So, Why Wasn't There Top-Level Representation?

So, whether you agree that it's a good answer or a bad answer, you all know that there's an answer to this question: for two hundred years this year, the standards set by the Congress of Vienna make the Ambassador the personal representative of the chief executive and entitled to represent him and meet with his equals in his place. Therefore, there was top level representation in accordance with the accepted standards of international law in the modern era. "And so absolutely no slight should be read into this. The Ambassador is exactly the right person to attend in the absence of the head of state."

Why can't this woman give that answer?



Does she not know? I'm willing to excuse John Kerry for his ignorance, which is only to be expected. But if there's one person in the world who should be expected to know how to explain this, it's the spokeswoman for the US Department of State.

I'm done defending the administration here. Some foreign service officers in Paris got it right, and they apparently deserve a massive debt of their countrymen's gratitude, because they are the only ones in the entire government who seem to have known what the United States was supposed to do if the President decided not to come.

21 comments:

E Hines said...

Why can't this woman give that answer?

Because she cannot. Understand: this woman has no voice. She has only vocal cords and a tongue, which are used solely by Obama, who is a better policy wonk than his policy wonks. Every word that comes out of her mouth, every word that comes out of Earnest's mouth, every word that comes out of Jen Psaki's mouth is spoken by Obama. They're his words, vetted by him. Any paraphrasings are pre-approved by him. This woman and her fellows are puppets, nothing more.

The rambling evasions here, and the failures to answer much of anything here, are Obama's evasions and failures.

In his--and her--defense, standing on the legalist claim that Congress of Vienna and all that, would have been insulting, also. Obama needed to address the second and subsequent questions that were asked--why not Obama along with all those other heads of state and not their seconds? That, too, was Obama's failure and not this woman's.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

I don't find the 'not their seconds' question that interesting -- America is a lot farther away than Germany or even Israel. Russia sent its foreign minister, which would have been the equivalent of sending Kerry (who was in India at the time). The Ambassador is a perfectly acceptable choice, exactly the right person to stand in for an absent head of state.

What is amazing to me is that none of them seem to know it. Even if the President has to personally sign off on everything she says, "What we did was perfectly right and appropriate, as you would know if you understood 200 years of diplomatic history" is just the sort of talking point I'd expect him to approve. It's exactly what a man who is 'a smarter policy adviser than his policy advisers' would want to say.

Anonymous said...

This is what cognitive dissonance sounds like. The discussion and instructions she heard make no sense, and she cannot answer properly because she has been told something weird and unwieldily, that is getting in between her brain and tongue.

Valerie

Texan99 said...

Are you kidding? They don't pay her to give answers. They pay her to obfuscate.

You've been assuming that they sent the ambassador in good faith, in reliance on a reasoned opinion that it wouldn't be taken as an insult. I question the basis for that assumption. Frankly I'm not convinced yet that the ambassador was there; they're perfectly capable of claiming she was, knowing that it was unlikely anyone would call them on it. The only missing is to send Susan Rice onto the Sunday talk shows to claim it five times.

Grim said...

All right, fine. Here's an Irish news site that has a picture of her at the rally, about halfway down the page.

I get the suspicion of the core group, both their competence and their honesty. And, having dealt with the State Department in Iraq, I can get the general sense that they're sometimes out of touch.

But I honestly do believe, and every Foreign Service officer I've worked with has lived up to this, that the careerists believe in their mission and take being a professional diplomat seriously. Often too seriously. The criticism I would level against the Foreign Service is that they often vastly overestimate what can be done with agreements and treaties, international organizations and idle words.

But I'll bet they know the protocol about whom to send to an event featuring heads of state when our head of state will not be present.

E Hines said...

I don't find the 'not their seconds' question that interesting

You may not; the rest of the world does. No one else sent an ambassador; they sent their leaders or a Cabinet official from their Executive Branch equivalents. Running my thumb down a list of 38 attendees, I see six nations sent Ministers other than the head; the others all sent their government heads. My mistake: I'd said only heads had attended. The list is mistaken, also, to this extent: Agence France-Presse generously said Holder had attended, too. Of course it's well known that he had found a previous engagement demanding his personal attention back in the US that was more important.

America is a lot farther away than Germany or even Israel.

We're not farther away than Canada, which sent one of their Ministers. We're not importantly farther away than the UAE, which also sent one of their Ministers.

An ambassador in that crowd was a slap in the face; a bundler presuming to wear ambassador pants was the back of Obama's hand to their collective faces. This isn't the 18th century anymore; as no less a light than John Kerry has said, we just don't do things like that in the 21st century.

Eric Hines

E Hines said...

19th century, not 18th. Still just not done.

Eric Hines

Texan99 said...

Some careerists may have known the technical meaning of sending the ambassador. A few of them might have been politically naive enough not to understand that under the circumstances it would be an insult. But I have no reason to think the hacks in the White House knew or cared that under some professional guidelines it was considered fair game to rely on the ambassador to represent our country under these extraordinary circumstances. The chances are good they only found out afterward that it would sound like a plausible excuse; and some of them don't know it yet, as you can tell from the video performance.

The president didn't go because it wasn't a priority for him, and because he didn't understand there would be enough blowback to inconvenience him. It's as simple as that.

Grim said...

Wait, what did John Kerry say we don't do in the 21st century? Surely not 'send ambassadors to represent us at important symbolic events.'

You say 'just not done' as if this were established practice: whenever we have a horrible terrorist attack in a first world ally, of course everyone sends their head of state (or government -- the Queen didn't come, for instance) to march down the street arm-in-arm. The truth is that's never happened before. It didn't happen after the London bombings (any of them, Islamist or IRA), after the bombings in Spain that knocked them out of the Iraq war, not even after 9/11. There's not an established practice of which this would be a clear and insulting violation.

...a bundler presuming to wear ambassador pants...

In general I prefer it when we promote career diplomats to important ambassadorships. But she was nominated by the President of the United States, and confirmed by our Senate. I doubt you'll find many EU politicians whose claim even to their 'prime minister pants' is any better than that. They get there, as the ruler of the Queen's Navy said, by 'always voting at their party's call, and never thinking for themselves at all.'

Grim said...

Tex:

Some careerists may have known the technical meaning of sending the ambassador. A few of them might have been politically naive enough not to understand that under the circumstances it would be an insult. But I have no reason to think the hacks in the White House knew or cared...

Mostly I agree with that, with the reservation that they should have been naive to think it would not be an insult. If it is an insult to send the ambassador instead of the chief executive, that's a new standard that people have come up with overnight. It's the standard that's newly born, not the foreign service officers.

Texan99 said...

Nonsense. An ambassador may be fine for run-of-the-mill occasions. An occasion on which 40-50 heads of state or senior seconds attend in person to make a very specific international point about solidarity and resolve in the face of a global threat and outrage is not a run-of-the-mill occasion. There is not nor ever could be an internal U.S. protocol that could change that reality, no matter what it says in the Dept. of State playbook. It was the kind of hollow excuse strangers make when they're content to rest on etiquette and don't care about the volcanic feelings stirred up by a situation of real import.

It's like a recently married couple who find that one of them needs and receives a kidney from a friend, then explain that they didn't get around to thanking the friend because Emily Post says it's OK to wait up to a year before sending a perfunctory thank-you note. Dry convention and the letter of the law just don't cut it in all situations. It's box-checking of a singularly inappropriate sort.

Cass said...

FWIW, I think Grim was entirely correct in his point that - insofar as protocol goes - it should have been OK to send the ambassador.

But the ambassador wasn't front and center, and even if she had been, the lack of proportionality would have sent its own message. I agree with Tex that it looks like a slap in the face.

Obama could have softened the slap by making a conspicuous and very strongly worded public statement (and having his subordinates do so as well), yet he comes out with this milquetoast statement on the White House web site that scrupulously avoids any suggestion that militant Islamism is a problem and then acts like nothing special is going on.

He fumbled the ball. A good leader needs to be able to read a situation, and Mr. "I'm so detached and cerebral" clearly failed to do that here.

MikeD said...

I'm 100% with Cass here (no true surprise I guess). There is such a thing as being "legally" or "technically" correct, and then there is being respectful.

Grim, I absolutely agree with you that by no means is it against protocol to send an Ambassador when a head of state cannot be present. That is absolutely true by international protocol. And I also agree that the spokeswoman for the State Department clearly should have been able to articulate that. There is no manner in which you are wrong. But by the same light, I'd have vastly preferred if the Administration did not do the minimum legally required (or required by protocol as in this case) for a long term historic ally when they are viciously attacked by a common enemy. True, it is far better than doing less that what is expected, but it still comes off as cold.

And finally, sending an Ambassador when the head of state is not able to go is one thing. But when the head of state is available but does not want to go, it is another.

Texan99 said...

I've been thinking about it this morning, in terms of the parable about the donkey caught in the mudpit, and the controversy over whether the right thing to do could be arrived at by a conscientious application of the rule against working on the Sabbath. This business about the letter and the spirit of the law is always with us.

E Hines said...

what did John Kerry say we don't do in the 21st century?

He was talking about the outmoded practice of invading other countries, referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Standing on guild protocol vis-a-vis ambassadors as universally and forever acceptable stand-ins for heads of states, no matter the occasion, is another such.

It didn't happen after the London bombings (any of them, Islamist or IRA)

A clear non sequitur. Those were internal affairs in which no other nation had any business interfering uninvited. That wasn't the 19th century business of Great Britain interfering in our internal fight.

the bombings in Spain that knocked them out of the Iraq war

(I thought that was the Afghan war.) This was an erstwhile...ally...surrendering to its enemy in a war; nothing with which to stand in solidarity there.

I doubt you'll find many EU politicians whose claim even to their 'prime minister pants' is any better than that. They get there....

Ah, the rightness or wrongness of an act is in whether someone else did it first or is doing it also; it's not at all intrinsic in the act. That sort of logic is unlike you, Grim.

The truth is that's never happened before.

Even taking this as accurate, it's a shameful and shaming failure. It suggests that our administration cannot think on its feet or do anything that has no precedent. And he had the example straight in front of him: ~40 other heads of state or Cabinet-level seconds repairing to Paris for the march. ~40 other sovereign governments figuring out how to do something that's never happened before, and miracle des miracles, they all hit upon the same answer.

No, at bottom, much of the world thought it important to send actual top-level government leadership, rather than protocol-appropriate substitutes, to stand with the head of government of a nation just attacked in an ongoing war. Our administration, led by a man who cannot put "Islamic" and "terrorist/terrorism" in the same paragraph and who chokes over saying "terrorist" in isolation rather than "extremist" or "insurgent" stood on that guild ceremony instead of taking the matter seriously.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

He was talking about the outmoded practice of invading other countries, referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Standing on guild protocol vis-a-vis ambassadors as universally and forever acceptable stand-ins for heads of states, no matter the occasion, is another such.

As far as the practice being outmoded, perhaps I missed the Russian withdrawal from the Crimea? :)

The problem with thinking you've left the past behind is that the past has never really passed.

That sort of logic is unlike you, Grim.

My point was that our ambassadors, even the ones who are just partisan hacks who get a patronage appointment, are exactly the kind of people who become parliamentary leaders in Europe. There's no insult to sending one like her among them.

Actually, both she and they are better than the actual EU leaders, who are insulated from democratic controls almost entirely. At least she (and they) are appointed by people who were really elected.

Cass said...

I have a friend from the Ukraine, and recently talked to her about what's really going on there. She is so frustrated at the media's refusal to cover the atrocities. According to her (she's been volunteering to translate eyewitness accounts to get the word out) it's a LOT worse than we've been told.

So much for Kerry and his "outmoded" (*sniff*).

E Hines said...

our ambassadors...are exactly the kind of people who become parliamentary leaders in Europe.

Not really. Our ambassadors are appointed and then confirmed. Or they're appointed and sit in the actual chair until the next Congress. Parliamentary leaders get elected by the people or by their peers. If one moves up a notch to fill a vacant seat because the erstwhile incumbent has become incapacitated, that one sits only in the Acting chair, and then only until the next Parliamentary vote on the matter, not until the next Parliament.

Withal, my argument has never been about the protocol itself, but only about the legitimacy of hiding behind it as an excuse for not doing what was right in the particular case. Obama failed.

I missed the Russian withdrawal from the Crimea?

And the Russian withdrawal from Georgia. But that was Kerry's meme (and so Obama's), not that of anyone serious. Rule #4 applies here.

Eric Hines

Texan99 said...

"our ambassadors...are exactly the kind of people who become parliamentary leaders in Europe."

That's way harsh.

Cass said...

:)

Matt said...

I suspect also that this aspect of the diplomatic protocol simply hasn't kept pace with the advance in technology, particularly travel and telecommunications. It used to be that ambassadors would be given plenipotentiary authority to act in the stead of the head of state even in negotiating treaties, partly out of sheer necessity given travel time in those days. Now heads of state and their immediate deputies have a much easier time talking directly; the ambassador's role seems to have been diminished as a consequence.