Babes in the Diplomatic Woods

As a former intelligence officer, I learned some time ago, and to my chagrin, that when you are on an open phone line on an overseas call, you have to assume that the call is being intercepted.

Further, when you use purple language and discuss opposition figures in a foreign country, using nicknames, as though they were pieces in your own devised chess game, naming which one should enter a new government, etc.; at a moment when a neighboring major power is accusing you of meddling in the affaires of said country, you are once again gaining the reputation of an overbearing superpower throwing its weight around.

Such is the outcome of a recent phone conversation in Kiev between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the American Ambassador to the Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. (It seems that the Blackberry, the preferred phone instrument for the U.S. Government, which may have been used, is encrypted in text but not in audio mode.)

It is said that Ms. Nuland helped develop her legendary taste for salty language aboard a Russian steamer some years ago. Ms. Nuland's brief exposure to the Russian soul does not seem to have endeared her to her Russian interlocutors. The sometimes testy Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, during his first meeting with his American counterpart, John Kerry, looked at Kerry's staff and said, "I see you have finally fired Toria Nuland." Kerry said he responded, "No, I promoted her." (Financial Times, 8-9 February 2014).

Ms. Nuland has apologized to the EU for her expletive-deleted reference to it (a remark which Angela Merkel has let it be known was "totally unacceptable"), but otherwise she has treated the interception incident in a lighthearted manner (calling it "impressive tradecraft") and has not owned up to her own innocence regarding diplomatic exchanges.