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The Diplomatic Mess That the Press Is Missing

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
January 13, 2009
The Daily Beast

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In the frenzy to report on who will be shaping foreign policy in the Obama administration, the mainstream press and blogs have completely ignored what our diplomats actually think.

The New York Times ran a mostly misleading article last week about prospective appointments to the Obama-Clinton State Department-nothing really catastrophic, good mainly for more feverish gossip. But there are some good stories behind the Times story that reveal the state of the journalistic arts.

The first is that, as many suspect, the mainstream media seems unable to resist blog scoops, right or wrong, once they reach a certain crescendo.

Our diplomatic service no longer possesses the talent of the last fifty years. So Hillary has to look outside to the former great diplomats.

The second is that in the frenzy over appointment scoops in the new administration, both the blogs and the mainstreamers are neglecting the best stories.

* Consider this one, still unreported, about secret meetings last week of the new top-level Obama national security team (some with Obama present) to discuss counter-terrorism, Gaza, Russia, and Iran.

* Consider the absence of articles on the diplomatic mess that could attend the shortage of talent in our foreign service and the Obama-Clinton naming of very high-powered special envoys.

* Consider also that we haven't begun to read about what these new appointees actually believe about foreign policy, American power, and priorities.

The latest gossip fuse was lit innocently enough with a January 5 blog by the Nelson Report. "The following seem nearly certain [appointments], with the usual caveats: Middle East (Israel/Palestine), Richard Haass; Iran, Dennis Ross; South Asia (Pakistan/India), Dick Holbrooke; N. Korea, Wendy Sherman likely." Later in the piece, the "usual caveats" were eliminated, and Nelson simply states that the pick "is."

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