Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What we find here is often first rate .... almost worthy of Evelyn Waugh

Via the Guardian | Timothy Garton Ash:

[F]rom what I have seen, the professional members of the US foreign service have very little to be ashamed of. Yes, there are echoes of skulduggery at the margins, especially in relation to the conduct of "the war on terror" in the Bush years. Specific questions must be asked and answered. For the most part, however, what we see here is diplomats doing their proper job: finding out what is happening in the places to which they are posted, working to advance their nation's interests and their government's policies.

In fact, my personal opinion of the state department has gone up several notches. In recent years, I have found the American foreign service to be somewhat underwhelming, reach-me-down, dandruffy, especially when compared with other, more confident arms of US government, such as the Pentagon and the treasury. But what we find here is often first rate.

As readers will discover, the man who is now America's top-ranking professional diplomat, William Burns, contributed from Russia a highly entertaining account – almost worthy of Evelyn Waugh – of a wild Dagestani wedding attended by the gangsterish president of Chechnya, who danced clumsily "with his gold-plated automatic stuck down the back of his jeans".

Burns's analyses of Russian politics are astute. So are his colleagues' reports from Berlin, Paris and London. In a 2008 dispatch from Berlin, the then grand coalition government of Christian and Social democrats in Germany is compared to "the proverbial couple that hated each other but stay together for the sake of the children". From Paris, there is a hilarious pen portrait of the antics of Nicolas (and Carla) Sarkozy. And we the British would do well to take a look at our neurotic obsession with our so-called "special relationship" with Washington, as it appears in the unsentimental mirror of confidential dispatches from the US embassy in London.

Continue reading here.

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