The Corner

Amateur Hour at the State Department

Denise recently asked whether Obama has put a “kick me” sign on our backs. I have a few thoughts about this.

I recently interviewed Turkey’s former ambassador to the United States, Faruk Loğoğlu. He is appalled — like many in Turkey — by the soft-headedness of the Obama administration’s diplomacy in this region. He finds Obama’s speeches about his personal warmth toward Islam ludicrous and inappropriate. “Obama can’t play the religious game,” he said. “He should be playing the security game. His policy toward Turkey is a bad imitation of the worst parts of Orientalism.”

It’s not merely the ideological color of the Obama administration’s diplomacy that worries me, but its incompetence. I’ve lately been examining in very close detail the events that led to Turkey’s “No” vote on the Iran sanctions package in the UN. I’ll be writing about this elsewhere, and the details are too complicated to summarize here. But one thing leaps out: our incompetence. How could there have been any ambiguity — and obviously there was — in our communication with Turkey about our negotiating position on the nuclear-fuel-swap deal? How is it possible that Turkey was receiving critically different messages from the White House and the State Department on an issue as significant as the Iranian nuclear program, for God’s sake? It’s inconceivable, but on looking closely at the evidence, it is clear that this is just what happened.

When the State Department spokesman sends a completely inappropriate birthday message to to Ahmadinejad via Twitter, it is, likewise, a symptom of utter amateurism. Apologists for this incident have suggested to me that this wasn’t such a big deal; it was sarcastic, they say, and it wasn’t a diplomatic note or official communiqué. I am guessing that had that Tweet said, “Tomorrow we bomb Iran into rubble,” the same people would have thought it quite a big deal indeed.

It is hugely significant when the tone coming out of the State Department is childish, inappropriate, and supine; it is fundamentally unserious to put such a message on Twitter; and it is beyond belief that anyone there would think “sarcasm” about this situation — we are talking about kidnapped U.S. citizens who are being held hostage in Iran — conveys American resolve. Signaling counts. Signaling that you are damned serious does not start wars, it prevents them.

Continued . . .

Claire Berlinski — Berlinski is a journalist who lives in Istanbul. She is the author of Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis Is America’s, Too, and There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters.

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