Month: November 2010

Gates crashes

Secretary Gates thinks the impact of the diploleaks on U.S. foreign policy will be modest:

Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think – I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.

…some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.

I am an admirer of the Secretary, but this is old think.  We are less indispensable than once we were, and we are declining in importance relative to others as their economies grow, ours stagnates, and our oil dependency sends hundreds of billions abroad that are much needed at home. Sure others will continue to deal with us, but they will do so with less commitment and enthusiasm if they feel we are unreliable–and in diplomacy keeping private conversations private is an important dimension of reliability.

Michelle Kelemen got it right on NPR yesterday.

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Pressure and engagement go together in dealing with Tehran

I’ve been hesitating to comment on what the diploleaks tell us about Iran, or more accurately about U.S. efforts to block Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons.

But Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett have provoked me into it. They essentially want engagement without pressure.  This is the flip side of the neoconservative approach, which is pressure without engagement.  Both are wrong.

We can argue about the right proportions, but Matt Duss is correct in concluding that the leaked cables tell us there really is a concerted diplomatic effort underway, one that depends both on pressure and ultimately on willingness to engage. The question is whether targeted assassinations are part of the pressure, or an independent, parallel effort by Israel.  Hard to believe there is not a wink and a nod from Washington.  Certainly Arab leaders are unlikely to protest much, given what they had to say about Iran and nuclear weapons in the leaked cables.

The engagement part will have its next moment Monday in Geneva, when and where the P5 plus Germany, led by the EU’s Catherine Ashton, will meet with Iran. It seems unlikely in the current atmosphere, but I can’t help but wonder if Lady Ashton will be empowered to open up the possibility that Iran might get acknowledgment of its “right” to enrichment while agreeing to limit its quantity and extent.

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A bird? A plane? No, it’s the QDDR!

More powerful than a locomotive…it’s this year’s longest awaited government report:  the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

Human and energy security get elevated.  USAID (and within it the Office of Transition Initiatives) gains.  Conflict prevention and response get more focus and a dedicated bureau within State (which might in future absorb OTI?)  Ambassadors get more authority and responsibility.  Planning gets a push.

AID and State both get promises of more staff (but what about those budget constraints?).  Innovation, partnerships, outcomes, government officials,and regionalization are all in, contractors and outputs are out.

Bottom line:  it’s prettier and easier to read than most government reports, but it is going to be a while before we understand what is really important, if anything, and what isn’t.

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Diploleak devalues Serbian foreign minister

It won’t surprise anyone in the Balkans that Vuk Jeremic is “no longer the modern face of Serbia,” though I confess to some surprise that the evaluation comes from a French diplomat, albeit the best of them.

Vuk has spent years now painting Serbia into a corner on Kosovo:  he knows Serbia can’t get it back, but he continues to insist.  He has been partly successful in blocking diplomatic recognition of the new state, especially among Islamic countries, but what good does that do for Serbs?  Inat is not part of the acquis communitaire (loose translation:  spite is not an EU attribute).

Compliments to Jean-David Levitte for saying it like it is, and regrets that he won’t in the future be sharing any more bons mots with the Americans.

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The diploleaks are going to hurt

I’ve only had zippy peaks at wikileaks, via the New York Times, but that’s enough to know that this is going to hurt.  The problem is not only what’s in the cables, which will blow the cover even on many redacted sources, but more what will not get reported because sources won’t trust American officials, and the officials won’t trust the system.

I spent 21 years as an American diplomat, talking with people who were trying to acquire the technology they needed to build nuclear weapons, to transfer missile technology to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and to buy electronics that were prohibited for export.  Maybe they weren’t so smart to be talking with me at all, but they certainly would not have done it if they thought I could not be discreet.

Like it or not, diplomacy as practiced today depends on confidentiality.  If you want to be good at it, you’ve got to be able to assure people that what they say will go back to your capital, and nowhere else.  The news coverage will of course focus on juicy tidbits in the cables wikileaks puts out, but the greater harm lies in the future:  the information diplomats fail to obtain because no one trusts them.

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The week the world slowed down

Or was it just me?  After a week of over-indulging, and 10 hours of driving yesterday, I needed an update.  So here is the exercise, intended to get us back into form for the race to December 25:

  • Sudan:  registration for the January 9 referendum on South Sudan independence extended to December 8; still no agreement(s) on Abyei.
  • Iraq:  on November 25 (while we were stuffing down turkey) President Talabani formally asked Nouri al Maliki to form a government–he’s got 30 days.
  • Afghanistan:  warrants issued to arrest election officials who disqualified candidates President Karzai wanted to see elected in the September 18 poll.
  • Palestine/Israel: still hung up on the settlement freeze, so far as I can tell.  Someone correct me if I am wrong!
  • Koreas:  the U.S. and South Korea went ahead with naval exercises, China is calling for six-party talks and North Korea continues to sound belligerent.
  • Iran:  sounding more defensive than belligerent, but offering the Lebanese Army (and Hizbollah) assistance and still thinking about executing a woman for adultery.
  • Lebanon: bracing for the Special Tribunal verdict (still), with PM Hariri reaching out to Tehran to cushion the impact.
  • Egypt:  voting today, after crackdowns and a severe tilt of the playing field towards President Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
  • Balkans:  Kosovo getting ready to vote for parliament December 12.

I won’t say it was the week the earth stood still, but I don’t feel I missed a whole lot.  One more thing to be thankful for.  Enlighten me if you disagree!

P.S.  In case you were wondering about Burma:  Aung San Suu Kyi is still moving cautiously.

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