The Mythology of the Missing Apology and Diplomatic Matters

There’s no need to re-invent the wheel, and even less reason to re-write the well written.  J. Patrick Coolican’s masterful takedown of the Obama Apology Mythology in the Las Vegas (NV) Sun is a must read.  Less informative, but more sophomorically  amusing is the third comment down the page from a Tea Party “thinker” who has nothing on offer but ad hominem attacks on the Obama Administration and the President personally.   There are several other articles worth citing which offer cogent explications of various parts of the foreign policy story.

Before anyone starts rambling about why the American embassies and consulates aren’t better protected,  some attention should be paid to the reasons for that, one of which is:

‘Secretaries of State have had to beg for crumbs from Congress, which sees diplomacy as an easy thing to cut back — who lobbies for more money for diplomats? Military contractors have all the money. In addition, no president is criticized for gutting State, while taking even a nail file to Defense’s obese budget elicits slurs from the opposing party.”  [Salon]

There’s some additional commentary on the subject of the Libyan Gaffe   worth reading at The Nation, regarding the political ramifications of Governor Romney’s ill-timed remarks, and a perceptive piece from George Zornick about the intertwined relationship between Governor Romney’s foreign policy pronouncements and the right wing blogs.   Frank Rich explains how Governor Romney got out ahead of the facts.

The wretched hack piece of a film which launched the protests in the Middle East and northern Africa is very difficult to explain to citizens of nations wherein the media is controlled by government agencies.  It is equally hard to explain why “free speech” which denigrates and demeans another religion isn’t officially banned here to citizens of nations in which church/mosque/etc. and state are not separated.  Jack Balkin offers a summary of the legal reasons the wretched hack piece of a film is protected constitutionally.

Secretary of State Clinton reiterated this point in her remarks to U.S. – Morocco Strategic Dialogue:

“I also want to take a moment to address the video circulating on the internet that has led to these protests in a number of countries. Let me state very clearly – and I hope it is obvious – that the United States Government had absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. And as you know, we are home to people of all religions, many of whom came to this country seeking the right to exercise their own religion, including, of course, millions of Muslims. And we have the greatest respect for people of faith.”

If you agree that the attack on the consulate in Libya looked very different from the usual rock and bottle throwing flag burners in other hot spots, then the information in Hisham Matar’s contribution to the New Yorker will be instructive. Here’s a taste:

“It is thought to be the work of the same Salafi, ultra-religious groups who have perpetrated similar assaults in Benghazi. They are religious, authoritarian groups who justify their actions through very selective, corrupt, and ultimately self-serving interpretations of Islam. Under Qaddafi, they kept quiet. In the early days of the revolution some of them claimed that fighting Qaddafi was un-Islamic and conveniently issued a fatwa demanding full obedience to the ruler. This is Libya’s extreme right. And, while much is still uncertain, Tuesday’s attack appears to have been their attempt to escalate a strategy they have employed ever since the Libyan revolution overthrew Colonel Qaddafi’s dictatorship. They see in these days, in which the new Libya and its young institutions are still fragile, an opportunity to grab power. They want to exploit the impatient resentments of young people in particular in order to disrupt progress and the development of democratic institutions.”

Some attention should also be paid to the delicate work that is the essence of diplomacy.   The object of the game is to keep sovereign nations talking constructively with one another so as to promote their mutual interests, and — here’s the sticky part — address, so far as is practicable, their own agendas.

The Yosemite Sam version of diplomacy in which trade and security interests are promoted at gun point with all the sensitivity of a saltwater crocodile  isn’t often very helpful increasing bi-lateral trade and commerce. Characterizing diplomacy as “soft” (as opposed to rushing in guns blazing “hard”) is counterproductive to our own economic interests.  Likewise, when it does come to the classic definition of war — a failure of diplomacy — it’s always better to have friends, especially friends who are willing to foot part of the bills.   There’s one more step in this waltz.

President Obama was, for example, very cautious in his classification of Egypt — a nation not necessarily a friend, but not an enemy.  In a less complex world, or perhaps in one in which there are only two countries, the “friends and enemies” categorizations are possible.  Reality is another matter entirely.   There are friends, enemies, and nations which are both given a particular set of circumstances at a given point in time.  Think: Great Britain and the Falklands/Islas Malvinas (Argentina).    Think: China imports about $82 billion worth of U.S. goods annually.  Some further thought leads inevitably to the conclusion that some friendships are stronger than others, and some enemies can, at times, be very helpful. Think: Pakistan.


Therefore, diplomacy in the advancement of American interests requires patience, all too often not our best suit — we like our beer cold, our soup hot, and our aspirin to work within 15 minutes.  The patience involved is not only a matter of concern for Secretary Clinton engaging with the Moroccans at the moment, but also our patience with other countries, especially those which are experiencing internal instability.

Why, we wonder, can’t the citizens of Whateveria get their act together and form a government?  What’s so hard about having an election?  We’ve been having elections forever about everything; six year old first grade students hold up their hands to select either a Story Hour or Puzzle Time for Rainy Day Recess.  That’s the point.

We start practicing “elections,” and other rudimentary forms of democracy with children who are barely housebroken.  The losers in the Story Hour/Puzzle Time vote learn to “go along with the majority.”  Imagine the middle aged man voting in the first election of a lifetime in which the outcome was not already a forgone conclusion.  Imagine a nation in which people are trying to figure out what it means to form a “loyal opposition.”

We also tend to forget the patient long term efforts of diplomats and agencies which carefully tended organizations, in eastern Europe for example, which gradually consolidated sufficient political power to finally and  literally make The Wall fall down.

We imperil our own interests if we don’t recognize that most of the nations with whom we share this planet don’t fall neatly into Cold War Era categorizations of Friends or Enemies.  As tidy and convenient as those labels may be, the simplification is both seductive and counter-productive.  The paradigm is outdated. The classifications are too simplistic.  American interests are always better served when we put away our cartoon character persona’s, re-color our maps in something other than black and white, and approach discussions of foreign policy with the understanding that the ties binding us to each other on this planet are incredibly tangled.

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One response to “The Mythology of the Missing Apology and Diplomatic Matters

  1. We (rightly) thank our troops for their contribution and sacrifice. We should be more explicit that that covers the brave men and women who represent the US overseas, often in hostile territory, with virtually no physical security available to them.