The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2012

42 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U LY- A U G U S T 2 0 1 2 ssorted journalists, nongovernmental or- ganizations and academics have penned a lot of nonsense about the failure of Western governments to predict the Arab Spring revolutions. Yes, the United States and Europe were caught with their pants down during the Arab Spring, but the failure was not one of prediction. Rather, the West failed to acknowledge the link between the lack of regime le- gitimacy and false stability, and so did not develop relation- ships with the broader representatives of popular opinion who now find themselves in power. These lapses stemmed from a narrow focus on short-term, “national interest”-driven transactional relationships with old regime insiders. Responsibility for such inadequate policy- making lies with the diplomats, the analysts and the elected politicians who oversee them. To prevent recurrence of these failures, policymaking needs to be driven by credible, coher- ent values and a long-term perspective. A Policy Machine Off Kilter Social and political discontent had been fermenting just under the surface of these North African andMiddle Eastern societies long enough and visibly enough for ambassadors and political officers with even modestly sensitive antennae to have spotted it. These regimes’ obvious lack of domestic le- gitimacy should not have come as a surprise: Any government that feels the need to manufacture a 90-percent election win is manifestly insecure. North Africa’s dictators were also aging, and gossip about the succession was rife throughout the region. Yet remember the French defense minister authorizing the dispatch of anti- riot gear to Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali as the initial demonstrations spread? After all, Ben Ali was France’s friend, and alternative narratives of genuine democratic ex- pression didn’t fit the established policy of working with the regime. Could it be that senior diplomats on the ground chose to ignore the inconvenient signals of impending change, so as not to risk that next move up the career ladder? Another part of the problem is the encroachment into for- eign policy formulation over the past decade or so of “securo- diplomats” — my term for officials who assess problems through a narrow national security lens and see all foreign re- lations as transactional and short-term. For them, foreign policy is like military planning with suits and ties, a game of psychological operations and realpolitik. You isolate a near- term objective and create mechanisms to achieve it, cutting whatever cynical deal it takes, and worry about the conse- quences later. However, once that culture is ingrained into T HE N EED FOR L ONG -T ERM P ERSPECTIVES IN F OREIGN P OLICY S UCCESSFUL FOREIGN POLICYMAKING NEEDS OVERARCHING PRINCIPLES , A VISION AND A MISSION STATEMENT DECLARING ITS PURPOSE . B Y J ON E LLIOTT Jon Elliott spent 16 years in the United Kingdom Diplomatic Service, serving as deputy high commissioner to Uganda and head of the Zimbabwe and Maghreb/Mediterranean sections of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, among other assignments. He left the Service in 2007 to join Human Rights Watch as Africa advocacy director, serving in that capacity until 2011. Since then, he has been based in Tanzania working as an independent consultant advising cor- porate, nongovernmental and governmental clients across Africa on a wide range of issues. A