Americans Deserve A Better Return On Diplomatic Missions
By: Rachel Marsden
PARIS -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Sochi, Russia, this week,
apparently to play dumb with the Russians on the taxpayer's dime.
In advance of Kerry's visit, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a press briefing, "Well, I don't know what we expect to hear from the Russians, but I know that, as we've talked about before, Secretary Kerry and the team have long been thinking through ways to get back to a diplomatic process here when it comes to a Geneva-like scenario where we get the parties to the table and where we can actually make progress towards a political transition in Syria."
Really? You won't have your epiphany about what the Russians are thinking until Kerry can get to Sochi and mount his omnipresent bicycle on the Black Sea shore? The Russians are constantly saying what they think. Take Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's remark last September here in Paris, for example: "Syria and Iran are our natural allies in the fight against (the Islamic State), and their participation in today's meeting could significantly enrich our work."
No doubt Russian President Vladimir Putin is thrilled at the prospect of being asked by Kerry about things Putin has repeated a million times already. As for any "diplomatic process" related to Syria -- which is really just a euphemism for ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- the Russians have been pretty clear in saying that the Islamic State terrorist insurgency in the Middle East is more of a priority than ousting Assad, who was fighting the Islamic State before it was even known as such.
I'm no fan of Assad, but it's not like there's some kind of Ronald Reaganesque alternative waiting in the wings for his chance to eradicate terrorists and usher democracy into Syria. So what's the rush to take the gun out of his hand, as long as he's still busy using it to kill Islamic State terrorists?
The tack taken by the State Department prior to sending Kerry and his spandex shorts to yet another foreign country could best be described as "unabashed obliviousness," raising serious questions (yet again) about whether this administration has any strategic foreign policy at all.
The public relations branch of the United States government -- which is essentially what the State Department is -- needs to focus less on recycling the same talking points and more on concrete action that will ultimately speak for itself by generating a measurable return of value to Americans.
To that end, Kerry could be going to Moscow with a delegation of prominent business leaders from American multinationals considered to be of critical importance to the U.S. economy. It's amazing how fast political bickering can put to rest by the prospect of everyone making some money. Get American and Russian business leaders into the same room to forge some economic cooperation. (Then maybe, as an added bonus, Bill Clinton won't have to go around doing so much of it with his family foundation.)
U.S. taxpayers aren't wrong to demand a better return on investment from their government's foreign photo ops. The French public sure does. When President Francois Hollande made a historic visit to Cuba this week -- the first Cuban visit by a sitting French president -- he took a group of French business leaders with him. Meanwhile, buzz in the French press focused on rumors of new Cuban deals for French oil and gas giant Total S.A. rather than on political rhetoric.
I can guarantee that if Hollande had showed up in Cuba and simply let Fidel Castro blather about humanitarian and environmental issues (which Castro apparently did), the French public would have been livid.
French diplomacy is expected to translate into quantifiable returns in short order. To that end, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian bragged earlier this month that the government has already helped facilitate 15 billion euros worth of French arms deals this year (compared with 8 billion euros for all of 2014).
Kerry isn't operating covertly. He's America's frontman on the international stage. To make the most of his role, he needs to emphasize economics rather than political talking points -- and the American public shouldn't be shy about demanding it.
COPYRIGHT 2015 RACHEL MARSDEN