Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Tapped ("petty slights and insults") and Marc Fisher ("expects nations to abide by the same rules of friendship that govern prep-school boys") both suggest that the Bush administration's post-election coolness to the German government is a fit of petty personal presidential pique. Someone who understands diplomacy better than I do (paging Dan Drezner!) should feel free to correct me, but this seems like a bizarre misreading to me. Subtly nuanced, finely calibrated compliments and slights are the stuff diplomacy is made of. Who sits where at dinner, who gets invited to what dinner, who travels to what country when and meets with which officials, and, yes, who places or accepts which phone calls are the typical ways that states signal pleasure and displeasure to each other without actually changing policy (withdrawing from alliances or entering new ones, slapping on sanctions or lowering trade barriers, etc). For Bush to skip the customary call to Schroeder while Powell accepts the customary call from Fischer seems to me like a carefully-planned response to the question "How do we express official unhappiness here without worsening the damage to the alliance?" I'm willing to bet that there was a very deliberate discussion, involving protocol experts from State, that preceded Bush's refusal to place the call. That is, the administration's not violating diplomatic rules and niceties out of personal annoyance; it's following them quite carefully. The President has been known to personalize foreign policy too much (i.e. the "Why are you attacking my brother?" whine to Europeans who slapped retaliatory tariffs on Florida oranges) but I'm pretty sure that this isn't a case of that. UPDATE: Dan Drezner responds.

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