Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Demise of the Diplomat

CIA Director Porter Goss said an interesting thing in his appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee recently.  He was talking about upcoming elections in South America and I don’t know what he really meant.  I suspect the committee didn’t either . . . always a problem when cameras are on and participants are more interested in posing than listening. He said the elections ‘demand close coverage’ by the CIA, which ought to send a chill through the process, in light of our past CIA meddling in South and Central American politics. Then, he went on;


“We’re talking about meddling in sovereign affairs of different countries by state actors.”


What the hell did he mean? Why didn’t the usually-but-not-always-focussed John McCain say, “Porter, what the hell do you mean?” Is it useful to anyone to see such a statement in the paper without modifying explanation?  This is the Director of the CIA talking, arguably the greatest meddler in the sovereign affairs of different countries on the face of the planet. And the drift of his appearance sounded very much like Goss is getting ready to involve the CIA (once again) in South American elections.


Bad, bad idea.  We’re still paying for 46 years of messed-up Cuba policy.  I remember a young Fidel Castro in New York City shortly after his takeover in Cuba, plucking chickens in his hotel room and looking desperately for financial help at the United Nations. George Bush would have been 13 years old, Porter Goss 21 and I was 24 back in 1959.  Castro was not (at that time) a communist, he was a socialist and would have eagerly accepted money and concessions for access to that money from the United States.  He liked America.  He still likes America, but he’s not a big fan of our politics, which were so deeply invested in Cuban dictator Batista that we missed our chance to keep Cuba a wintering ground and gambling haven for Americans. 


Bad decisions have a way of continuing to muddy the waters and Cuba is no exception.  From that failure of imagination ultimately came the Bay of Pigs and multiple Castro assassination plots, hence Kennedy, hence, hence, hence.  And the really strange thing is that forty-six years after the fact, we still are unable to admit the mistake.


It has become our habit to blunder around the world, meddling in sovereign affairs of different countries (with or without actors), naming this or that nation to the current axis-of-evil list and wondering why we make so little progress except at the end of a missile.  It stuns us that we are so universally unloved and how this has come to be. The demise of the Iron Curtain heralded the demise of the American diplomat and the striped-trouser envoy has been replaced by ill-informed, ill mannered, tantrum diplomacy.


How has this happened and how do the Porter Gosses and Alberto Gonzaleses ride roughshod through an intimidated and politically castrated congress? Where are the checks in the checks and balances?  How has our leadership turned in to a second-rate shell game?


We’ve become so strong militarily that U.S. policy has devolved to jetting our Secretary of State around the world to make threats and embarrass various governments in the press.  We have no enduring diplomatic policy other than shots from the hip by successive presidents to serve their short-term political goals. Domestic politics must be always observant of and subject to the will and best interests of our citizens and it frequently falls short of that goal.  Foreign policy ought at least to transcend party politics and work in the long term interests of America and it consistently falls short of that goal. 


Americans don’t care much about foreign affairs and never have, even as their country becomes increasingly committed offshore.  That fact was beautifully illustrated by the Senate Armed Services Committee’s passing over the Goss statement.  It wouldn’t matter so much, except that we’re talking about meddling in sovereign affairs of different countries by state actors and Porter Goss has set himself a lead role with not a director in sight.

Old so soon, smart so late
applies to nations as well as individuals.