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September 7, 2003 Opinion

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This week in the world of Diplomacy
1 : the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations
2 : skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility
Wednesday September 3rd seemed quite an odd day to those who observe how the United States conducts its current version of diplomacy. 
This was the day our government began, in earnest, to make public its new effort to write a new United Nations resolution that would authorize the UN to join us in Iraq, by authorizing UN troops and expenditures, in order to ease the burden we now face in the effort to bring civil peace to that country, and better basic services, like water and electricity, and get some sort of local, self-sustaining government up and running there. 
The idea is to "craft a resolution" with the countries who opposed invading that country, overthrowing its government, and occupying its territory as the very best answer to an immediate threat to the United States and its allies. 
Whether there was a "clear and present danger" and whether or not continuing the then ongoing policy of intrusive inspections and containment might have been a better idea, are both now moot points.  The US and UK acted, in defiance of the opinion of the UN and, it seemed at the time, most world opinion, and did the deed. 
The question is what to do now.  The situation is a bit of a most unsatisfactory mess.  More resources are needed to make things better.
Will France and Germany and Russia and China, and others, join in with us now?  Under what conditions?  Will they send troops to serve under a United States commander who will be appointed by the United Nations, but still in charge and still reporting to the US administration?  And what will they demand for their participation?
There is talk in the air that our civilian administrator there, Paul Bremmer, may have to go if we want a little help.  It seems both France and Germany are big on turning the place over to Iraqi control much faster than we'd like.  And Bremmer has cancelled a number of local elections and prefers to slow that "turn over" process a bit - and given the crazies running around, blowing things up, and killing our folks it may be a bit early for that.  He may have a point.  France and Germany suggest it would be better to get local government going anyway, as soon as possible.  A bit of a conflict, of course.
And then there is discussion concerning whether some large reconstruction contracts, now awarded without bidding to Halliburton and Flour and Lucent and WorldCom, should be opened up to bidding by other firms, even non-US firms.  This has political implications for the President Bush in the upcoming election, as these US firms are large contributors to his campaign and to the Republican Party. 
To others this seems like political patronage, making sure your friends get rich and those who gave you crap are cut out.  Opening bidding on, and then awarding the repair and maintenance of the public water and drainage system in Iraq to, the French firm Vivendi - the water-treatment part of the company, not the media part - would certainly anger a lot of the business people in America who are the core of the Republican Party.  (Reminding them Vivendi handles the water and treatment system for the State of New Jersey would only make them even angrier.)
It's a bit of a mess.  Many on the right, notably Pat Buchanan and John McLaughlin, see this return to the UN for assistance as a humiliation and admission of failure.  There is a lot of anger out there.   Many on the left are in the I told you so! mode, which is even less helpful.
And there is a diplomatic problem with the French. 
In the days before the war, and as we announced we and the UK would wage the war pretty much alone - not to insult the Australians, of course - we did pretty much call the French venial cowards and corrupt fools for not joining us.  Officials at all levels of government here, with the tacit approval of the administration, proposed boycotts and such, and two member of congress got French fries renamed "freedom fries" at the House cafeteria.  French wine was poured in the streets and all that.  And a few weeks after Baghdad fell our Secretary of State announced, while in France, that there would be "punishment" for France not joining in - there would be a "price to pay."
And now he is at the UN saying we're flexible and will listen to what the French have to say. 
But if you spit in my face and mock me, call me a coward and a fool, and then threaten me, when you come back and ask for a little help - well, how am I to respond?  As of this weekend France has been remarkably restrained, issuing statements about how it is in no one's interest that things go badly in Iraq, and how things might be worked out with some negotiation on details.
Well, it's not just France.  Mexico was reluctant to join in.  And Vincente Fox paid the price.  All those negotiations with us on border policy and immigration and trade issues?  Cancelled.  And Fox got hammered in his last election cycle. 
But back to the European issue, to diplomacy, and last Wednesday.  This item appeared that day, the same day a the "return to the UN" statements were being issued in Washington.
WASHINGTON (AFP Wed Sep 3, 1:51 AM ET) -
The United States sneered at plans by four European countries to create an autonomous European military command headquarters near Brussels separate from NATO, referring to the idea's proponents as "chocolate makers."
In unusually blunt language that drew surprised gasps from reporters, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher scoffed at Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg for continuing to support the proposal that they first introduced at a mini-summit in April.
He described the April meeting as one between "four countries that got together and had a little bitty summit" and then referred to them collectively as "the chocolate makers."
The derisive phrase appeared to target mainly Belgium, which is known for its high quality chocolate confections, and on Tuesday reiterated its support for the new headquarters.

I'm not sure what to make of this.  My first though was that just as it is hard to get a large oil tanker at full speed to change course - you don't just turn those things on a dime, much less reverse course in a few hundred feet - so it must be with the "ship of state" and its diplomacy.

Boucher here, no doubt suddenly remembering what was just then going on across town regarding the UN, did apologize and explain that he had seen the "chocolate makers" phrase in press reports and said that he should not have repeated it - and that he really didn't mean that little bitty part but only mean to assert NATO was a fine military organization and the new military command might not be necessary.

In essence, Boucher dropped the old diplomacy of the previous eight months and picked up the new diplomacy - not deftly, but he tried.

So what was this old diplomacy?

Win points in the international community with ridicule and scorn?  Mock them and they'll deeply respect our power?  Could that really have been the idea? 

Many parents seem to feel they can shame their children into appropriate behavior by sneering at them and mocking them.  I don't think that works very well but I've certainly seen that quite a bit. 

But while actions (words) like Boucher's may be "bad" diplomacy, they do win votes back here.  When our diplomats pretty much say, "In your face, Euro-weenies!" well, the poll numbers go up back here. 

For the last two years the product we were being sold, and have bought happily, is that, as Americans, we don't take crap from anyone, and we'll do what we want.  And if you don't like that?  Too bad.  Along with that comes the Boucher-like condescending sneer at the silly, insignificant, rather absurd other little countries of the world.

When that approach isn't useful you change it.  Here Boucher just screwed up.  His comments were so last week.
But how do you explain that change to the citizens of this country, who pretty much got used to the "sneer at all the little fools" way of thinking about others, and how do you explain that change to the others, those who were sneered at?

The key administration theorist behind the war, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, has been saying that he's wanted the UN in Iraq from day one.  No one can find where he said that, but he said that's what he always meant.  Perhaps.  Thursday the 5th he said that it's not the US which has changed positions, but the UN.  We've wanted a new UN resolution for months.  It's just that the UN has finally come around to our position.  The bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad "changed the atmosphere in New York."

Now they all want to join us in killing all the evil guys?  Because they got theirs in the Baghdad bombing a week earlier?  I guess the idea is now that the local UN headquarters in Baghdad was bombed and over twenty died, they understand it's time to wage war in Iraq and show no mercy.  Really?

Steven Weisman reported from the UN the next day in the New York Times ...
"The question is whether the world is ready to pick the United States up off the floor and dust them off," said a senior Western envoy involved in discussions on Iraq.  "A lot of people aren't ready yet."
This is not good.

Richard Perle, the chairman of the Defense Advisory Board, has a harder task than Paul Wolfowitz .  I still have a copy of Thank God For The Death Of The UN  - "Its abject failure gave us only anarchy. The world needs order."  - Friday March 21, 2003 The Guardian (UK).  I'm waiting to see how he explains that now.
And we are starting to reverse ourselves on North Korea now too.  But you can look that up yourself, or watch the news. 
The key player there is John Bolton - one of the "new school" of Bush diplomats.  These are the "I don't care who I offend because you're all stupid anyway" school.  Yes, they did have to call John Bolton off after all his announcements that Cuba was independently developing chemical and nuclear weapons to attack the United States and had to be stopped, now.  The problem?  No proof.  The administration didn't think he ought to testify to congress   Too risky.  And the folks at the White House have stopped sending him to the Hill to testify about much of anything, as he tends to say strange things.  The North Koreans would not talk two weeks ago if he were involved.  So we kept him home.
Hey, he's blunt.  No spin.  Folks like that.  It's a Fox News Bill O'Reilly thing.
From the New York Times profile Christopher Marquis did on John Bolton last week (the 2nd) -
On topics from Iran and Iraq to Syria and Cuba, he has shattered diplomatic niceties and stirred anger within the ranks.
He has visited world capitals tirelessly, trying to sew together a global defense against weapons proliferators, to exempt Americans from the newly created International Criminal Court and to persuade Russia to halt its nuclear cooperation with Iran.
To his supporters, Mr. Bolton is a truth teller, a policy innovator who is liberated enough from the department's clubby confines to speak his mind, even at the risk of upsetting diplomatic strategies. He is also said to be a favorite of the president.
"Even the most forthright of us have to have a certain reserve, a certain respect, courtesy and understanding that you're dealing with politics and not theology," said Robert E. White, president of the Center for International Policy and a former ambassador to El Salvador. "The whole point of diplomacy is to gain your ends without giving offense."
But don't worry.  John Bolton is so last week. 
Is traditional diplomacy returning?
1 : the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations
2 : skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility
Probably not, but a bit, as necessary.


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September 7, 2003

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