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Why the Russian Diplomatic Corps Is Steamrolling Its US Counterpart

All too often, US diplomats are little more than campaign finance hustlers, totally ill-equipped to handle their Russian colleagues

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

I was reading a post on RI today written by the Saker entitled Russia Inflicts Another Massive Defeat on the USA in which he analyzed the dramatic loss US diplomats suffered at the hands of their Russian adversaries on the Vienna Declaration. 

While reading it, I was quickly reminded of something I read last year in the wake of the Crimean annexation and the imposition of sanctions against Russia. The piece, entitled Russian Diplomats Are Eating America's Lunch, by James Bruno (himself a former US diplomat), appeared at Politico on April 16, 2014.

Although 18 months old, its content is perfectly relevant today, and in particular, to the contents of the Saker's article detailing how badly the US fared in the Vienna debacle along with a number of other disasters. It is a veritable case study in US diplomatic incompetence.

The main problem for the Americans is that they simply don't take diplomacy seriously. Ambassadorships are handed out willy-nilly to people who are most successful at raising campaign funds during election cycles or to personal friends, and not to people with actual experience and ability.  

In Russia, the exact opposite is true. As Bruno states:

'Russia has always taken diplomacy and its diplomats seriously. America, on the other hand, does not. Of this country's 28 diplomatic missions in NATO capitals (of which 26 are either filled by an ambassador or have nominees waiting to be confirmed), 16 are, or will be, headed by political appointees; only one ambassador to a major NATO ally, Turkey, is a career diplomat. Fourteen ambassadors got their jobs in return for raising big money for President Obama's election campaigns, or worked as his aides. A conservative estimate of personal and bundled donations by these fundraisers is $20 million (based on figures from the New York Times, Gederal Election Commission and AllGov). The US ambassador to Belgium, a former Microsoft executive, bundled more than $4.3 million.'

Bruno continues:

'By contrast, all but two of Moscow's ambassadors to NATO capitals are career diplomats. And the two Russian equivalents of political appointees (in Latvia and Slovakia) have 6 and 17 years of diplomatic experience respectively. The total number of years of diplomatic experience of Russia's 28 ambassadors to NATO nations is 960 years, averaging 34 years per incumbent. The cumulative years of relevant experience of America's ambassadors are 331, averaging 12 years per individual. Russia has 26 NATO ambassadors with 20-plus years of diplomatic service; the United States has 10. Furthermore, 16 American envoys have five years or fewer, of diplomatic service. The figure for Russia: zero. Five US NATO posts currently have no ambassador. None of Russia's is vacant. With Michael McFaul's departure in February, there is no ambassador in Moscow at the moment.'

McFaul was replaced as ambassador by John Tefft last year. Readers here are probably aware that Tefft is a notorious long-time charlatan from the State Department and the National War College who has a track record of orchestrating revolutions to install US-friendly regimes all the way up to and including the Maidan.

So the picutre is clear: 960 years of diplomatic experience vs. 331 is a bit of a mismatch.

It is no mystery why the Russians were able to easily outmaneuver the Americans in Syria and Ukraine. It's no mystery why the Iranians were able to bend John Kerry over a barrel on the nuclear deal. Kerry is not a diplomat. This was on full tragic display with the Vienna Declaration where Russia got everything it wanted, and the Americans got nothing.

It's also foreshadowing what is likely to result in these upcoming negotiations. When John Kerry, with his two years of official diplomatic experience (serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee does not make you a diplomat), sits down with Foreign Ministers Lavrov and Zarif - both of whom having already humiliated Kerry on the world stage - disaster for the US is almost a foregone conclusion.

Unless or until the US wakes up and realizes that its diplomatic corps cannot consist of a troupe of check collectors - glorified bagmen - when they are up against 1,000 years of their Russian colleagues' rigorous diplomatic training and experience (in NATO countries alone), they are going to keep meeting with the same dismal failures that have been dogging them, quite literally, to this very day. 

If I'm Assad, I like my chances in Vienna.    

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