PIG BLADDER DIPLOMACY?
"Yuk Yuk! What makes you think it was us who sprayed
the seltzer water on the French ambassador?"
Bush diplomacy: Straight
from the Three Stooges
By CHUCK McFADDEN
I don't know about you, but I detect a large amount of contempt in the Bush Administration toward the rest of the world.
When pressed, Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, and Dick Cheney, the vice president, have not troubled to hide the fact that as far as they are concerned, much of Europe, South America and Asia are pretty useless. Rumsfeld, for instance, has famously dismissed France and Germany as "Old Europe," implying that they were irrelevant to the goals of the United States.
Rumsfeld does not draw his paycheck as a diplomat. But such an out-loud statement is not the kind of thing prominent members of an American administration have heretofore made about European allies. It was extraordinary.
Cheney hasn't made any publicly incendiary comments about the rest of the world lately, but if you watch him carefully during his guarded public appearances, he's patronizing when he discusses other nations. It's plain that he doesn't think much of their national virility. With Cheney, it's all patient explanation of Cheney reality to a group of dim bulbs.
The contempt is the principal reason why we have 90 percent of the world's people mad at us, some of them wildly, irrationally mad.
I think the contempt stems from the fact that so many members of the Bush Administration are businessmen. In this country, you see, we have a theology. It is this: Business people are hard-headed, smart, tough and realistic. They cut through the nonsense and get to the heart of the matter. They are the people who produce goods and services and wealth. The Others, the non-business people, are consumers of wealth. So they deserve a certain amount of contempt for the parasites they are.
In this American theology, the world revolves around numbers. Goods. Tote 'em up and make the numbers come out right. Produce. That's what makes the world go 'round. Cut to the chase. Anything else, that's just woolly headed, airy-fairy effeminacy.
But cutting through the nonsense and getting to the heart of the matter are not how diplomacy is usually conducted, no matter how much our can-do types might wish it so. Even if you don't think much of a country's tank divisions, you treat them with deference and respect. Yes, even if you're a superpower.
Europeans and others around the world don't share the American theology. And the people in charge here have been too arrogant, too domineering, too self-absorbed and too heedless to take that difference into account and make course corrections in dealing with our friends and allies. We make it plain we intend to do what we want to do, never mind a decent respect for the opinion of mankind. We have the dollar bills and the tanks. Next to our F-18s, nothing else counts for much.
As a result, American foreign policy during the past two years has been astoundingly arrogant and inept. We've gone from a worldwide object of sympathy on Sept. 11, 2001 to an international bully today. It's diplomacy by the Three Stooges.
Contrast that with what has gone before. In the years following World War II, when American diplomacy was at its height of effectiveness, it was conducted by urbane people who knew their way around the world. Think George Kennan. George Marshall. Averill Harriman. Chip Bohlen. John J. McCloy. Dean Acheson. They were mostly products of the northeast and prep schools. Some were products of wealthy families, like Harriman, but others, like McCloy, came from humble origins. They thought about international affairs, traveled widely, wrote books and articles. They listened. They considered. They pondered. They made some transcendently important mistakes. But they were right, most of the time. They even knew the geography of countries that didn't produce oil.
The only two inner-circle members of the Bush Administration that even begin to approach them are Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. Dick Cheney is a former Wyoming congressman who made millions in the oil-drilling equipment business. Donald Rumsfeld is a former CEO. The president is an ex-oil man who owned a professional baseball club in Texas.
Diplomacy? Oh yes. Well, change French fries to Freedom fries.
The ironic part of all this is that American business people, as a class, are extraordinary able. Everything depends on the individual, but hypothetically, if an American business person were to decide to be a diplomat, and was serious about it, he or she in all likelihood would become very good at it, eventually. It's all a matter of knuckling down, overcoming your own ignorance and aiming toward a goal. What do you need to learn? Okay, we'll learn it. What do you need to un-learn? Okay, we'll un-learn it. How do you need to act to be most effective? Okay, we'll learn that. History? Bring it on. They would do what needed to be done to be successful. American business people are the best in the world at that.
They would just have to take it seriously, that's all. But Colin Powell notwithstanding, none of the business people in command in the Bush Administration seem to think the practice of diplomacy is something serious people engage in. Their attitude seems to be: "We're No. 1. We don't need no stinking diplomacy."
That's not the attitude that is going to foster the kind of postwar world we want to live in.
©2003 by Charles M. McFadden. The McFadden caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The photo is from "The Three Stooges in Orbit," ©1962 by Columbia Pictures.
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