Friday, June 26, 2009

Guest Post: Double-Dutch Diplomacy

Ed. Note: The following is another guest post by Michael Rohrs. The views expressed are his own.
President Obama and his administration have heretofore taken a double-dutch approach to diplomacy; that is to stand just outside the turbine and gauge the tempo; pick a calculated spot and jump in; do work, jump out, and circle back for another pass. For the most part, they have done so adeptly and eloquently. Three weeks following his address in Cairo, however, the President seems to have gotten a little tripped and tangled.

  • 24 June- President Obama reinstates the U.S. Ambassador to Syria—A post that has been strategically vacant for four years.
  • 25 June- The White House rescinds its invitation to Iranian diplomats to attend Fourth of July celebrations worldwide (presumably held at American Embassies).
  • 26 June- Ahmadinejad publicly demands an apology from President Obama for interfering in Iranian affairs of state.

The United States is in a heated diplomatic playoff with Iran. We know this. President Obama’s strategic reinstatement of the American Ambassador to Syria on Wednesday was a straight-steal. As the Post reported, The loss of U.S. diplomatic leverage in the region,” caused by the American response to the Syrian government’s complicity in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, “has left a vacuum filled in large part by Iran.” It is no coincidence that because politics has forced President Obama to be careful regarding the contentious Iranian election, we’re trying to regain some diplomatic high-ground by climbing up the backside of the hill. The problem is we’re doing so clumsily.

Yesterday, the State department “disinvited” Iranian envoys from partaking in its Independence Day dissipation—a diplomatic disaster akin to taking your baseball and going home because they made you play right field. A tantrum only amplified by the White House’s self-deprecating quip, "July 4th allows us to celebrate the freedom and the liberty we enjoy…Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom to assemble peacefully. Freedom of the press. So I don't think it's surprising that nobody's signed up to come."

Even if extending invitations to celebrate our (and the rest of the world’s) freedom is standard diplomatic practice, American diplomacy operates best when we’re calling the pitches. As George Orwell espoused as his sixth and final rule of writing, we should have broken any of these rules before doing anything outright barbarous. By offering up our most sacred regalia to a base body politic, we undercut our axiomatic authority. Remember, we’re dealing with no less than half of the official state sponsors of terrorism. I’m all for extending an open hand, but you don’t invite vegans to a bull roast.

Let’s hope the President regains his diplomatic rhythm and finds his double-dutch dexterity. We need to be playing by American league rules; especially on Independence Day.

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