When Ghengis Kahn began plundering Europe, I can assure you the initial reaction in Europe was: “Hey, this can be settled diplomatically.”
You can be sure there was an advance greeting party from the host to meet the Norsemen with baskets of fresh fruit, gift horses, a clutch of bar maids and some choral singing. Diplomacy at work. But with the possible exception of a few nights with the barmaids, I don’t think Norsemen plundering was held up in any way.
I know of which I speak. My uncle was the U.S. ambassador President Nixon sent to Greece, when the Greek people were upset about the United States getting involved in their national politics. “Let’s use diplomacy to reconcile our differences,” seemed to be the suggested mode of politique on both sides for such a situation. And so my uncle arrived hopefully in Greece, settled into his hotel suite to find that his toilet was booby-trapped with a bomb. His toilet! Greetings from the Greek people: “Mr. Ambassador. Why don’t you freshen up before lunch?”
For those of you who find international diplomacy puzzling (if you find it at all), or wonder why few if any critical global issues ever get resolved, it’s because all those ambassadors and officials we see to-ing and fro-ing from capital to capital actually agree to everything, even more to-ing and fro-ing. They succeed at this by following certain principles among great leaders, which are as old and as dissembling as the assurance, “We concede and retreat, Helen! We know you like horses. So here you go. Enjoy.”
I have always felt that Mexicans should have been diplomats, because, as a result of their long, scrappy culture, they have cultivated a national character for politeness in public, a control of their emotions, and most notably, a frequent preference for telling you convincingly what you want to hear. This is the same technique international conferences use to achieve “binding” agreements and resolutions as typical as a teenager’s confession: “Father, I know it’s impure and wrong, and I will never do it again.”
When conference doors open (conferences are always behind closed doors), or an incendiary device is thrown through the window and the doors are blown open by the loyal opposition, conferees will still emerge amid smiles and handshakes to give the impression to the world that it’s safe again to have babies. The current disaster in the Ukraine, which has gone from one diplomatic turn to another – Minsk I and II peace accords – isn’t even in the news. And the war goes on.
Yet, we continue to believe that whatever the urgent disagreement happens to be – an embargo, a border dispute, tariffs, plundering, disarmament, where the best surfing is – everybody agrees diplomacy, handshakes and amiability – usually under the portrait of some dictator’s dead father who massacred 20 million people he judged to be CIA – are the tools to solve the conundrum.
Now, we have an American genius planning a de-nuclearization agreement with North Korea. And everybody is thinking and reporting how extraordinary this will be for a country with nuclear capabilities to disarm. Really? Ostracizing? That didn’t work. Some countries like being ostracized. This way they can torture and kill their own people as they please, without somebody whining over it to the United Nations, which can’t do anything about it anyway. And Sanctions? Does any country really care that they’re not going to get their Philadelphia Cream Cheese? And diplomacy? Stand-up comedy.
Rest assured, nothing will be done.
Because diplomatic success these fateful days means compromise, and compromise is a sign of concession especially under dictators. And concession is a sign of weakness, even emasculation, among narcissistic dictators. The Iran treaty and agreement has become a perfect example. Fat, tall insecure leaders who wear curry powder for make-up and can’t find their wives can’t bear the concessions made. So in such a world where compromise and grace are anathema, diplomacy is an illusion. There are only winners now, smirking that my button is still bigger than his button.