When Barack Obama selected Hillary Clinton -- with her limited experience in foreign affairs, far more limited than her knowledge of the sad affairs of her marital (martial?) heart -- a thought immediately came to my overly cynical mind, formed by the over twenty years that I had the privilege, at taxpayers' expense, to serve in the U.S. Foreign Service.
"It's Barack's way of getting her out of town," I immediately told myself.
It turns out that Hillary, who many (including, doubtless, herself) expected to be president in 2001, has more than fulfilled the president's wish to keep her far away as possible from the White House by her endless travels, "nearly a million miles ... and 112 countries visited." Think about it, if you were Barack or his closest advisers: No pushy Hillary at WH/National Security Council meetings.
But Hillary's peregrinations, while delighting (relieving is perhaps a better word) the president, were not really breaking a precedent.
In her many hours jetting around, at enormous expense to a debt-ridden country, in her souped-up Boeing, Hillary was (unknowingly?) following the example of her predecessor who, so far as I know, was the first SecState to publicize on the State Department website how many miles she had to go before she slept (well, ok, she did sleep on her plane).
I am referring to the good "Dr." Condoleezza Rice, an intellectual fraud if there ever was one, for whom distance covered (as if diplomacy were a football game) was a sign of "diplomatic" success or, as she pretentiously coined it, "transformational diplomacy." She, of course, was considered as an NFL commissioner, which doubtless would have been the culmination of her PR career.
But to get slightly more serious:
Motion rather than solution: Is that the 21st century agenda for our American Secretaries of State?
Think about it. One false way to convince "people" the world over (including in our very own USA) that you're "doing something" when you actually have nothing to do/decide upon, is to be "on the move," with the complacent media, eager for any story, "reporting" on your "new initiative." Make sure to have "town hall meetings" with respectful, carefully chosen natives in other lands -- "public diplomacy" at its most superficial -- without dealing in depth with substantive issues, a sine qua non, I would argue, of effective diplomatic negotiations -- a painstaking process few in the USA homeland (or, for that matter, among representatives of foreign "public opinion") want to be bothered with.
So just smile for the camera and look "sincere." It works PR wonders! (Whatever these wonders may be, except to those producing them.)
A rarity among pundits who understand our end-of-serious-diplomacy era is the wise "Old World" New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who confesses that "Much as I love America, my love does not extend to its football":
Diplomacy is dead.
Effective diplomacy -- the kind that produced Nixon's breakthrough with China, an end to the Cold War on American terms, or the Dayton peace accord in Bosnia -- requires patience, persistence, empathy, discretion, boldness and a willingness to talk to the enemy.
This is an age of impatience, changeableness, palaver, small-mindedness and an unwillingness to talk to bad guys.
Of course, with all due respect to Mr. Cohen, the fact that "diplomacy is dead" arguably existed from the very beginning of "diplomacy," given its all too rare successes. So nothing in life, including being dead, is really new.
I was the press guy at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade when the Dayton Peace accord (cited above by Cohen) was signed. In his search for peace in a tormented part of the world, no person could create a made-for-journalists show to promote himself and his cause better than the architect of this imperfect accord, Richard Holbrooke. The joke then (mid-90s) was:
What's the most dangerous place in the Balkans? Between Dick Holbrooke and a TV camera.
But Holbrooke realized that, bottom line, diplomacy is about negotiations that bring results, not moving from place to place to keep the masses and reporters entertained. Indeed, when diplomacy becomes a superbowl-like media circus (1) it becomes yet another sad illustration of -- to cite the words of the Bard centuries ago -- an activity reduced to being "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'"
(1) See the important book by Kenneth Osgood, which documents in detail that propaganda replaced diplomacy during the Eisenhower administration -- a period when the USIA (United States Information Agency) was established (1953) and the CIA was involved in clandestinely supporting "informational/cultural" activities abroad.