In today’s news, Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and the top American diplomat in Europe, is heard in a viral Youtube video saying “Fuck the EU,” meaning the European Union, meaning the United States’ allies in Europe, meaning the constituency it is her job to get along with,and not insult like a middle schooler.
A U.S. government competent in international diplomacy, serious about international affairs, and familiar with the concepts of damage control and accountability would sack the unfortunate Ms. Nuland immediately. Waiting until she becomes completely useless and the gaffe escalates into a serious international rift with substantive consequences would be incompetent, lazy and stupid. But this, remember, is the Barack Obama Amateur Diplomacy Era. Nuland has apologized for saying “Fuck the EU,” and that, for now, is the best the European Union will get, because the President Obama and his subordinates (fish-rots-head-down) doesn’t acknowledge the ethical principle of accountability, nor professionalism and competence, as far as I can see.
In its actions, if not its words, the administration has been saying “fuck the rest of the world” with some regularity. Obama’s nominee for Ambassador of Argentina revealed in last week’s confirmation hearings that he has never been there, nor does he speak Spanish. Unlike the many other countries’ languages that our ambassadors assigned to them can’t understand, it really isn’t hard to find qualified diplomats who speak Spanish. Noah Bryson Mamet, however, wasn’t nominated to head the embassy in a major South American nation because he has a clue of how to do that job. He bundled $500,000 for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, you see, and no fewer than 23 such “bundlers” have received ambassador posts as their pay-off.
In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Henri J. Barkey, professor of international relations at Lehigh University and previously a member of President Clinton’s State Department policy planning staff (Oops! So much for the old reliable “this is just a partisan attack” defense!), wrote,
“The United States claims to value the efforts of diplomats — a point the president reiterated in his State of the Union speech last week. So why do so many seem to think that diplomacy is a profession that anyone can engage in? If you had a plumbing problem, would you call your friendly ambassador to fix it? What message is the president sending to Foreign Service officers and to former and current ambassadors of distinction? The Obama administration’s appointments suggest that the President isn’t being honest when he says that diplomacy is important to him.”
I’d say that’s a fair, objective assessment, wouldn’t you? Now one of the qualified diplomats, Nuland, has made horrific blunder at a time when relations with the EU are already reeling from the news, courtesy of Edward Snowden, that the NSA spies on the personal communications of EU leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a prominent hackee, pronounced Nuland’s disrespect as “absolutely unacceptable.” That’s also a fair, objective assessment; what a shame the President of the United States appears to have no concept of what “diplomacy” means, or, as Professor Barkey notes, to give a damn.
The Obama Administration’s predictable reaction, familiar to anyone who has watched its deflections of responsibility over the past five years, was to blame someone else. Jay Carney pointed the finger at Russia for capturing what was supposed to be a private conversation, and he may well be right. How sharp of Jay to conclude that Russia would do something to embarrass the U.S. Let’s make him Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, since he appears to grasp this basic international fact and the risk it suggests, while Nuland did not. Nuland, we are told, is renowned for being the impeccable diplomat in public, and a blunt, undiplomatic critic in private conversations. Well, she’s an idiot, then.
There is no private, as Merkel could have told her, except she probably foolishly presumed that a top U.S. diplomat in post-Snowden America would have figured that out. Any government official, and not just diplomats, who utter in private derogatory statements regarding important constituencies and powerful individuals is playing, no pun intended, Russian Roulette with her job. This was true even before the time when everyone was carrying a video camera on their cell phone and the NSA, or someone else, might be listening in on any conversation.
In 1976, for example, Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz told a racist joke in what he thought was a private conversation. It was overheard by Watergate felon John Dean, however, and Dean, being Dean, thoughtfully passed it on to Rolling Stone. This effectively ended Butz’s career, though he, like Nuland, already had a reputation for being an effective public servant who had a penchant for being less than tasteful or diplomatic in his private discourse. Nobody cared what Butz said in private until one of his comments became public; then it made him a liability. Is a Secretary of Agriculture who insults blacks less able to do his job than a top U.S. diplomat to Europe who says “Fuck the EU”? Isn’t that an easy question? Nuland’s ability to perform her crucial function s directly and permanently diminished by her statement. Butz’s leaked joke made him a political liability, but someone with a taste for ugly jokes can still competently administer agricultural policy.
Nuland, then, has to go. Immediately. Every day the Obama Administration waits—and dithering is another of the President’s specialties—the U.S.’s arrogance and lack of genuine respect for its allies becomes more evident and damaging. Nuland, who is, despite this gaffe, not really an idiot but an experienced professional who behaved recklessly and unprofessionally in this instance, should comprehend the importance of her removal if her bosses do not. She would be doing her country, her profession and her President a boon if she resigned today. Unfortunately, it is likely that the Obama Administration’s banishment of accountability and professionalism has infected her as well.