• Diplomacy 101 Case Study: Singapore Summit

    July 4, 2018

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    Posted in: Embassy/State, Trump


    While I can say there isn’t a formal class at the American State Department called Diplomacy 101, some training offered to new hires comes pretty close. Those basic tenets of statecraft, largely unchanged from Thucydides to Bismarck to Pompeo, are important to review in light of the widespread criticism of the Singapore Summit.

    You make peace by talking to your adversaries. Diplomacy is almost always a process and rarely a big-bang scale event. Steps backward are expected along with steps forward. Realizing America’s foreign policy goals often means dealing with bad people. As an American diplomat I purposely flattered and befriended gangsters in Japan to help American citizens in trouble, Irish Republican Army terrorists when a change in administration in Washington saw them eligible for visas, and militia leaders in Iraq who sought deals during the Surge. So has every diplomat, along with most intelligence officers and military officers. Many in the media have done exactly the same things to cultivate sources.

    The Etruscans, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Eritreans, and Everyone else from A-Z have been conducting diplomacy with adversaries of all flavors, titles, and moral standards since before the word was even invented by the French. A leader whose family has been the sole ruler of his nation for seven some decades, who controls nuclear weapons, whose nation has a seat at the United Nations and embassies in multiple countries around the world already meets any practical test of “legitimacy.” Kim’s nuclear weapons exist whether or not he meets a sitting American president, or ex-presidents Clinton and Carter, though the only chance those weapons may someday be gone rests in such meetings.

    Now protocol is always tricky. President Obama had no obligation to bow to the Emperor of Japan, but decided to convey respect; same with American male diplomats holding the hands of or exchanging kisses with their Arab counterparts; I kissed a lot of bearded men while on duty myself. Mistakes happen — Trump did not need to salute that North Korean general — but what matters most is the effect on your counterparts. No damage was done, and maybe even some additional humility was conveyed in a situation where offense could have easily derailed more important matters.

    Diplomacy 101 advises you can’t control how your adversary, or even your friends, will portray events. Signals to the international community are important, but if you get too concerned about controlling them you’ll end up advising your boss she better just stay in Washington. One expert writes, “Foreign policymaking is not an omnidirectional antenna that clearly emits messages in all directions, which are correctly interpreted and acted upon by the intended audiences. Indeed, refraining from pursuing diplomatic initiatives because of how an adversary might characterize that initiative is surely a signal of weakness. And in the case of North Korea, allowing the propaganda efforts of a totalitarian government to influence United States policy making priorities is just self-crippling.”

    It’s different with created messaging directed at your adversary, because nobody else matters. Much mockery was slathered on the video Trump played for Kim in Singapore, depicting him as a great leader facing a history-bending decision. The video was spiced full of symbols that resonate with Koreans, including sacred places and holiday images that mean little to outsiders. The audience was one man, and the video was designed to do one thing, speak to Kim in a visual language he understood. Diplomacy 101 suggests everyone else might stand aside, the way older folks should do when people say such-and-such a new dance song is good or bad, knowing they’re not the intended audience.

    Negotiations are rarely an even exchange. But how long will you sit at the table if someone else seems to win every hand? Everyone has to at least feel they can win, so they don’t have a reason to cheat, and thus stay in the game. Even when stakes are high the good news it’s hard to give away “the store.” The store in whatever form usually isn’t something that can be irrevocably stopped, boxed up for shipment, or destroyed forever. Never mind the checks, balances, and bureaucratic brakes built into something as complex as the United States government, or even what may appear to be mostly a one-man-rule system. Diplomacy 101 encourages a thoughtful approach to score keeping, knowing the score only really matters at the end anyway.

    Diplomacy 101 also reminds the most important purpose of a good first date is to make sure there’s a second. It doesn’t make sense to call it a failure if no marriage proposal follows dessert. Love at first sight is best left for the movies. A kiss goodnight is great, but international relations is a chaste process and demanding or expecting too much too early isn’t a long game strategy. Setting an artificial clock running alongside something as delicate as nuclear disarmament accomplishes nothing. Negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union sometimes spanned administrations.

    Even failures are part of the process. William Johnson, a Foreign Service Officer who served as the State Department’s political advisor on special operations to the United States’ Pacific Command, explained to me “Diplomacy is often a series of failures, and in the best case, the failures become incrementally less bad, until sometimes the least spectacular failure is declared success. Diplomacy is a game where the goalposts are supposed to move, and often, to move erratically. Trump needs a plan, with specific goals, each laid out neatly in a set of talking points, not because he will attain those goals, but because he needs to figure out how short of them he can afford to fall or how far beyond them he can push his interlocutor.”

    A future Diplomacy 101 class may examine the Singapore Summit alongside President Richard Nixon’s summit with Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung. That 1972 meeting ended over two decades of isolation between the two nuclear-armed countries, and is universally hailed as brilliant diplomacy. But looking back, the main takeaway, the Shanghai Communique, is full of vague phrases promising to meet again, to somehow make “progress toward the normalization of relations,” and “reduce the danger of international military conflict.” The status of Taiwan, which had almost brought the Americans and Chinese to war, was dealt with in almost poetic terms, able to be read with multiple meanings.

    There was no timeline for anything. No specific next steps listed, though Nixon did agree to the “ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan.” Nothing about China’s horrendous human rights situation. Few details at all, and the biggest problem was treated obliquely. It took seven more years before full diplomatic relations were restored. Yet scholars see the visit as one of the most impactful ever by an American president, to the point where the term “Nixon to China” is now shorthand for a breakthrough leaders’ meeting.

    It is of course too early to fully assess the Singapore Summit, never mind to see if it will rank anywhere near the Nixon-Mao meeting. But we do know personal diplomacy has sometimes been the right strategy, and that Americans have met with dictators, nuclear-armed and not, before. Simply amending “But Trump!” to those and other realities of diplomacy does not change them. As the United States-North Korea relationship evolves, it is important to avoid valuing the sharp elbows of partisan politics over the earned lessons of Diplomacy 101. Class dismissed — for now.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...


      When facing an endless quagmire, declare victory and Go Home.

      Trumps quandary is that he can’t serve two masters. Putin wants our military budget cut and the Wall Street War Party doesn’t.

      07/4/18 9:02 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      For those drinking the Trump Great Diplomacy scam, swallow this: Trump wanted to invade Venezuela. In his mind diplomacy is for losers.

      AP: In an exchange that lasted around five minutes, McMaster and others took turns explaining to Trump how military action could backfire and risk losing hard-won support among Latin American governments to punish President Nicolas Maduro for taking Venezuela down the path of dictatorship, according to the official. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.

      But Trump pushed back. Although he gave no indication he was about to order up military plans, he pointed to what he considered past cases of successful gunboat diplomacy in the region, according to the official, like the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s.

      While some of those around him continued attempts to ignore or dissuade the president, reportedly Trump could not let the idea go and AP cites “two high-ranking Colombian officials” who confirmed that he brought the idea of a military overthrow up with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos during a closed-door meeting in August of 2017.”

      Of course, the coward that he is, he would only bully someone who wouldn’t kick him in the balls.

      07/4/18 12:06 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      You have to give credit to Demented for creating fantastic source material for Hollywood:

      “Life is Beautiful, American Style” – a gentle Guatemalan reporter meets a pretty schoolteacher, and wins her over with his charm and humor. Eventually they marry and have a son, But threatened by government death squads cracking down on fake news they flee to America, the home of a free press, and from oppression. Their happiness is abruptly halted, however, when they are separated and taken to internment camps. Determined to shelter his son from the horrors of his surroundings, the school teacher convinces his son that his time in the camp is merely a game.

      07/5/18 4:12 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      “Scott Pruitt vs the World”

      Embattled EPA head fights a never- ending battle to screw the taxpayers while screwing the environment.

      07/5/18 4:46 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      “Faust News” also titled “The Magic Christians”

      The religious Right makes a deal with the Devil and hilarity ensues…until it doesn’t.

      07/5/18 4:54 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      “Fifty Shades of Demented”

      When Donald Trump, a traveling con man, arrives in Potomac River City, he convinces the repugnicans to buy his crap. His intention is to flee as soon as he receives the money. Hillarious Clinton suspects Demented is a fraud, but holds her tongue since her husband is just as big a fraud.

      07/5/18 5:02 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      “Being Here and There”

      After their last two candidates are behind bars, the Wall Street War Party is desperate to find two morons to run against each other for presidense.

      07/7/18 12:21 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Diplomacy 101 or Bribery 101?

      The flaw in the analysis is Demented isn’t engaging in public “diplomacy”, rather private enrichment.

      “Negotiations are rarely an even exchange. But how long will you sit at the table if someone else seems to win every hand? Everyone has to at least feel they can win, so they don’t have a reason to cheat, and thus stay in the game.”

      Much diplomacy – especially bilateral – has its roots in transaction: the goal is to see that both countries maximize their objectives. Essentially, it’s ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.’ But it’s government to government not government to the bank account of an individual official. That, however, is not how Trump operates.

      Trump’s actions do not seem to make sense in terms of the overall US national interest – which is most of the time – there’s likely to be an under the table financial transaction which personally benefits Trump or possibly a member of his family.

      Item: Ukraine president Poroshenko paid over $400,000 for an Oval Office meeting with Trump just last year. The money went to Trump’s fixer Roger Cohen and some may have gone to Felix Sater, a pal of Cohen’s, who has been involved in connecting Trump and company to Russian oligarchs connected to Putin. What we don’t know is how much of the Ukrainian treasury Cohen passed on to Trump too: Hopefully the Southern District Court of New York is investigating the question.

      Moreover, Ukraine apparently simultaneously agreed to sideline its investigation of Paul Manafort’s payoffs from pro-Russian sources. Perhaps part of the deal from the US SIDE also included anti-tank military equipment suddenly released to the Ukrainian armed forces by the Trump administration that the Obama administration had refused to send. Not bad for $400,000 or more – but that’s not how rules- based government operates. The Ukrainian funds should never have wound up in Cohen’s bank account.

      Item:the Chinese government has been playing Trump for all he’s worth since shortly after he entered the White House – first approving trade marks for Ivanka to manufacture and sell her apparel brand in China (the second tranche of 13 patents was approved just before the Trump-Kim photo op “summit”) to agreeing to finance the theme park, as a part of a the Lido resort complex to be built in Indonesia adjacent to a Trump Tower Hotel. The theme park’s cost to the Chinese is $500 million; its cozy location is surely designed to enhance the value and revenue of the hotel. Is this deal still on the table given Trump’s tariff war against the Chinese?

      Trump suddenly reversed his decision to enforce punitive US tariffs for the telecommunications company ZTE which the Trump administration has placed on certain Chinese goods and which, in the case of this company are forcing it into bankruptcy. The Senate may block the Trump flip flop on ZTE – which will complicate the matter if this happens, and who knows how this could affect Trump’s personal finances. ZTE, according to AP reporting, “is accused of violating trade laws by selling sensitive technologies to North Korea and Iran.” But the Senate is meeting with Trump to discuss the issue. Will that cave? And what’s the payoff if so?

      Item: maybe the check bounced? Who knows what under the table deals were negotiated with the North Koreans for that feel good “meeting” with Kim shortly after the G6 plus 1.

      item: Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, his support for the Saudi led war against Qatar and its bombing of the Shiites in Yemen combined with his decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem only make sense when viewed from the standpoint of at what benefit to Trump personally.

      Here’s why. Trump’s biggest individual campaign backers were Adelman, the Koch Brothers, Singer and via Cambridge Analytica the Mercers – father and daughter. These same people are also big backers of the right wing, greater Israel policy of Netanyahu who vociferously opposed the Iran deal and has been itching to move the Israeli capital to Jerusalem for years all the while ignoring the rights of the Palestinians, rights that date back to the international recognition of the state of Israel in 1948.

      And what have the Saudis gotten out of this – higher gas prices on the international market with Iran’s sales curtailed and yet additional military equipment from the US to wage more attacks on the Shiites in Yemen (although Trump’s advisors l-ikely including that ‘great’ foreign policy savant Jared Kushner – clearly forgot to tell him that we have important military bases in Oman and the US support for the Saudi blockade of that small Gulf country was in direct contradiction to our national interests.) An Oops moment. Clearly the US military was not amused.

      What is still unclear is the nature of the relationship being brokered by Eric Prince (the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of Blackwater fame) and the Russian oligarchs and Donald Trump, Jr at a hotel in the UAE last fall. But it also seems to be a piece of the jigsaw. Did it relate to a potential hotel construction project to which Trump could affix his name and collect user fees?

      Diplomacy is “have it our way.”

      Demented’s policy is always “have it my way.”

      07/8/18 3:52 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      While Trumpy is losing face in the North, he better watch his ass in the South:

      The South Carolina business community is sounding alarm bells over President Donald Trump’s trade policies as Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation try to ease frayed nerves.

      But the stakes are getting higher for some of the state’s biggest manufacturers, and they’re asking Washington lawmakers to step in and speak up.

      S.C. Chamber of Commerce president Ted Pitts sent a letter Tuesday to each of the nine S.C. congressmen in Washington, imploring them to do “whatever it takes to inform the administration about the jobs at risk”read: BMW BMW BMW- in imposing tariffs on imported automobiles.

      “The administration’s approach to tariffs and trade needs to be broader in thought and more targeted in its application,” Pitts wrote. “Otherwise, it will cost South Carolina jobs as manufacturers do what any business would do: shift production to other facilities around the world where it costs less to do business.”

      Losing their religion over money. Trump can understand that.

      07/11/18 8:02 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Diplomacy 102 – leave no witnesses

      Trump (to Putin): I did everything you told me. When do I get paid?

      07/11/18 10:26 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Diplomacy 103- never argue with an idiot.

      Trump: I am a very stable genius.

      07/12/18 7:16 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Diplomacy 104- be careful what you wish for

      First Germany, then the World

      A new poll for the DPA news agency is showing German voters are growing resistant to the current level of spending on the military in their country, as well as the number of US troops that Germany is playing host to.

      The poll shows that, even as officials fret President Trump threatening to pull US troops out of Germany, voters would welcome the US departure, with only a hair over a third of the Germans wanting US soldiers to stay. 35,000 US troops are currently in Germany.

      Taken along party lines, Germans on both the left and the right were the heaviest supporters of the US withdrawal, with Die Linke voters overwhelmingly backing the idea. The ruling Christian Democrats are the least strongly in favor of the pullout.

      Indeed, not only did an overwhelming majority say that 2% is too much for Germany to spend, some 36% of Germans say that the nation’s current military spending, about 1.2% or $44.3 billion, is already too much as it is.

      But as the US is finding out, this anti-militarist culture is entrenched enough that US pushes to dramatically increase spending are a tough sell to the ruling coalition, and completely unpalatable to the public at large. Germans don’t want a huge military, and the threat to withdraw US forces is no threat at all, as many would just as soon they left in the first place.

      Trump, you are a genius!

      07/12/18 7:33 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Diplomacy 105- follow the money, honey

      Don’t fear when Trumpie says he wants to pull out of NATO.

      Trumpie never pulls out. He just wants his money’s worth.

      07/12/18 1:44 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      “Diplomacy is often a series of failures, and in the best case, the failures become incrementally less bad, until sometimes the least spectacular failure is declared success.”

      But Benedict Trump is the exception to the rule…of law.

      Reporter: Just now, President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. What — who — my first question for you, sir, is who do you believe?
      My second question is would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin, would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?

      TRUMP: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server — haven’t they taken the server. Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that, I’ve been asking that for months and months and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying?

      With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coates came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have asked President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.

      07/16/18 2:17 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Diplomacy 107- don’t get caught with your pants down

      There can be no doubt that Putin has video of the serial whoremonger with his pants down. That Demented would give Putin blowjobs to keep the videos off the air is reason enough for Mueller to fuck him.

      07/16/18 5:10 PM | Comment Link

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