Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Complications for U.S. Foreign Policy?

Because of WikiLeaks’ distribution of diplomatic cables, new light is being shed on actual relationships between the U.S. and other countries. Because I am not allowed to read the cables due to clearance issues, I cannot state with authority on the contents, I can only repeat what the news organizations disclose. Reactions by other countries to the contents of the cables are interesting. Some are politely denying, a few are looking the other way, others are blustery about the contents, Iran is even claiming that the leaks are a U.S. propaganda move!

"The fact is governments deal with the United States because it's in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us and not because they think we can keep secrets," Gates said Monday. I think this most accurately sums up the way nations deal with each other, traditionally and currently.

Keeping secrets is important, though. Alliances, outmaneuvering, indiscretions, even keeping sources are dependent on keeping confidences close. Mercy is doled out by individuals, even if governments are at odds, because people make the difference. Saving face/restoring dignity is at stake and so are relationships between states. Just because a diplomat said something derogatory about another shouldn’t be taken as an official stance. Diplomats around the world know that relationships are a delicate dance and I think that each individual country’s reaction is a reflection of the face saving measures needed for the local population. This may complicate foreign relations on the surface, the bargaining reported by the media and seen by the public. It remains to be seen, however, if the release of further cables will irreparably damage relationships with countries with which we have friendly dealings.

The whole situation reminds me of an elementary playground where several different age groups are playing. To the teachers, they are all kids, but to each other, there are castes - the cool kids, the not so well dressed, the bullies, the athletes, the stinky kids. It is on the playground where negotiating behavior and compromise is learned from non-family members – those who don’t love or necessarily like you. Feelings are hurt daily, teams are chosen and some are left standing in humiliation, friendships and alliances are made and broken, sometimes within the span of hours. At the end of the day, it really proves that tomorrow is another day, and there’s a chance to reinvent oneself, or to maneuver or gain an ability to prove that one is better in order to be chosen.

We’ve learned all Fall from Dr. Stempel about the ways diplomacy works and when it fails, why. This debacle just might be a catalyst for reinventing the way we, in the international community, go about this business of diplomacy post-Cold War.

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