16 Comments

Aha! I confess to once having believed the US/NATO had a plan, long in the making, to destroy Russia. Oh well. Live and learn.

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'most of the intelligence that the US has on Arab states and Iran comes from Israel, and most of the intelligence on North Korea comes from the South,' and most of the intelligence on China comes from Taiwan. Literally.

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Excellent summary.

I was previously involved with the US State Department. The selection process for foreign service officers (FSOs) has led to a foreign service with a substantial number of people whose language expertise is based on family history. The result is an "internationalization" of the perspective of the FSO population and a certain lack of sympathy for US public opinion originating in less foreign-facing parts of the US population.

The rise in the number of "dual career" couples has led to a significant reduction in the pool of applicants because the career requires constants overseas re-deployments, a problem for which there is no solution. The understandable “fortification” of embassies and residences has also reduced the desirability of the job.

In many large US embassies, the State Department is little more than a landlord for employees of DOD, FBI, NSA, and the Departments of Commerce, Labor and Justice, organizations whose numbers and influence far exceed that of the State Department. Policy is largely made outside State. Smaller nations with fewer interest do not face quite the same problem.

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Very to the point, the article. Your writings are one up from public fodder. Many thanks.

The reason why i am not a subscriber, is that i am extremely poor in cash. Inflation reduced my grasp to half of what it was even a year ago.

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Jun 28, 2023·edited Jun 28, 2023

"One is that a foreign ministry is only one player in the totality of government relations between states."

You should examine in more detail how this process works in the United States, where domestic political considerations and constituencies often drive insane foreign policies.

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Thank you for the article. I was "aware" of the difficulties that can / do exist in foreign negotiations but I thoroughly enjoyed, and was enlightened by, this summary of the realities on the ground. The description of the difficulties surround diplomacy with the major power in an unstable part of the world, that you described, was masterful.

I note that comments made by certain Western leaders about signing an agreement at Minsk in order to play for time to rearm Ukraine, seem to have markedly diminished the power of agreement. Russia can now throw that duplicity in the face of attempts for a peaceful solution to the Ukraine question.

What I see today is a conflict where there appear to be no peacemakers, only war makers. Indeed as soon as a peacemaker raises their head above the western parapets, they are accuser of being a Russian shill and apologist! Oh where are the diplomats of yesteryears?

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Then there are the inbred cognitive biases that can span centuries. Especially in old nation states.

I remember a senior Dutch diplomat saying that dealing with French in international politics was historically difficult - and that therefor dealing with the French today is difficult.

Of course you get nowhere with that attitude.

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A lot of question-begging here.

“You are dealing with a country which is a major power in a particular unstable region, and so you try to encourage them to use this power positively.”

Positively how - positive for you? Positive for them? Positive for the region? But why, in a community of self-interested states, would ‘you’ advocate for anything but a positive for ‘you’?

“You know you are supporting a government which is corrupt, but you judge that any other foreseeable government would be as bad if not worse.”

Again, ‘worse’ for who exactly?

The rest of the paragraph seems to assume that this purported country is much worse in many ways (corruption, undemocratic, crime-ridden, etc.) than the country ‘you’ are representing. But if, for example you label country 1 as Iran, and country 2 as the US, they seem equally culpable of being corrupt, undemocratic, have a thriving drugs trade, and crime-ridden etc.

Your adopted viewpoint reeks of a stereotypical western superiority complex where ‘your’ purported country is sane, rational and etc. while the other country is a hotbed of evil which you have to stoop to cope with - as you describe it.

Perhaps you were involved in diplomacy for too long and have become imbued with cosy establishment attitudes. You portray a world where everyone is cool, logical un-self-interested and rational. But we don’t live in such a world - we live in one where idoelogues like Victoria Nuland (with the help of similar others, and profit-motivated arms firms) can foment a coup followed by a war merely because of her own personal history and inherited hatreds. Contrast and compare with yours in this article, the attitudes and more especially, actions, of Craig Murray, who lost his job by protesting about UK complicity with the barbarian actions of the X government.

Really, I feel that you should take a good, hard look at your basic assumptions and attitudes, before writing any more of these articles, which are in no way radical but just an more detailed extrapolation of the same old sort of stuff we can get from the Guardian and the BBC any time.

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Very very good! Very informative, along lines I had wondered about.

A fact-nit: I think Angleton was dead before the Berlin Wall fell. Maybe "building the Berlin Wall" is what should be in the list instead?

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Well, thank you for tearing back the veil, to reveal the depressing muddle that is the professional and elected priesthood wanting us to believe it is competent government. In some ways, it is good for those with the power to have no Grand Plan, or at least one that is not too obvious: if you stake your power and fortune to it and can't make it happen, then you might fight to the death to make it happen (other people's deaths, of course). In the 1920s and 30s people couldn't really believe that Hitler's Grand Plan as stated in Mein Kampf and in his statements really was one, but it was. Success led to Holocaust, and failure to Apocalypse. A very singular case and very dependent upon one man but still, a salutary lesson.

It is perhaps a little disingenuous to elegantly explain why Grand Plans do not exist and not to explore the perception of those on the receiving end of what they consider to be a Grand Plan. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Especially if that duck is placing missiles on your border or invading your country. When the USSR / Russia could and can perceive a consistent composite attitude and actions towards them from the USA from 1945 onwards, it would be crazy of them, perhaps suicidal, to indulge any sympathetic thoughts that decades of aggression is not part of a Grand Plan but might just be the product of muddle and the feelings of ephemeral actors in the USA. "Yet human beings are pattern-making animals, and if we have to choose, we prefer the idea of conspiracy to the idea of chaos." Are you going to bet the life of your country on taking a benevolent understanding of those missiles on your border being there just because of chaos? When you see it consistent with decades of attitude? The hell you are! "Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action." That pattern-making could save your life.

Grand Plans surely do exist, whether the players want them to or not. Embassy staff might accurately report back that the Soviet Union after 1945 has an overwhelming priority of reconstruction, not export of world communism, or that N Vietnam is fighting an anti-colonialist war and not for Marxist-Leninist conquest and a communist SE Asia, but what good is that if those in power back home can not or will not accept that reality? Then there is a Grand Plan, at least in the heads of those back home, and the evidence of its reality is counted in bodies. You can not argue people out of a religious belief.

On the positive side, I would think that China's BRI and Russia and China's growing network of economic co-operation bodies and of energy and trade corridors across Asia are the grandest of Grand Plans. Planned, certainly, but also with a recognised organic growth, according to circumstances. Godfree is the man to comment on China and the long view.

Aurelien's analyses are, it seems, rooted in his experience of being and observing the poor bloody professional slogging on, trying to do his job in difficult or impossible circumstances. That day-to-day micro-picture gives an invaluable insight for us, the great unwashed, but sometimes there really is a bigger game afoot.

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There is one thing about the history of US Dept of State that is telling: it used to be the dept that handled most of the sundry business of the federal government, not just foreign policy. (This is the explanation for why it was supposed to be a job for the Secretary of State, James Madison, to deliver appointment papers to Mr. Marbury in that famous Supreme Court case.) In a sense, then, it is telling that US foreign policy has always been a little bit weirder than most....

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