Thursday, May 23, 2013

Wilson and the Diplomats

In The Evolution of Diplomacy by Harold Nicolson, I find in the fourth chapter (lecture originally)
President Wilson was an idealist and, what was perhaps more dangerous, a consummate master of English prose. He shared with Robespierre the hallucination that their existed some mystic bond between him and "the people"--by which he meant not only the American people but the British, French, Italian, Rumanian, Jugo-Slav, Armenian, and even German peoples. If only he could penetrate the fog barrier of governments, politicians and officials, and convey the sweetness and light of his revelation to the ordinary peasant in the Banat, to the shepherds of Albania, or the dock-hands of Fiume, then reason, concord, and amity would spread in ever widening circles across the earth. He possessed, moreover, the gift of giving to commonplace ideas the resonance and authority of biblical sentences, and like all phraseologists, he became mesmerised by the strength and neatness of the phrases that he devised. During the long months of the Paris Peace Conference, I observed him with interest, admiration and anxiety, and became convinced that he regarded himself, not as a world statesman, but as a prophet designated to bring light to a dark world. It may have been for this reason that he forgot all about the American Constitution and Senator Lodge.
Nicolson being not only a career diplomat but a diplomat's son, the next paragraph begins
I have no intention of denigrating President Wilson, who was in many ways inspiring and inspired.
William Bullitt, later the first US ambassador to the USSR, about that time negotiated a convention with the Bolshevik government for the withdrawal of American troops from Russia. Wilson repudiated the convention. Bullitt's revenge was to collaborate with Sigmund Freud on a book psychoanalyzing Wilson.

The case of the Versailles Treaty and the case of the convention both point to a principle that Nicolson credits Cardinal Richelieu with establishing:
... that the most essential of all the components of sound diplomacy was the element of certainty. It was not only that the negotiation must result in agreements, the wording of which was so precise as to leave no scope for future evasions or misunderstandings: it was also that each party to a negotiation should know from the outset that the other party really represented the sovereign authority in his own country. Unless some certainty existed that an agreement once signed would be ratified and executed, then the give and take of negotiation became impossible, and international conferences degnerated into assemblies for the exchange of entertainment, platitudes or propaganda.
 Of course, under the US Constitution, this certainty can be harder to come by, for the Senate must ratify treaties. The difficulty was not wholly new with Henry Cabot Lodge and Woodrow Wilson: Jay's treaty with the United Kingdom, one of the first concluded under the constitution, was in danger of repudiation

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