A column from the left-leaning UK Guardian shows one aspect of diplomacy at work:
I recently read in Vogue that the best parties in London are no longer thrown by artists or pop stars, but by the new American ambassador and his wife in their official residence. At which I thought, bloody hell, the very idea of making champagne small talk with gurning Guantánamo apologists while men with machine guns hide in their bushes – no thanks. My second thought, coming in a smooth nanosecond after the first, was that I needed to get invited, immediately.
Besides official state-to-state diplomacy, negotiating deals and so on, a lot of what diplomats do is aimed at building ties, sympathy and understanding with important elements of public opinion. It’s not easy to quantify the impact, but a country like the U.S., which attracts a lot of reflexive hostility, envy and suspicion because of its power and visibility on the international scene, needs to pay close attention to the small stuff. Adversaries like Putin, following in the footsteps of his KGB predecessors in the Kremlin, want to build a picture of a violent, hateful America that cannot be trusted and must be resisted. ISIS, Al Qaeda and Iran, not to mention countries like Venezuela, are also doing their best to gin up public feeling against the United States.It’s hard to respond: the cool kids are always anti-Establishment, and snarky anti-Americanism is the default mode for journalists, academics and opinion leaders around the world.Part of what good diplomats do is to counter the propaganda. This isn’t always or perhaps even very often about rational debate; rational debate is not what Russian disinformation has ever been about, in Soviet times or now. But here’s an example of a party that attracted Londoners who are profoundly suspicious of American policy and on a variety of levels Ambassador Barzun was able to reach past the stereotypes that nurture anti-Americanism and give his guests a different look at our complex society. So there’s one writer at the Guardian who may be a little bit more willing to listen when the ambassador wants to make a policy point, and hundreds of thousands of Guardian readers get a more sympathetic picture of American life than they normally do—complete with a picture of an American eagle in a party hat.This isn’t propaganda, it isn’t bribery and it isn’t brainwashing. It is winning friends for the United States by intelligently representing the reality of our country, and helping important foreign counterparts get a fresh and unprejudiced look at who we are and what we do.Parties like that are expensive, as is the art that Ambassador Barzun had on his walls. This is where having rich political ambassadors can also make a difference. American taxpayers didn’t pay for the art or for much of the party expense; these events go WAY beyond tight embassy budgets. It’s an old tradeoff: rich and well connected Americans throw great soirees in glittering surroundings, enjoying life on the A list in great world cities, and U.S. taxpayers get a bargain. We pay for Doritos, and we get caviar.At its best, having non-professional ambassadors in certain countries (the UK, France, Italy, Japan, etc.) means that high profile social events create opportunities for the professional diplomats to build good will with important members of the national elite, while the personal relationship between the U.S. president and the ambassador ensure that the country’s concerns get priority attention back in the U.S. When the system goes wrong and we appoint socially challenged, ostentatiously ignorant or otherwise unqualified people to these posts, the host country is insulted and the professional diplomats waste their time trying to sweep up the broken china that a rich, incompetent blowhard has left in his or her wake.Non-career ambassadors who are well staffed (and who are smart enough to listen to the professionals who can help them be much more effective) and well-connected can have a great time in these jobs while they do real service to their country and to the president who appointed them. Whatever else is going on in our London embassy, it looks as on one recent night, the system worked.