The Diplomatic Trade
ON MY MIND / By A.M. Rosenthal
March 12, 1999 - The New York Time
Falsehood, withholding critical information, distortion, cover-up. Diplomacy, a branch of government
that often makes the difference between war and peace, uses these
tools at least as often to deceive its
own people as a potential enemy.
Diplomats working for dictatorships or for democracies often share
a common operational philosophy --
what we do or say is good for the
country and our leader, in power by
election or force. So, utterly content
with their wisdom, they believe that
what they choose the people should
not know is exactly what the people
have no business to know.
Citizens of dictatorships take this
for granted. I have never met one
foolish enough to be surprised that his
government was routinely misleading
him. The diplomats and their master
barely ever trouble to deny it.
But in the democracies diplomats
pretend indignation at the idea.
Americans by the million announce
their mistrust of government. But
even though they know that their
government is unlikely to execute or
torture them for protesting concealments that could lead to war or military weakness, they remain passive
Many tell themselves that the government is simply guarding national
security or counterintelligence.
Sometimes that is true. But often it is
not security interests that are being
protected but the political interests
of the existing administration, and
the embarrassment of seeing policy
failure revealed -- or seeing no policy at all.
Emphasis: This attitude is not
true of all American diplomats. At
home and abroad, I have found diplomats risking their careers to fight
cover-ups. But there is enough pressure and self-interest in going along
so that some form of deliberate governmental distortion is almost always taking place, at the moment at
least three that should shake American public apathy.
1. Since 1995, high Government officials knew of evidence that China had
stolen one of the top secrets in the
American armory -- the ability to
make small nuclear weapons that
could be launched simultaneously at
multiple targets. Incredibly, virtually
nothing was done until The New York
Times broke the story last week.
In two highly touted summit meetings with China, President Clinton
said nothing to the Politburo, or the
American and Chinese publics. To
tell the story would have exposed as
sickeningly false the myth he prattles to Americans -- appeasement of
China is making it a "strategic"
partner of America.
Of course, his silence made him a
different kind of partner for China --
a party after the crime.
2. Clinton inherited President
Bush's historic error -- allowing Saddam Hussein to rule after the Iraqi
defeat in the gulf war. He also inherited the most important arms inspection machinery of our time -- the U.N.
commission preventing Iraq from
making weapons of mass destruction.
Saddam rules after six years of Clinton's Presidency. And the
commission is dead.
It was killed by such friends as
France, Russia, China and U.N. officials. All the while it was dying in
closed U.N. meetings, Washington
kept saying that behind those doors
was a strong consensus to keep the
commission strong. Simply untrue.
3. The NATO treaty was drawn up,
and signed by the U.S., to protect
Western Europe against the Soviet
Union. Now the U.S. and other NATO
members use the alliance to bomb or
threaten countries involved in a civil
and religious war, as in Bosnia, or a
movement for relief and independence, as in Serbia's Kosovo Province.
At what point were the new NATO
responsibilities created, and at what
point did Americans agree to sign
up? Americans do not ask, nor do
they ask how the disarmament commission died while it was supposed to
be under U.S. protection, or how long
U.S. forces will remain in Bosnia or
Serbia, whether Clinton has the
faintest idea, or what the criteria for
further local interventions will be,
and what other spots might be selected -- if Clinton and his diplomats
have the faintest idea. Do Americans
get to choose? And what are his
plans for Saddam's exit?
If the U.S. public does not care
about what they are told and when, if
they are told at all, shouldn't Congress demand the answers? Or
would that be considered nervy rudeness toward diplomats, their working habits and our elected leader?
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