November 29, 2010

Article at Reuters

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Washington Extra - Diplomatic niceties

WASHINGTON, Nov 29 (Reuters) - To an outsider, diplomacy sometimes looks like an exercise in smiling and being nice to people who you secretly dislike or even scorn. The trouble is, these days your real feelings may not be a secret.

Perhaps it’s no surprise to discover that a U.S. diplomat found Britain’s Prince Andrew to be cocky and verging on rude, and maybe it doesn’t matter that much.

But you can’t help wondering how Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will feel about being called “Robin” to Vladimir Putin’s “Batman” and how German Chancellor Angela Merkel will react to being called “risk averse and rarely creative.”

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi tried to laugh off being called a “feckless” and “vain” partier but one can’t help feeling the comments must have stung at a sensitive time for the embattled leader.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s relationship with the United States has already deteriorated dangerously but it cannot be helped by the certain knowledge his main foreign allies think he is “weak” and “easily swayed.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to laugh off the diplomatic awkwardness: “I can tell you that in my conversations at least one of my counterparts said to me ‘Well don’t worry about it, you should see what we say about you’.”

Of course, there are much more serious implications than a few bruised egos and awkward diplomatic dances. It is worth remembering that the failure to stop the Sept. 11 attacks was blamed in part on a failure of intelligence sharing.

Now that very intelligence sharing is being blamed for the ease with which the information was downloaded.

Experts say there is likely to be a rollback, a battening down of the hatches, a reluctance to share information electronically in case it leaks. That could make vital intelligence more difficult to cross-check and correlate and leave dangerous holes in the West’s defenses.

Finally, interesting stuff in this cable about the lifestyles of the Kazakhstani leadership. We liked the tale of Prime Minister Masimov dancing alone on an empty stage above the dance floor at one of Astana’s trendiest nightspots and of President Nazarbayev flying Elton John to headline the 41st birthday party of his son-in-law, for a reported fee of $1 million.

And this direct quote: “Kazakhstan’s political elites also have recreational tastes that are not so exotic. Some, in fact, prefer to relax the old-fashioned way. Defense Minister Akhmetov, a self-proclaimed workaholic, appears to enjoy loosening up in the tried and true ‘homo sovieticus’ style -- i.e., drinking oneself into a stupor.”

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