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October 22, 2006

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smintheus

Marc, this is the best post I've seen on Fernandez's comments, which don't strike me as all that controversial. I interpreted his reference to stupidity and arrogance as you do--a concession to what his audience already knows, in order to make the case that Bush's policies are not malicious or entirely disreputable.

The right wingers are, as usual, under-informed and over-ventilated. I'm amused that you can link to Michelle Malkin with a straight face.

It's also true that the big story hear is that the U.S. has reached the point of announcing publicly that it is willing to negotiate directly with Sunni insurgents. I've had the impression since before Maliki announced his peace and reconciliation proposal that he wanted to block any direct negotiations between Sunni insurgent leaders and U.S. officials. Certainly the larger Sunni rebel groups announced immediately that they view Maliki as a joke and they would refuse to discuss reconciliation with his government; they said there was no point in talking to anybody except the U.S.

Maliki devoted several weeks to trying to give the (false) impression that major Sunni groups were in fact negotiating with him privately. My interpretation was that Maliki feared that he would be marginalized, perhaps even fed to the political wolves eventually, if the U.S. ended up cutting a deal directly with Sunni insurgents. The fact that Sunni/U.S. negotiations in Jordan started to become public this week may be linked to that curious call Maliki made to Bush, asking whether he still had Bush's support.

Serx

Amen Marc. As a PD-coned foreign service officer who speaks Arabic, I have held Alberto Fernandez as a role model. While it will be a while before I reach his level (both professionally and linguistically), I know that the next few days will really send a signal to me and my colleagues about what the Washington establishment rewards and punishes. Please, forward this post ASAP to anyone you know with pull in the Department.

Rex Brynen

Marc, I couldn't agree more with your comments on the Fernandez/al-Jazeera issue--frankness is exactly the right approach to take if the US wants to have any impact on Arab public opinion.

praktike

Well said, Marc.

Nur al-Cubicle

Lo, and Alberto Fernandez is joined by another State Department employee, Wayne White.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6075424.stm

Nur al Cubicle

We've heard of the legendary vindictiveness of the Bush Administration, which is sure to send Fernandez to Uzbekistan, where he will be discreetly fired. Next year Fernandez will beating the pavement with Craig Murray on the lecture circuit. The fellow's "gone native" and it not a good poodle diplomat like Dan Senor or Jeffrey Feltman.

Nur al-Cubicle

Sorry, me again.

Caving is the better part of valor. Although Fernandez will not be kneecapped, I fear it will not avoid a new assignment in the very near future. Via BBC:

US official retracts Iraq remarks
A US marine flies over Iraq (file image)
Mr Fernandez said that US policy was open to 'strong criticism'
The US state department official who said that the US had shown "arrogance and stupidity" in Iraq has apologised for his comments.

Alberto Fernandez, who made the remarks during an interview with Arabic TV station al-Jazeera, said that he had "seriously misspoke".

His comments did not represent the views of the state department, he said.

moi

Always enjoy your commentary Marc. Fernandez has just retracted his comments. Too much pressure I guess.

"This represents neither my views nor those of the State Department. I apologise," Alberto Fernandez, US state department director of public diplomacy in the Near Eastern Affairs bureau, said on Sunday.

John K.

A great post, but sadly this part is already moot: "The State Department, and especially Karen Hughes, must back Alberto Fernandez to the hilt in this StupidStorm."

As noted Fernandez apologized -- abjectly. But can someone tell me: to _whom_ is he apologizing? Bush? Condi Rice? The US troops? Even Bush and Condi have acknowledged mistakes have been made. Acknowledging hubris, and attempting to be humble, is a primary Christian tenet. Why does Fernandez have to _apologize_ for expressing such sentiment in this administration, putatively the most overtly Christian in memory?

One of the best acts of public diplomacy out of this administration, and it has to be withdrawn. What is the deal???

Andrew Exum

Has anyone found an Arabic transcript of this interview yet? I had to find this story (below) before I even knew which words he used.

http://www.aswataliraq.info/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=29272&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0

mch

"His humility treats those audiences with respect. . . "

Indeed. That's the core of the outrage. The rest is merely detail and timing.

Antiquated Tory

Isn't it obvious that his 'apology' is a necessary concession to the jingoists at home? Won't that also be clear to al Jazeera's viewers? It's not like they've never seen someone retract a perfectly valid statement in order to appease the yobs before.
How do you 'retract' a clear and direct statement like that, anyway?

It does seem that the Administration has boxed itself in by relying on such extra-chromosomal domestic supporters that it can't manouever after, er, reassessing its foreign policy. My hope is he will simply be asked to keep it toned down until after Nov 7.

moloch-agonistes

Sorry, I think he's screwed. The controversy is all about intra-White House rivalries. Fernandez's comments are naturally (and correctly I would say) being taken as an open indictment of Cheney's office and the Pentagon civilian staff. The State Department famously had a non-stupid and non-arrogant alternative (Future of Iraq Project) that was ripped up.

It is impossible for a state department official to be frank so long as Cheney and Rumsfeld are unwilling to admit culpability. Anybody hoping for more such pronouncements is kidding themselves, and the chances of Fernandez holding on to his present job are iffy. Does that hamstring the "public diplomacy"/ external propaganda effort? Yes. But there is a reason the administration has put us in the mess we're in. Stupidity and arrogance come to mind. Does anyone really think that's changed since the invasion?

The

As I believe Fernandez is career, he can't be outright fired. His advancement can be ended, but he can't be fired as such.

moloch-agonistes

I think the issue is whether he continues to represent the U.S. on al-Jazeera and so on, not whether his employment is terminated. "Present job" in that sense.

kvenlander

Well, the Administration sure created a fine exhibit B in arrogance and stupidity in making Fernandez eat his words. Yanking him off TV will be yet another, should it come to that.

I sure hope somebody somewhere is keeping tabs on all the competent civil servants thrown overboard the ship of state in recent years. They're going to be needed if sanity ever returns to Washington.

Badger

On the lighter side, I think the aardvark is being a little hard of my friend Maamoun Fandy over on the left thumbnails. His column today is all about how the Arab regimes could bring Syria back into the Arab fold, by working on America, to work on Israel, to give him back the Golan Heights. And the key to working on America is to help them stabilize Iraq, which would involve the Shite question. He even suggests the Shiites should have a role in Iraq, which is nice. All in all a good read.

aardvark

I suppose I do tend to make fun with Mamoun... but he makes it so easy! But others less amused should check out Badger's translations of his articles for their actual content.

Rami

Interesting reading...

I think there seems to be a new shift in US public relations tactics, which started off with President Bush recent statement when he said he plans to consult with his generals over a new Iraq.

Since then, there has been several statements and reports, coming from people in different capacities associated with the 'war on terror', preparing the American and global public for the new shift.

An interesting report was recently carried by AP, regarding Iraqi youth wanting the coalition out. Now we're getting the sudden Fernandez honesty.

Could we see a time-table for withdrawal? I am not sure, but I am very sure a big shift in US policy in Iraq is about to take place.

rami

Alright - white house says my speculations are wrong. This morning the news read that there's no shift in Iraq strategy. Oh well.

The Lounsbury

Regarding this:

Well, the Administration sure created a fine exhibit B in arrogance and stupidity in making Fernandez eat his words. Yanking him off TV will be yet another, should it come to that.

Oh bollocks, Fernandez going back is merely standard operating practice in government when one accidentally has message leakage. There is nothing specific to the current American administration in that, nor anything particularly arrogant or stupid.

Sometimes "opposition" people get idiotic, arrogant and stupid in their criticisms.

Permanently yanking him from his position (as opposed to temporarily having him go quiet so that domestic party political howling quiets down) would be stupid, the small back-tracking is merely standard political maneuvering.

I would further venture as well that trying to discern real policy from PR spin intended for domestic audiencies is a losing proposition, although one has to admit trying to discern real policy from the Bolsheviks of the Right in this American administration is a losing proposition as well.

Sherif

I actually saw the interview and you are exactly correct. The US's policy was being attacked by a fellow guest and Frenandez was saying basiclly "sure, we have done those mistakes but..." and I agree fully that this is why most American public diplomacy officials dont resonate with the Arabic audiences becasue they never want to concede the fact that the US could have done something wrong.

I have to say that Mr Fernandez has been the best thing that US public diplomacy manged to produce for Arabic audiences...

Anon

If I might, this is a topic that has largely died, but I do feel I can add a little something to the discussion. Please see my post here:

http://nonarab-arab.blogspot.com/2006/11/belated-comment-on-alberto-fernandez.html

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