On Rodman

Jan. 10th, 2014 05:46 pm
danalwyn: (Default)
[personal profile] danalwyn
Realization: Dennis Rodman is representative of everything that’s wrong with American diplomacy.



So diplomacy, ideally, works like this. There is a group of people who are well-trained and versed in the art of dealing with other people respectfully. When confronted with a decision of policy they begin by gathering information, from the countries in question, from experts in the field a decision is required in, from experts on the countries, and from people who have spent time in or living in the countries. They weigh different factors. They calculate. Then they debate and finally come to a decision.

Into this wanders a new factor. A political factor. An uncontrollable factor. For no apparent reason, let’s call him DR.

DR is well-traveled, on paper. He has been to many other countries, inasmuch as he has been in many other countries. He has at least arrived at an airport where he is usually met by a limousine, a fancy SUV, a chartered tour bus, or something else that is entirely unrepresentative of life on the street. He has traveled directly to hotels, where he is hosted in marble-clad luxury until the time comes to make an appearance at a conference or event, where he is almost always dealing mostly with other people from America (usually a collection of white males) and local officials. When touring major attractions (and make no mistake, he will tour), he goes in a crowd of hangers-on and other miscellaneous flunkies who surround him completely, protecting him from accidental contact with the natives.

At no point in time will DR ever go through a full tour of the country he is in. He will in no way experience street life, or village life, or have any idea what day to day existence is like for the people of the country. In some ways this is fortunate, as DR probably speaks nothing of the local language, and putting him out on the street with the people who live there would have been a one way ticket to victimhood. As such he will remain isolated from the actual workings of the country. This is not a problem - most tourists stay that way. People prefer guests to see only the parts of their dwelling they want to be seen, and nobody likes airing their dirty laundry.

Except that DR is a member of the influential class. Either through political or business connections, or just plain fame, he has risen to the point where he is prominent. He is not a normal person, he is a person of importance, not to be confused with the commoners. A tourist who has visited a country six or seven times is a familiar hand, but a member of the influential class who has visited that often becomes an expert. A tourist who has visited Jakarta a dozen times can be trusted to tell you where the best place for street food is and where you should go to look around. Someone who has the right parents, the right corporate pedigree, the right political patrons, or sometimes just the right amount of fame, who has spent a dozen trips getting room service at the Ritz-Carlton Jakarta is now considered an expert, capable of dictating the economic progression of international trade in Indonesia.

Experts however, are not like normal folk. They are listened to. Their reach and clout means that they are rewarded with the most important of currencies, power. They make decisions, they influence the course of action. They are the President, or the politician, or the celebrity, who determines the patterns that we will follow.

And they make friends. Ordinary people have frenemies, adversarial relationships, and the realization that there are people like you, who you like, who are working for different goals. Members of the influential class, however, just have friends. The person they have befriended is one of the rare few who was allowed the honor of penetrating DR’s protective shell during the visit, someone of importance, who has been carefully vetted by the social norms that guard such interactions. Interactions were charming - they always are. Hands were shaken, eyes were looked into, conversations were had about folksy anecdotes and stories of days long ago. Most importantly, DR emerged from this encounter with a firm conviction. Because DR is a cut above average (he’s in the influential class of course, and of course one only bootstraps their way into that position, right?) he knows that this man, this new fellow he has met with, is a straight shooter, a real trooper.

Thus George W. Bush looking into Vladimir Putin’s eyes. Thus Donald Rumsfeld (and by extension Ronald Reagan) and Saddam Hussein. Mobuto Sese Seko, the most hated dictator of Africa, spent years cozying up with the President of the United States, forming bonds with several of them. Someone thought Ngo Dinh Diem was a good idea. A bunch of people were in awe of Chiang Kai-Shek. Someone else in the Bush II administration thought that Ahmed Chalabi was a good plan for Iraq.

Politicians can’t take all the blame though. Latin Americans have been pulling the wool over the eyes of American business leaders since before Henry Ford. Influential aviator Charles Lindbergh is famous for advocating for accommodation with Hitler. Jane Fonda toured Hanoi during a war. And now Rodman is going to Pyongyang.

The problem is not that Rodman is going to Pyongyang. Any American citizen should have the right to travel to any place that will let them. The problem is that for all the rational analysis and debate, the long tortuous arguments that have raged between rival camps, and the preparations made for various courses of action, the diplomats are now irrelevant. The posture and thrust of American actions with regards to North Korea will be decided in the near term by the fact that Dennis Rodman met with Kim Jong-Un and decided he was a good guy. That's it.

The problem with Rodman is that he's made a friend out of a tyrant and a mass murderer. The problem with the system is that we act like this is important.

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