Thursday, March 12, 2009


"We are going to be sending two officials to Syria. There are a number of issues that we have between Syria and the United States, as well as the larger regional concerns that Syria obviously poses. As you know, there have been a number of members of the United States Congress who have gone to Damascus in the last weeks and months, and we had an occasion a week ago to call in the ambassador from Syria.

Yes, we’re going to dispatch a representative of the State Department and a representative of the White House to explore with Syria some of these bilateral issues. We have no way to predict what the future with our relations concerning Syria might be. Again, we don’t engage in discussions for the sake of having a conversation. There has to be a purpose to them. There has to be some perceived benefit accruing to the United States and our allies and our shared values. But I think it is a worthwhile effort to go and begin these preliminary conversations.

With respect to the Syria track, again, that will be a matter that once there is a government in Israel, it will be on the agenda that both Senator Mitchell and I have with the new government".

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 3 March 2009, in "Remarks With Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni", in

"With respect to the meeting that we discussed today at the ministerial, we presented the idea of what is being called a big tent meeting with all the parties who have a stake and an interest in Afghanistan. That would obviously include NATO members, ISAF members – many of whom are not NATO members – donors, nations that have regional, strategic, and transit positions vis-à-vis Afghanistan, international organizations.

And we have presented this idea, which is being discussed – nothing has been decided – as a way of bringing all the stakeholders and interested parties together. If we move forward with such a meeting, it is expected that Iran would be invited as a neighbor of Afghanistan".

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 5 March 2009, in "Press Availability after the NATO Meeting", in

"Foreign Minister Lavrov and I just finished our first in-person meeting over a wonderful meal together, and I am pleased by the opportunity that we had to begin a discussion on resetting U.S.-Russian relations, a process that we know will take time, but I think we had a very productive meeting of the minds on the range of issues that we will be addressing.

From our side, I think it’s fair to say that we are hopeful that this first meeting will lead to others and improve our ability to work together on a range of matters that are significant not only to each of our countries, but to the world. Our two nations share a common interest in working constructively in areas of mutual concern, from arms control and nonproliferation to counter-piracy and counternarcotics, to Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea. We discussed a number of specific issues that we believe it is important for us to work together to make progress.

There is no time to waste on a number of these significant challenges, so we will begin working immediately to translate our words into deeds. In particular, we discussed at some length our top priorities, including the negotiation of a follow-on agreement to the START treaty, and broader areas of cooperation to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and prevent further proliferation.

We talked about new ways to strengthen our cooperation in Afghanistan. And we expressed appreciation for Russia’s decision last month to allow the transit of non-lethal goods to troops in Afghanistan. Both of our countries, along with the rest of the world, are facing an economic crisis. Our two presidents will be attending the G-20 summit in London, and that will be the occasion for a face-to-face, one-on-one meeting between our presidents. President Obama is looking forward to exploring with President Medvedev the range of issues that we discussed and teed up".

"Remarks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov", 6 March 2009, in

The new American Secretary of State, Mme. Hillary Clinton's recent tour of the Near and Middle East as well as her meetings in Europe, were full of evidence of a diplomatic offensive on seemingly all fronts. In the Near East, she announced that she would be sending envoys to Damascus to engage in talks with the regime of Assad Fils. In Brussels she announced an invitation to Persia to join the emerging, regional 'contact group', on Afghanistan. Also in Brussels she announced that she wanted to reset, Russo-American diplomatic relations, after the cold freeze of the last few years under the regime of Bush the Younger. Indeed, there were stories in the New York Times and elsewhere that there was an unofficial 'demarche' from Washington to Moskva, in which the Americans offered to give up their proposed anti-missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, in return for Russian assistance dealing with Persia and Afghanistan (see: Purportedly, Moskva demurred at this quid pro quo, at least for the moment.

What however can one make of the above activity and what should one expect of it? In general, it would appear, on the surface that the new American administration is intent upon changing both the substance and the style of American diplomacy. It is now comme il faute, to talk about 'listening to our allies', and, the need to 'have respect', for the opinions of other powers, and peoples. Even those like Persia which have been antagonistic to the USA. Some even have spoken, half in earnest, and half in jest, of a 'respect agenda', in American diplomacy. This of course is all nonsensical. To put it mildly. Notwithstanding any rhetoric or verbiage to the contrary by the new powers that be in Washington, DC, there is so far, not much evidence of any real substantive change to American policy. At least not yet.Partly this is a mere matter of time, and, partly is is a matter of the structural constraints which make American diplomacy, nay any country's diplomacy what it is. Television imagery to the contrary, it is rather rare that a nation's policy and the interests that shape it, change 'on a dime', as it were. More often than not, these are shaped and constrained by much more deep seated variables, which do not change, or change only very slowly. In the case of the United States for example, it is highly unlikely that some pour parlers with the regime in Syria will soon lead to any real diplomatic breakthrough. Partly because the only power which can enable such a circumstance (Israel) is reluctant to allow for the same, and, partly because the Americans are still strongly (and wrongly) seeking for Syria to effect a 'diplomatic revolution' of its own by switching allies from Persia, Hezbollah and Hamas to joining the Washington and its conservative, Sunni Arab allies in the region. At present, all one can say is that it will be a long time in coming before such a Kaunitzian switch of alliances will come about.

In short, it would be more accurate to say that so far, the Clintonian diplomatic
offensive is a case of (to employ a witticism from the Kissinger years) "more shuttle than substance". As the American online journal, recently put it:

This is not a fault of the administration, but the reality of geopolitics. The ability of any political leader to effect change is not principally determined by his or her own desires, but by external factors. In dealing with any one of these adversaries individually, the administration is bound to hit walls. In trying to balance the interests between adversaries and allies, the walls only become reinforced. Add to that additional constraints in dealing with Congress and the need to maintain approval ratings — not to mention trying to manage a global recession — and the space to maneuver becomes much tighter. We must also remember that this is an administration that has not even been in power for two months. Formulating policy on issues of this scale takes several months at the least, and more likely years before the United States actually figures out what it wants and what it can actually do. No amount of power delegation to special envoys will change that. In fact, it could even confuse matters when bureaucratic rivalries kick in and the chain of command begins to blur.

Whether the policymakers are sitting in an Afghan cave or in the Kremlin, they will not find this surprising. As is widely known, presidential transitions take time, and diplomatic engagements to feel out various positions are a natural part of the process. Tacit offers can be made, bits of negotiations will be leaked, but as long as each player questions the ability of Washington to follow through in any sort of “grand bargain,” these talks are unlikely to result in any major breakthroughs. So far, Obama has demonstrated that he can talk the diplomatic talk. The real question is whether he can walk the geopolitical walk".

Reva Bhalla, "Obama's Diplomatic Offensive and the Reality of Geopolitics", 10 March 2009, in


Post a Comment

<< Home