The pitiful, sorry state of America’s relations with its allies was on full display in US diplomat Victoria Nuland’s “expletive deleted” remark about the European Union last week. Never mind that the recording released on Twitter and YouTube was an unauthorized, secret audiotape of a private conversation between Nuland and the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. The damage has been done and the fallout continues to reverberate in Ukraine and around Western capitals.
We all whisper things privately that we would not want to become public. But this very public official, particularly in a post-Snowden world, should have known that her cellphone would likely be tapped by unscrupulous spymasters and that her very candid conversation with her colleague about the future configuration of the Ukraine government was political dynamite. Nuland perhaps naively thought her secret was being whispered, like King Midas’s barber, into a hole in the ground. But like the barber’s deadly secret it is now being broadcast by the Twitter/YouTube weed patch to the obvious delight of America’s rivals and enemies.
Sadly, this is no laughing matter. Nuland’s remarks will hurt the candidacy of Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who Americans want to become Ukraine’s next prime minister. They undermine Ukraine’s more moderate, Western-leaning opposition groups who are being labeled the “Puppets of Maidan” (the major square in Kiev which protestors have occupied for weeks). The revelations also play right into the hands of Russian president Vladimir Putin, the consummate meddler and manipulator in Ukraine politics, who now accuses Americans of doing the same as he tries to blow up the West’s efforts to court Ukraine’s leaders.
Nuland’s remarks have only served to further raise the ire of German Chancellor Merkel, who was upset that the US National Security Agency was tapping her cellphone and also, as we have now learned, that of her predecessor, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Merkel issued a statement through her spokesman saying that she found Nuland’s remarks “absolutely unacceptable.” That is putting it mildly.
Nuland’s abject apologies will do little to paper over the deeper problem Washington has with its key allies– its barely concealed disdain that Nuland’s “expletive deleted” has now given a very public appellation.
At the very moment in history when US global power and influence in the world are on the wane, instead of embracing it friends Washington is giving them the proverbial finger. Such fractious disunity and name calling will undermine Western interests not just in Ukraine but other regions of the globe where alas Washington’s contempt for its allies and friends is all too apparent.
Israelis felt the sting of rebuke in Secretary of State Kerry’s not so thinly veiled threat of a boycott on Israeli businesses and goods over Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
Washington’s allies in the Middle East—Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates, and Jordon—are all stunned at the speed of Obama’s concessions to Iran over its nuclear program–again without apparent prior consultation–and without getting much from Iran in return such as a verifiable dismantling of Iran’s gas centrifuges or a real halt to the construction of its heavy water reactor.
America’s allies in the Asia-Pacific are also dismayed at Washington’s inability to turn the much touted “pivot” or “rebalancing” of America’s geostrategic orientation towards the region into anything more than Presidential speeches. After Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid delivered a knock-out punch to the Trans Pacific Partnership when he refused to give the president fast-track trade promotion authority, US allies have been incredulous unlike some Canadian commentators who continue to eulogize the Obama presidency as its political fortunes sink to an all-time low.
Closer to home, notwithstanding the fact that the State Department’s report on Keystone has in the words of a Washington Post editorial “put common sense back in the pipeline” President Obama prefers further procrastination and delay in order to secure partisan advantage in the upcoming US congressional elections.
Former US Secretary of State George Shultz once said that foreign policy is like “gardening,” especially when it comes to taking care of America’s relations with its key allies and friends . Alas, this garden is not well-tended by Washington’s current leadership and the weeds are fast taking over.