Friday, January 28, 2011

The Strategy Of Middle East Diplomacy

To be honest, this could equally honestly be titled The Strategy of Diplomacy full stop, but the region of current emphasis of interest is the Middle East, again, so the general considerations get a somewhat narrower focus.

Instapundit ends his blog day yesterday addressing a reader's query. The portion of his comments I wish to highlight are those that most closely frame an aspect of international diplomacy that receives too little consideration by the American general population, I believe. Responding to the lack of US support for "revolution" in most middle eastern countries (with the rare example of after-the-fact accommodation of events), Prof. Reynolds says:

Had we pushed the overthrow of tyrannical Arab regimes post-Iraq (as some unsuccessfully urged) there might have been a wave of truly democratic revolutions, with Iraq explicitly the model, leading to Egypt as the “prize.” We are now seeing, at least potentially, such a wave, but the U.S. has been propping up Mubarak — thanks, Joe! — the Saudis, and other despots since we lost our pro-democracy mojo in 2005 after the Cedar Revolution, for reasons that are still not entirely clear.

Grabbing the low-hanging fruit first, we "lost our pro-democracy mojo in 2005" after the extent of our required involvement in such undertakings - and the extent of the added demands on our national resources military and otherwise - were made evident by the concurrent events in Lebanon during a frustratingly demanding period in the Iraq Campaign. Since war is always a political action, a more proper re-statement of a common aphorism would be, politics is war by other means. From this it can be seen that diplomacy is politics between distinct and competing national entities, the limitations of which is always the often arbitrary and ever fluctuating distinction between observing some other country's intra-national events and taking undue advantage of them.

Most especially, being discovered to be more or less directly taking part in such activities is commonly described as "an act of war".

The Iraq Campaign itself can best be described as an entirely externally driven "revolution" within Iraq by US and other Coalition military forces. Direct, attributable US involvement in events in Lebanon (aka: the Cedar Revolution) prior to or during the active phase of the process would have resulted in active opposition coalescing around a separate but adjacent theater of military operations that could easily have dissolved the Iraq Campaign coalition as well as opened yet another active military theater directly engaging Israeli forces (either within or beyond that country's borders).

The potential for militarily disastrous results (from an Iraq Campaign-centric view) was simply too great a likely outcome from direct US involvement in internal political upheaval within Lebanon at the time.

More generally, the strategy of diplomacy is to develop established procedures for actively competing countries to follow that permits them to avoid escalation of their mutual dealings with each other into outright conflict, either direct or through second parties as during much of the Cold War between the USSR and USA (with occasional maneuvers by the PRC during Vietnam, various Korea-related incidents, Taiwan, Tibet and wherever else the PRC leadership thought the candle worth the risk).

It needs be recognised that international diplomacy creates a peculiar conceit within it's regular practitioners, that they can in fact control the outcome of events by indirect means. Not just influence, but predict the response of a necessarily obscured opponent to a given negotiating gambit. This conceit leads to the assumption that whatever arrangements exist between nations must, by virtue of their established and mutually recognised condition, be of greater desirability than virtually any other potential future negotiating effort with some succeeding national controlling government.

Put bluntly, the US "supports" the Mubarak-lead Egyptian government for much the same reasons it did the same with the preceding Sadat-lead government - the mutual delusion between both country's governmental diplomats that they "control" each other's actions through their established conduits and agreements and thereby advance their individual national interests.

Finally (for this blog post anyway), it needs be recognised that any country's reputation is largely the result of how reliable each is seen to be by other countries to live up to it's mutual agreements and acknowledged obligations. The principal strategic reason War is formally declared is to preserve that reputation with the remaining non-belligerent countries of the world. This works to keep them non-belligerent at worst as well as provides a mechanism to recruit them to your side of the dispute.

International diplomacy is largely illusory as a practical matter, but absolutely essential to reducing the necessity for active opposition between national strategic positions. The art and science of Being Seen (and all too frequently even more critically, not being seen) To Be Involved with another country's affairs makes disruption of a recognised government a particularly troublesome concern. So troublesome it mostly leads to avoiding doing any such thing until a result seems to have been achieved by the directly involved participants through their own efforts. Domestic politics decides when and how a country chooses to take a more active part in things extra-national which is why so few diplomats make for effective national leadership in their own right. The underlying motivation for each is mostly mutually exclusive in both intent and objective.

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