Wednesday, May 10, 2006

That famous European diplomacy

Jonathan Clarke is a former British diplomat, not a position to be terribly proud of these days, and a scholar at the Cato Institute in Washington DC. I have a reasonably high opinion of Cato, which does a lot of extremely interesting work but I do think they should be a little more careful of whom they appoint as scholars.

Clarke is, in fact, a Research Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies and, as befits a former British diplomat, with an impressively if somewhat improbably wide area of expertise: his speaking topics are Africa, Balkans, East Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Foreign Policy and General Strategy and US Foreign Policy. The first five of those are, presumably, places where he has been stationed at various times in his career, thus becoming an expert.

Anyway, he writes syndicated columns and books on various problems to do with American foreign policy (one wonders whether he was responsible for any of the supreme achievements of British foreign policy, like farming it out to the European Union).

Today’s Financial Times carries an article by him [subscription only], entitled “Europe undersells diplomatic expertise to US”.

Well, to start with, what is this Europe that has a diplomatic expertise? A couple of days ago I had a meeting with one of Mr Clarke’s colleagues from Cato as he was passing through London. I spent a little time explaining to him that I did not mind people in Washington not being interested in European affairs (who could be?) but I did mind them getting it so horribly wrong. For instance, why do they keep talking about European this or European that when they mean either the EU or, more likely, individual European countries?

My acquaintance agreed with me but pointed out that there are not many people in the Washington think-tanks who really know about European politics. Presumably, that is why they hire people like Jonathan Clarke, a former British diplomat. What precisely is he going to be able to tell them?

If today’s article is anything to go by, what he tells them is that diplomacy is rightly the preserve of Europeans (well, some Europeans, one assumes) and the latter should be bolder in advising the American government or diplomats or just about anybody as to how to deal properly with all those difficult foreigners.

His first two paragraphs really sum it all up and if our readers could just refrain from sniggering, here those paragraphs are:
“In spite of the rewards of more lucrative careers in business, the foreign services of Europe continue to attract the cream of each generation’s youth. With this sure supply of talent at her disposal, Margaret Beckett, the new British foreign secretary, might ask herself why European diplomacy seems to lurch from crisis to unresolved crisis. This is nowhere more marked than in relations with the US, where European policy swings between docile subservience and opportunistic pouting from the sidelines, forever falling short of the happy mean of assured self-confidence.

Docility and name-calling are soft options that fail to bring to bear Europe’s vast experience of the most pressing security problems: religiously fuelled separatism and terrorism, insurgency, post-conflict civil society building and regional integration. Just think how the looming catastrophe in Iraq might have been mitigated had these skills, which the Europeans possess in abundance, been available to the US.”
Setting aside the obvious question as to which particular European diplomatic corps Mr Clarke may be referring to, one wonders why somebody who has seen fit to go and be a scholar at the ultra-libertarian, anti-statist Cato Institute should think it to be a matter of rejoicing that top graduates prefer to be a burden on the taxpayer in order to promote inane policies to going into the wealth-creating sector.

Well, OK, clearly a former diplomat would think that. But really, European skills would have prevented whatever he deems to be the present catastrophe in Iraq? Who, in his opinion, helped to create that catastrophe in the first place?

It was British diplomacy at its finest that set up the modern Iraqi state and then gave power to the Sunnis. It was further British diplomacy that recognized the Ba’athist regime long before it was absolutely necessary.

It was French diplomacy at its finest that gave the Iraqis the chance to build nuclear reactors (not for nothing was Osirac referred to as Ochirac) and German diplomacy at its finest that supplied Saddam with various other state-of-the-art weaponry. Not that the Americans are in the clear either, but let us not forget who Saddam’s closest supporters have been in the West.

I need not even mention the money that flowed into the various diplomatic chancelleries from Iraq under the food-for-oil scam. A couple of the Quai d’Orsay’s finest are being investigated even as we speak and many more should be.

And, of course, there was the marvellous display of European diplomacy in dragging the whole saga through the UN (Britain), thus giving Saddam the chance to hide whatever he wanted to hide and undermining all attempts (France and Russia) to solve the problem peacefully.

Never mind, it was all a wasted opportunity, as far as Mr Clarke can see it. (His knowledge of the Balkans no doubt tells him about the wondrous way European diplomacy encouraged Slobodan Milosevic and his thugs to wage a ten-year-long war, in the process bankrupting his own Serbia as well as destroying large areas and thousands of people in the other former Yugoslav states.)

It seems, however, that Europeans should really tell the Americans what should be done about Iran.
“So, let the Europeans strip away the US illusions over Iran. The US has not had an embassy there for 25 years. The upper levels of the State department are devoid of Farsi speakers. Much of the information available to the US comes from technical surveillance or shadowy exile sources, including the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, officially a terrorist group. By contrast, the Europeans have official relations with Iran and embassies in Tehran. On-the-ground knowledge abounds. A recent German ambassador in Washington spoke Farsi. The Europeans should be interpreting the recent Iranian letter to the Americans, not the other way around.

This information “edge” should allow the Europeans to demand something in return from the US supporting their negotiations with Iran. This could include a guarantee from the US that should Iran abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions, the US would move quickly to normalise relations. The Europeans seem not to have sought anything of this sort, so it is not surprising that their negotiations failed.”
No doubt, it was that information edge that allowed the EU3, Germany, France and the UK to be diddled by the Iranian mullahs. Anyone who does not live in a parallel universe knows that those incredibly subtle negotiations that the 3 carried on and on for years on end actually gave the Iranians time to build up their nuclear facilities. As diplomacy goes I have heard of more successful efforts.

Besides, the famous letter was not addressed to any European politician but to President Bush. I expect he can find the odd farsi speaker who will translate and interpret it for him.

Then there is Hamas. Mr Clarke is quite clear - and I think we should all be in the light of the recent news that even the US has relented and will give money to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority but only if it is well spent- that European pressure should be directed to that end.
“On Hamas, for example, if it turns out that some form of re-established EU funding is the factor that prevents the Palestinian territories from collapsing into a terrorist-ridden failed state and allows Hamas to mature, the Europeans should expect a substantial reciprocal policy move from Washington.”
At present the funding is likely to be resumed, Hamas is showing no signs of maturing but will, undoubtedly view the weakening as a justification for continuing with their policy of trying to destroy Israel and Gaza has already turned into a permanent anarchy and civil war. The Palestinian territories are well on their way to becoming a failed state because of the organizations the Europeans support in their diplomacy.

All this is a great success story for Europe’s finest brains. Perhaps, it is best they do not go into the private sector.


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