighting how, all too often, Americans in the field and the US government were unable to learn the lessons that ought to have been learned when dealing with host countries and their people. The final results were efforts poorly conceived and executed and, ultimately, detrimental to American national interests.

Jade Wu has worked on US foreign assistance projects in Malawi, Kosovo, Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. Her foreign affairs analyses have appeared in a number of publications, including the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Hill, Washington Diplomat, and Foreign Policy Journal. She currently lives and practices law in the Washington, DC area.


"This book is a must-read for those with interest in the fields of international relations, political science, and global history. US policymakers, especially those working in such fields as the Peace Corps, peacekeeping, and international development, will also find this book very important." — H-Net Reviews (H-War)

"…provides a valuable and personally compelling account of experiences within the international development profession … Many of the most insightful aspects of this book come from the author's position as an outsider within the field … Flash Points may well be an essential book for the many people who have wondered what this work is like and what it means to take a chance and board a plane to a foreign place with the goal of doing good." — Arizona Attorney

"Flash Points should be required reading for professionals in foreign assistance programs and could be used in formal training programs for aid workers before heading abroad. It will also interest the general reader. Many will find it a fascinating story of one woman's experiences abroad. By leaving many pages with illuminating quoted dialogue, all readers will be lured on through Jade Wu's adventures, right up to the final 'flashback.'" — Robert W. Maule, Retired US Senior Foreign Service Officer

"While there are a variety of books on the subject, few offer the unique perspective of the author who has been a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa and worked in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, countries where there have been major military, peacekeeping, and development efforts and investments. Wu's perspective is that of an objective, critical observer who has worked in the trenches. Her observations are well-informed, astute, and compel the reader to think carefully about the ways in which this country often wastes enormous resources—including human lives—in efforts that are ill-conceived." — Thomas R. Carter, Retired Senior Advisor, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations