Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why So Surprised?

I don't know how anyone can be surprised by the content of recently released cables between U.S. diplomats and the State Department. Yes, the contents are embarrassing but not unexpected. Trust me, I'm not trying to make excuses for Wikileak's behavior. They have done serious damage to international relations in a way that deserves, at least, a slap across their collective, smirking faces. Diplomacy is not just about friendly handshakes and smiles over glasses of wine. It is hard work best performed by experienced, intelligent professionals. Admittedly, political appointees often leave much to be desired, but that's another story. Personalities play a huge role in how countries relate to each other. We all know there are some "interesting" world leaders who make a mockery of traditional diplomacy and international relations. If their quirks aren't recognized and dealt with appropriately, relationships can be stalled or shattered. Misunderstandings can become dangerous in an instant -- North Korea is a case in point. Relations with any other country must be tailored to the customs, historical context and many other factors unique to that nation and people. U.S. diplomats must immerse themselves in these local idiosyncrasies just as foreign diplomats assigned to the U.S. must do. There is always common ground somewhere in the mix and finding it and using it to advantage takes talent and honesty. As skilled and experienced as they may be, our diplomats are not just dropped into other countries to schmooze at gallery openings. They need to read the political and economic climate and the mood of the people so that they can advise the Secretary of State and Congress on useful alliances and/or needs for support and aid. My take on this is a huge simplification -- I'm just an observer, not a diplomat. Nevertheless, common sense would indicate the need for honest evaluations of world leaders on all sides. As Secretary Clinton confirmed, there are equally uncomplimentary comments made about our own leadership and floating around in cyberspace. Our mistake was not securing our communications from those who want to harm us. That's the true shame in all of this.

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