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Monday, February 2, 2009

Double, Triple Tracking

The new American administration has lost little time in hinting that it will make good on its promises to launch dialogues with some of America’s best known enemies. Iran and Syria stand at the top of the list, and we now are hearing about ongoing “track II” discussions with governments in both countries.

Talleyrand may be accused fairly of traditionalism in his preference for the Old Diplomacy, secret or otherwise. He finds the track II business rather confusing. It has long been a practice of governments to send quiet emissaries outside the usual channels if the need arose. But then why are they allowed to publicize their work so soon after the fact? Doesn’t it defeat the whole purpose of having quiet discussions, sub rosa?

One begins to suspect the work of a master dissembler. First Obama appoints his chief political rival to head the State Department; then come the high profile “special envoys” with promises of more on the way; followed by these semi-official dialogues, all well leaked. What will be next? A juggler with hidden hands may work miracles. But when he drops a ball, the consequences of mixed messages could be dire.    

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