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Bill Clinton chooses diplomacy over nuclear self-destruction

On Bill Clinton’s successful diplomatic trip morally repugnant capitulation to North Korea, Spencer Ackerman’s satirical take is all you really need to consult:

In an unforeseen turn of events, Bill Clinton strapped himself with nuclear weapons and detonated during a meeting with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. The former president’s inability to free imprisoned American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling ended in carnage, the only diplomatic language the North Koreans understand. Clinton, recognizing that diplomacy was useless, bit his lip sorrowfully and expressed regret that so many had to die in the name of American prestige, according to a suicide note obtained by this blog.

Back in the United States, conservatives expressed relief that Clinton chose an honorable end to his life. “Diplomacy with the North would be the worst of all possible options,” said Rep. Guy “Whitey” Corngood (R-Ark.), a longtime Clinton critic. “Bringing those two Americans back without incident would have represented an unacceptable humiliation for this country.” Attempts to reach John Bolton, a former undersecretary of state and U.N. ambassador in the Bush administration, were unsuccessful, but associates said Bolton credited Clinton for posthumously vindicating his worldview and that the former diplomat was considering a courtesy call to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to express condolences.

What makes this morbid telling (Bill Clinton did not actually blow himself up, and did successfully negotiate the release of the American journalists) even funnier is that John Bolton could be reached, and, predictably enough, still thought that Clinton’s visit did nothing but “reward[] bad behavior” and “legitimize the [North Korean] regime.” That, and, well, accomplish the only goal that he had in going over there.

I’m consistently struck by how ironically similar the likes of John Bolton are to Kim Jong Il and North Korea’s power-obsessed cadre of leaders. The only ones who think that an insignificant sop to the latter’s silly sense of pride amounts to a serious concession by the United States are the North Korean leaders themselves and, well, Boltonites. Only these two groups of dolts take what Bolton calls “gesture politics” as a matter more serious than actual politics and policy — which, once again, resulted in North Korea releasing two wrongly imprisoned journalists and the United States giving up nothing more than a day of face time with Bubba.

(image from flickr user Creative+ Timothy K Hamilton under a Creative Commons license)

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The problem of crony ambassadorships

Scott Horton sounds a clarion call against the regular phenomenon of presidents’ rewarding campaign supporters with choice ambassador positions. He writes, “The process cheapens our diplomatic relations and sends a bad message to the states to which these ambassadors are sent. And it’s getting cruder and greedier.”  I agree, but there is also a less stated reason for objecting to this process: the toll it takes on the foreign service bureaucracy.   

About a third of the Ambassadorships historically go to political appointees.  Among these are the choicest posts.  If you are a career foreign service officer with a stellar record, your chances of being rewarded with a choice ambassadorship at the end of your career is severely limited.   Crony appointments undermine the career prospects of ambitious, talented foreign service officers, and in so doing, undermines the ability of the State Department to retain and attract new talent.  This does real damage to American foreign policy over the long run. 

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Diplomats accuse Congressional Coup Caucus of stoking Cold War fears

To mark the one month anniversary of the military coup that deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, select press, think tankers, members of the diplomatic (including at least a dozen ambassadors “from Canada to Chile”) gathered at the Argentine Embassy in Washington for a reception for the Minister of Communications for the “Constitutional Government of Honduras” Enrique Reina.  

Reina is actually a bit more than the minister of communication for the deposed Honduran government.  When the military launched its coup, it had an ally in the Honduran ambassador to the United States, Roberto Flores Bermudez.  This caused a schism within the embassy, with about half the Honduran foreign service loyal to Zelaya and half following the ambassador.  The United States revoked the former ambassador’s visa, and since then Reina has acted as the “constitutional government’s” representative in the United States. 

I had the opportunity to talk to Reina and a number of other South American diplomats and gauge their reaction to the machinations of certain members of congress, led by Connie Mack of Florida, that are supportive of the de-facto Honduran government.  Mack recently returned from Honduras. And, via The Hill upon his return he had this to say:

“The Organization of American States, State Department and Obama administration got it wrong,” Mack said. “We’re siding with the OAS and Chavez and Castro and that group over an ally.” Mack said Zelaya “is playing a game here and Hugo Chavez is pulling the strings.”

Reina and nearly all of the South American diplomats with whom I spoke made the similar point that sentiments like this harken back to the bad old days of the Cold War — a time when the United States viewed Latin American governments in clear dichotomy between left and right. Left bad. Right good.  End of story. 

But in this case, the entire world (save a handful of Republican members of the United States congress) have united around Zelaya.  Left wing Latin American governments like Venezuela find themselves on the same side of the debate as right wing governments of Columbia. This suggests that the coup transcends politics.  As one Latin American diplomat told me, “We have all seen what a coup is.  When you wake the president up at five in the morning with a gun to his head and kick him out the country that is a coup!”   

The one place where the coup has apparently not transcended regular politics is the United States Congress. 

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Victory for the Save Darfur movement, or the next challenge?

If you haven’t looked at Mark’s thoughtful consideration on the place of the Darfur advocacy movement in today’s world of Sudan policymaking, read it now.

I largely agree with Mark’s analysis, but I’d offer a different possible conclusion: instead of the end of the “Save Darfur” community’s role, this may be a make-or-break moment for Darfur advocacy, or even for foreign policy advocacy writ large.

Most savvy Darfur advocates already know this, but the time for sloganeering and awareness raising is long past (and endured well past what should have been its expiration date).  In some respects, the kind of misguided, generalist “stop genocide” tactics that one could find in early Save Darfur campaigns and that are so maligned by critics like Mahmoud Mamdani have affected the position we find ourselves in now, in which rhetoric that generates a lot of heat but no light can supplant directed action.  This is not entirely the fault of vapid aims by advocacy organizations, to be sure; policymakers actually need little excuse to make noise instead of policy, and stopping genocide provides the perfect soundbite.

Darfur advocacy organizations for the most part adapted their tactics, targeting their energies and substantial constituencies toward specific aims, such as deployment of UN peacekeepers and the provision of long-needed helicopters.  Some have had more, and some less, success (and in ways intended and unintended) than others, but the trickiest of them has always been the promotion of a robust peace accord.

This may be simply past the ability of advocacy organizations to effect, as Mark suggests, but it could also represent a stunning opportunity for transforming the nature of grassroots foreign policy campaigns.  If the “Darfur movement” is successful in navigating the complicated and unsexy terrain of policymaking, then it will be a major victory for Darfur, for citizen activism, and for democracy.

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Time for the Save Darfur movement to declare victory

Enough Project chief John Norris links approvingly to Randy Newcomb’s Foreign Policy piece explaining why the next 18 months are a make-or-break time for the Save Darfur movement. The argument is that the forthcoming dissolution of Sudan into two separate countries (following a 2011 referendum) may presage the return to civil war. If the Obama administration doesn’t provide a clear roadmap for how to handle the dissolution of Sudan, disaster may ensue. So, Newcomb writes, it is up to the movement to convince the Obama administration to make good with that roadmap.  Norris agrees that “the time for activism is now.” 

I respectfully disagree.   The time for activism is long gone.   In terms of being able to affect change, the movement has played itself out. This is not meant to diminish the accomplishments of the Save Darfur movement. In fact, I would argue that the Save Darfur movement is a singular example of successful activism (thanks, in part, to the likes of Newcomb and Norris). Like the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, the Save Darfur movement was able to bring to light a disaster halfway around the world and nurture a general political consensus around it. In fact, the movement was so successful it infiltrated the institution whose behavior it was seeking to change. A number of the leading lights of the Save Darfur movement now hold top positions in the Obama administration.   Darfur is a household name. 

These are amazing successes — for any movement.  

But we are now at a point where outside pressure has reached its limit. Unlike the previous administration, the Obama administration does not need convincing that Darfur should fit somewhere on its roster of global issues to which it ought to pay attention. Thanks to the movement it’s already there. 

Rather, the question now is what to do about Sudan policy, which is something relegated to the vagaries of the inter-agency policy making process. And here, there is a dispute within the Obama administration on the best way to approach Sudan. On the one hand, movement alumni in the administration are pressing for a hard line while others, like Sudan Envoy Scott Gration, reportedly prefer a more conciliatory approach that the movement abhors.

It is hard for me to see how activism (among, frankly, people who will vote Obama anyway) can influence this inter-agency debate. It seems hard to distill support for Susan Rice’s policy prescriptions over those of Scott Gration and the State Department’s Sudan desk into a placard.  It’s unrealistic to ask a movement to get that in the weeds of a policy debate.  Furthermore, pinning the success or failure of the movement  on the outcome of that interagency debate does disservice to the great successes that the movement has achieved. 

The fate of Sudan may very well hang in the balance over the next 18 months. But the trajectory of U.S. policy toward Sudan depends more on whether key administration officials are willing to go down in flames in support of policies they think will make a difference than activists making phone calls or attending rallies. 

(image of 2006 Save Darfur rally  from flickr user james calder)

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Cooperative foreign policy

I disagreed with Peter Scoblic Beinart on another point earlier, so but I have to give him Peter Scoblic credit for nailing the essence of Hillary Clinton’s speech yesterday:

If the speech was long, the key point was simple: Essentially, the secretary seemed to be saying that, despite the grave dangers we face–indeed, because of the very character of those threats–the emphasis in U.S. foreign policy today must be on cooperation rather than conflict. Not because the world is suddenly a friendlier place, but because meeting threats bluntly may be ineffective or even counterproductive.

Amen.

(I also agree with his colleague Michael Crowley on why the media seems determined to interpret everything that Clinton does into a silly Obama vs. Hillary storyline.)

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