Bob Franken




“Diplomacy is the art of saying, ‘nice doggie’ until you can find a rock.”
Will Rogers was correct: The world kennel is filled with junkyard dogs yapping and threatening to mount each other as a power play, but stopping short of an all-out fight. Canines raise a leg and let fly. Humans use diplomacy. It’s the same thing.
The rules for people go back to when one cave full decided that before they fought an all-out war with another cave full for the land in between, it was better to sit down and talk about it.
The precepts haven’t changed very much over the eons. In fact, it wasn’t long before each tribe had warriors and talkers. The idea was that before the attack (or even after), you’d use tact.
It could be complex. To avoid violence, you might have to emphasize face-saving. And out of that grew the concept of “proportionality” — don’t go bananas when the other side delivers a sleight.
There are thousands of professional diplomats these days and entire college majors devoted to educating them on every teensy detail of speaking softly while carrying a big stick. But the guidelines are pretty much the same as they were back in the cave days. And, frankly, as silly as some of them are, lip service beats servicemen and -women dying in war, particularly when their nations are nuclear superpowers. Then we’d all die.
So it’s preferable when Moscow and Washington play their juvenile games that they have learned—-over the poisoning of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny, and others; involvement in U.S. elections (which is a definite no-no); and hacking of our entire government by Russian intelligence services. Or pretend to.
So what did Joe Biden do to register disapproval and show that he was tougher than Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin’s puppy? He used three arrows from the diplomat’s quiver: First, economic sanctions. Second, declaring some attached to the Russian embassy persona non grata — that is to say, they have to leave the United States. In this case, 10 of the 450 or so diplomats are being expelled for being spies, which is just a drop in the Russian spook bucket. And third, oh yes, a demand that the two sides’ ambassadors be pulled by their home country and return for “consultations.” It’s not clear what they talk about during these “consultations,” but there it is.
Of the three of them, sanctions are potentially the most onerous. Individuals and government agencies can’t do business there, can’t even travel there.
The other side always matches spy for spy and persona for non grata. This time around, from our side Russia banned Attorney General Merrick Garland and former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, for some inexplicable reason. An aide to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the situation between the two countries “extremely tense” — tensions that couldn’t be all that extreme, considering Biden and Putin also talked about a summit in their last telephone call. World leaders have their own language.
So do dogs. Baring teeth is a dead giveaway, but then so is tail-wagging. And they can both be done at the same time. There is one huge difference between species: The diplomats try to do some of their stuff in secret. Puppies are very public — every sniff, every time they go to the bathroom, at least after they’ve been house-trained.
Most diplomats are house-trained too … to be deceptive. Even in the age of television and social media, they mislead. But the opposing side’s government knows what they’re communicating and what they’re not. To quote John Kenneth Galbraith, “When an official reports that talks were useful, it can safely be concluded that nothing was accomplished.” To quote someone else, I have no earthly idea who, in diplomacy as well as the puppy park, “It’s a dog eat dog world.”

© 2021 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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