Friday, March 4, 2011

Artful Diplomacy: 80,000 stockpiled tons of frozen chicken for F-16s?

Ben Berkowitz wrote a special report on weapons and the art of diplomacy here.  I'm sure this would make for some uncomfortable reading out there. And for diplomats who had to rope in sponsors contributors for the official USG 4th of July receptions, this is the answer begging for questions.

But the thing about F-16s and 80,000 stockpiled tons of frozen chicken sure gets your attention.

I must say that had this deal went through, some lucky guy would have been put in for the Charles E. Cobb, Jr. Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development which recognizes outstanding contributions toward innovative and successful trade development and export promotion for the United States, including "energy and imagination in assisting U.S. manufacturers, retailers and distributors, banks investment firms, venture capital organizations, travel agents, airlines, and other exporters of U.S. goods and services."  The award includes a certificate signed by the Secretary and $5,000.

Or the Herbert Salzman Award for Excellence in International Economic Performance for outstanding contributions in advancing U.S. international relations and objectives in the economic field. This award includes a certificate signed by the Secretary and $5,000.

Or who knows? Perhaps even the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award. This one is presented at the discretion of the Secretary in recognition of exceptionally outstanding leadership, professional competence, and significant accomplishment over a sustained period of time in the field of foreign affairs. Such achievements must be of notable national or international significance and have made an important contribution to the advancement of U. S. national interests.

Probably needed to calculate how many F-16 American jobs =80,000 stockpiled tons of frozen chicken. Did not work out. Now, we'll never know.  Excerpts from Weapons and the art of diplomacy:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Lockheed Martin wanted to sell C-130 military transport planes to the government of Chad in early 2007, the U.S. embassy in N'Djamena was ready to lend a hand.
The embassy in Chad is hardly an outlier. A review of thousands of pages of diplomatic cables from the last decade, obtained by WikiLeaks and provided to Reuters by a third party, paints a picture of foreign service officers and political appointees willing to go to great lengths to sell American products and services, and to prevent similar sales by other countries.

To be sure, that has been a big part of their job since the end of the Cold War. Nor do the cables point to any wrongdoing. But in some cases, the efforts were so strenuous they raise the question of where if anywhere the line is being drawn between diplomacy and salesmanship.

"The U.S. Government has broad, though not unlimited, discretion to promote and assist U.S. commercial interests abroad. We, of course, cannot do so in contravention of local laws," a State Department spokesman said in response to queries on a series of cables.
Seasoned diplomats point to a shift in the early 1990s, after the introduction of what was sometimes referred to as a "Bill of Rights for U.S. Business" by former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. A career foreign service officer, Eagleburger wanted corporate America to have a say in matters of interest internationally -- a big change from how things had been done.

"Until (then), U.S. diplomats were not particularly encouraged to help U.S. business. They were busy fighting the Cold War," said one former U.S. diplomat in Asia. "All of a sudden, we were given new direction: if a single U.S. company is looking for business, we should advocate for them by name; if more than one U.S. company was in the mix, stress buying the American product."
Marcelle Wahba, the career diplomat who was ambassador to the United Arab Emirates at the time, said such interactions were what was expected of American diplomats by the turn of the 21st Century.

"For the ambassador, I can't think of a time when a month went by when a commercial issue wasn't on my plate," she said in an interview with Reuters. "Some administrations put more of an emphasis on it than others, but now I think, regardless of who's in power you really find it's become an integral part of the State Department mandate."

One cable that underlines the persistence of U.S. diplomats trying to close a deal involves weapons and lots and lots of frozen chickens.

In 2005, the Thai government started shopping for new military fighter jets among Lockheed Martin, Russia's Sukhoi and Sweden's Saab.[...] For the embassy in Bangkok, winning achieved two goals: helping Lockheed and keeping the Russians from selling planes. There was, however, a small complication with the terms -- the Thai government didn't want to pay cash. Instead, it proposed trading 80,000 stockpiled tons of frozen chicken.
"By the time I was retired from the Foreign Service, which was 1998, things had changed fundamentally and being an active participant in the commercial program and promoting trade using the prestige of the ambassador and receptions held at the embassy or at the ambassador's residence was an important part of what I did," said Tom Niles, the former U.S. ambassador to Canada, the European Union and Greece.
"We might have been a little bit late to the game. The Europeans understood the crucial role of foreign trade in the growth and development of their economies before we did," Niles said.

Wahba, the former UAE ambassador, concurred.

"Oftentimes European ambassadors, that's all they're there for," she said, adding it would be hard to see the reason otherwise for some countries to have embassies in the first place.

Read this pretty interesting report in full here. Sorry, I still can't get my head around the 80,000 tons of frozen chicken, can you? I mean -- would we have known if that chicken in the local grocery store was swapped for F-16s? Most probably not. It's not like that's the best c'mon to pitch stockpiled frozen chickens. 

In How to Run the World
Parag Khanna writes, "It’s only a matter of time before an uber-corporation issues its own passport with pre-negotiatied visa-free access to countries large and small." You think? Note the "new diplomacy" and the corporate logos here?

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