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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Serious Syrians

The Syrian Embassy spokesman is at pains to argue that “Syria’s policies most reflect the aspirations and demands of the Arab street.” This naturally leads to “President Assad ranking the highest among Arab heads-of-state, year in, year out.”

Syria’s own streets, where the polling he cites would not be permitted, are of course excluded. For a rare peek into what Syrians are thinking, you’ll need to consult an illicit poll that came out four months ago. It unsurprisingly shows most Syrians unhappy with deteriorating political and economic conditions, lacking confidence in the government’s ability to confront the problems, and concerned about corruption.  I spent a month in Damascus studying Arabic in 2008–it doesn’t take longer than that to confirm these findings.

Maybe a serious Syrian leader would do his homework first.

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Civilians are still the short pole in the tent

While Secretary of State Clinton touts her efforts to strengthen the civilian side of U.S. foreign policy, an experienced voice speaking out from the Baquba Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq still sees problems with recruitment, training and leadership. No need to choose between the two: both are on the right track, but civilians are still the short pole in the tent when it comes to expeditionary state-building.

Where is that long promised Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review? Will it be another four years?

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Take off the training wheels!

The Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), one of Kabul’s leading thinktanks, thinks Afghanistan has problems implementing high-level policy prescriptions:

While donor influence on the making of policy has generally been high, formal policies have proven to be very limited in the shaping subsequent action, and are often quickly discarded or replaced. Thus, much policymaking at the national level is best understood as a means of representation and of negotiating donor-government relationships.

AREU had already expressed doubts about the latest reconciliation efforts.

None of this surprises, but it is an important reminder: national plans are nice, but donors need to leave the Afghans to make more of their own decisions. No one ever learned to ride a bike with the training wheels still on!

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