What do I think of diplomacy?

Diogo, a loyal MR reader, asks:

How do you see diplomacy as a profession? If you could be nominated US Ambassador to a country, which country would you choose? What good novels are there about diplomacy and diplomats?

I see diplomacy as a stressful and unrewarding profession.  A good diplomat has the responsibility of deflecting a lot of the blame onto himself, and continually crediting others, while working hard not to like his contacts too much.  And how does he or she stay so loyal to the home country when so many ill-informed or unwise instructions are coming through the pipeline?  Most of all, a good diplomat requires some kind of clout in the home country and must maintain or manufacture that from abroad.  The entire time on mission the diplomat is eating up his capital and power base, and toward what constructive end?  So someone else can take his place?  And what kind of jobs can you hope to advance into?

Diplomats are in some ways like university presidents: little hope for job advancement, serving many constituencies, and having little ability to control events.  Plus they are underpaid relative to human capital.  They must speak carefully.  They must learn how to wield power in the subtlest ways possible.

Who was it that said?: " Diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice Doggie" until you can find a stick"

Presumably diplomats either enjoy serving their country or they enjoy the ego rents of being a diplomat or both.  It is a false feeling of power, borrowed power from one's country of origin rather than from one's personal achievements.  For the spouse the required phoniness is even worse.

For all those reasons, and more, I would not wish to be a diplomat.  I also might prefer to be a diplomat to a country I did not like, rather than to a country I did like.  

As for novels about diplomats, The Constant Gardener comes to mind.  The Diplomat's Wife is popular, though I have never read it.  I read the Ender trilogy as about diplomacy as well.  (Is there more from science fiction?  It seems like a good plot device to bring people into contact with alien cultures.)  Carlos Fuentes was himself a diplomat, as were Octavio Paz, Lawrence Durrell, Ivo Andriæ, Pablo Neruda, and Giorgos Seferis.  That's a lot of writer-diplomats and you can add John Kenneth Galbraith (ambassador to India) to the list.  Galbraith was the guy who said:

"There are few ironclad rules of diplomacy but to one there is no exception.  When an official reports that talks were useful, it can safely be concluded that nothing was accomplished."


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