Less than one month ago we were hearing loud shouts about the evil and irresponsible Trump not sassing Putin about meddling in our election. If there were substance behind those shouts, one would expect follow through.
It is often useful, especially in the world of Trump, to reflect on the headlines of a few weeks ago and assess the reality surrounding the excitement.
There are a few things we all know about diplomacy. The first is that diplomacy is done in secret. All the cards are never face up on the table. The second is that everyone spies on everyone else to get a peek at the down cards. Third, all nations try some level of deception to sway the discussion in their chosen direction.
So lets get this straight. There are hackers in Russia. Some work for the government as spies and disrupters. The same is true of China, England, Germany, Iran, North and South Korea. The same is true, we should all hope, of the United States. The only thing that has changed in the last century is the technology and the tools. England famously used code breakers to get the U.S. into World War I and to win World War II. To declare or imply otherwise is either naiveté or deception
Diplomacy has a public dimension that is frequently called propaganda. When President Obama publicly declared, before the Brexit election, that a post Brexit England would have to go to the end of the line in trade negotiations with the United States, was he meddling in a foreign country’s election? Voice of America was established as a propaganda tool in 1942. Today it broadcasts 1,800 hours of radio and TV each week in more than 40 languages. Its two hundred million dollar budget and one thousand employees are public knowledge. Should we be surprised or offended that Russia labels Voice of America a foreign agent? Wouldn’t we indignently deny that we, through Voice of America, interfered in elections in other countries?
Dateline September 28, 2015: ABC News, “President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin met today for their first formal meeting in two years amid new tensions in recent weeks between the already adversarial world leaders.
“While the meeting was reportedly scheduled for only an hour, it dragged on more than 30 minutes longer than expected. Putin emerged, telling reporters that it was constructive and “businesslike,” while Obama offered no immediate comment.”
This item about the last meeting between Presidents Obama and Putin tells us the President who campaigned on a “reset” of relations with Russia spent ninety minutes with the Russian President in the last three years of his presidency and nobody cared very much. Let’s be fair to Obama. Starting with FDR who claimed, “I can handle Old Joe,” only Presidents Reagan and Kennedy were able to significantly alter Russian behavior and they did not do so with a smile. We have few common interests with Russia. Russia would be largely irrelevant were it not for oil and nuclear weapons. The Russian economy is about three quarters that of the State of Texas. Per capita income in Russia is about one seventh per capita GDP income in the United States.
Let’s be fair to President Trump as well. What are the things he wants to talk to Putin about? Ukraine? Syria? Iran? North Korea? Nuclear Proliferation? What does Putin want? Ease up on sanctions? Stop messing with my German pipeline deal? What does Putin fear? He fears more Sanctions? He fears a stronger more self sufficient NATO? He fears more losses and embarrassment in Syria?
The indictment of a dozen or so second-rate Russian hackers spying on unsecured Democratic Party and State Department communications and opening social media accounts to influence voters would not get a cameo appearance in a John Le Carré spy thriller, much less top billing in real diplomacy. No self-respecting prosecutor would admit it took over a year and an unlimited budget to figure it out.
Fake Diplomacy would be sabre rattling about the insignificant while ignoring vital issues. Fake News is not just telling lies. It is writing headlines and lead stories about the insignificant while ignoring or suppressing vital issues and information. It would not be treason to refrain from fake diplomacy. It might be treason to willfully torpedo an attempt by our President to open a confidential diplomatic discussion with a difficult and dangerous adversary.
Granddad’s Dictionary: Reflections on Life in America
by Michael Moffitt
ISBN: 978-1-4908-2916-6 (sc)
Published April 7, 2014