Lessons Not Learned
David T. Jones, a retired Senior FSO, participated in a State Department study of the last two years of the Clinton administration’s Middle East peace process. In the September issue of the Journal, Mr. Jones pens Strengthen the Process for Middle East Diplomacy. Excerpt below:
Between 1999 and 2001, many senior members of the Clinton administration’s Middle East peace process team wrote neither reporting cables nor memoranda of conversation. Much of the material in the files was undated, had no classification, and lacked drafting and other identifying information — the epitome of the “nonpaper.”
George W. Bush’s administration performed no better, though it repeatedly proclaimed its intention to approach the region differently. Yet during its eight years in office, it did not engage there (diplomatically, at least) with anything approaching the intensity of its predecessor. And its much-touted “road map” for Middle East progress proved the diplomatic equivalent of the Alaskan bridge to nowhere. To the extent that it did engage, Washington continued its highly secretive, keep-no-records approach.
The rationale for this approach is twofold: a fear of leaks in politicized circumstances and a desire to honor requests, often from foreign government officials, that no records be kept. Yet even if our negotiators are blessed with total recall, such skills are not transferable to a new negotiating team; brain implants are still science fiction, after all. And giving in to the desire for deniability only puts Washington at a severe disadvantage compared to those parties that did keep records, forcing us to relearn where the alligators are in the swamp by being bitten again.
Read the full text here (see FSJ | p.15):