America’s New Diplomacy: Ambassadors turn into Activists

US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, got together with his French counterpart and decided to take a trip down to the besieged town of Hama. It is true that the Assad family is unacceptably terrorizing its people for wanting to change many of the current governing policies in Syria, but is it the role of the US and French Ambassador’s to go for a very public visit to show solidarity with the so called “anti-Assad” Syrian protestors. Doubtful.

The events in Syria make it quite clear that the U.S. has forgotten how to practice robust diplomacy. If the Ambassador, and the Obama Administration for that matter, wanted to change the situation in Syria the first step should be for the Ambassador to act like a diplomat and build relationships with the Assad family members that are truly running the country and figure out what makes them tick. Perhaps then there could have been direct negotiations to stop this horrid crackdown on the people before it started.

Unfortunately, Ford, Ambassador turned activist, caused more harm in American Syrian relations than good. In a tit for tat rhetoric both countries were at the others throats. Syrian professing that the American incited the violence while the U.S. threatened the Syrian regime by telling them that they are “dispensable.”

It’s a three-ring foreign policy circus.

What has become of American engagement, outreach and the very basics of diplomacy? Why is it that the U.S. has a major problem moving toward discussions to prevent war instead of starting them? Would it have been so bad for the U.S. Ambassador to engage the government and possibly set the stage for Secretary of State to go straight to Assad and talk?

Regrettably, Americans have embraced war and forgot about the art of robust diplomacy working to prevent conflict not encourage it.

It prefers to put large concrete barriers around Embassies that are heavily guarded and keep their foreign service officers away from the very people they should be working to get to know. This is why the U.S. was surprised by what they named the “Arab Spring” more appropriately known in the Arab world as the Jasmine Revolution.

Regrettably this is also why our own policy specialist make poor and misguided policy decisions, much like the one that led Ford to publicly go to Hama and post a note a blogger might compose on an Embassy related Facebook page. If the shoe had been on the other foot and the Syrian Ambassador in the U.S. pulled such a stunt, he’d be on the first plane back home after being expelled.

U.S. diplomats must rethink their roles as well as the roles of their top foreign service officers. They should be trained to perform at the highest standard with continual language and courses on group dynamics as well as culture. In addition, as the Unified Security Budget of 2012 states, curriculum must be expanded with focus on strategic planning, resource allocation, program development, program implementation, and evaluation. Here I would add management of large and complex organizations. All of this would help them run a stellar diplomatic team to prevent bad decisions and unnecessary action.

If Ford were doing his job, which is preventing conflict, he would have had direct access to top leaders to discuss these issues. The U.S. would have then understood the limits of the Syrian President’s power instead of overestimating it. These efforts could have put the U.S. ahead of the game. State would have been more than ready to address – in person – those who are controlling this tortuous massacre giving them a better chance of stopping it. Perhaps the Syrians would have been belligerent, but diplomacy done right pulls out all stops before nations resort to dangerous rhetoric and war.

The bottom line here is that engagement with others help us all move beyond war. In the case of Syria, the U.S. can engage economically, politically and strategically. For example supporting the Syrian stock exchange to encourage buying and sell stocks rather than weapons, importing goods from Aleppo to encourage trade spurring additional economic development, and treating all countries equally under international law – meaning standing by Syria’s ultimate goal – the return of the Golan from Israeli colonization thereby moving toward peace in the region instead of a constant posture of war.

No, none of this is easy. There are long-term embedded hatreds, miscommunications and trust between Syria and Americans and this holds true for other nations around the world that the U.S. must deal with daily. No one is suggesting America should ie down and not look after vital U.S. national interests. However, currently the U.S. must revisit what those vital interests are and realign the focus of the diplomacy of the State Department on them. This does not mean toppling every government it does not like, it means finding ways to help prod and diplomatically move them along so they feel empowered not threatened by the U.S. or more appropriately the exciting regional change that is occurring despite U.S. interference and misguided foreign policy.

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