America’s diplomatic meltdown


Regardless of what one may think about the United States, humanity cannot afford an unchecked superpower that does not follow well established norms and actions, and a set of core principles.

Diplomacy used to be the compass that kept America on a predictable course. Political parties, administrations and presidents came and went, but US diplomacy remained based on steady rules. Experienced diplomats with strong knowledge of global developments, of the particularities of individual nations and regions, and of the delicate balances of (political, economic, military and religious) power, all operated in the service of the incumbent president. They would align themselves with any foreign policy decisions taken by the administration, but would to a large extent shape Washington’s behavior vis-a-vis the rest of the world. This also applied, of course, to Greece’s wider region. Whether or not we liked Washington’s approach, we more or less knew what to expect. This certainty is no more.

When a US president described the leader of a foreign country as a “friend,” it meant a great deal. Now we do not know what to make of similar compliments – whether they concern our prime minister or the president of a neighboring state. This is the first time that State Department officials appear to have no idea what their country plans to do on a number of issues.

Contrary to what had been the case for decades, the US president does not seem to respect his diplomats and appreciate their advice. The confusion intensifies when Donald Trump is not on the same page with his top diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on major international issues such as the Qatar-Saudi Arabia crisis or North Korea. This week, the international community was shocked to see Trump warning the erratic North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that America also has a nuclear button that is “much bigger and more powerful.”

In a previous tragicomic incident, Trump challenged his secretary of state to “compare IQ tests,” following reports that Tillerson had called the president a “moron.”

Inside the State Department, there is widespread discontent regarding major policy decisions ranging from America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement to the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision that was criticized by virtually all former US ambassadors to Israel.

Meanwhile, the State Department’s economic leverage is on the wane amid a hiring freeze guidance, staff layoffs and budget cuts by about 30 percent.

During Trump’s first year in office, about 60 percent of career ambassadors left the department and many key positions are currently vacant, taking a toll on Washington’s foreign policy effectiveness.

Losing the best brains, a key safety valve that could guarantee the sole superpower played a mature and restrained role on the global stage, marks an extremely worrying development for Greece’s region and the rest of the world.