The Foreign Service Journal, September 2009

S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 9 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 15 T he U.S. government’s repeated diplomatic excursions into the Middle East call to mind the aphorism that second marriages repre- sent the triumph of hope over experi- ence. However, the requirement to keep trying remains extant — along with the obligation to learn from past mistakes. Toward that end, it should be obvi- ous that a key component of diplomacy is maintaining complete files on past negotiating efforts. Former Secretary of State George Shultz, speaking at the inauguration of the new National For- eign Affairs Training Center onMay 29, 2002, made that point clearly when he noted: “The conduct of diplomacy re- quires a clear understanding of what is happening and the ability to make a clear record of it and report it honestly and in depth. This may seem obvious and easy. It is not. It requires excep- tional intellectual skills and qualities of character and discipline.” Or, as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once observed: “The true diplomatist [is] aware of how much subsequently depends on what clearly can be established to have taken place. If it seems simple in the archives, try it in the maelstrom.” Yes, We Have No Records Bothmen could have been speaking about U.S. Middle East policy, as I can attest. Between 2002 and 2004, I was part of a team in the State Depart- ment’s Office of the Historian that con- ducted a systematic review of the work done during the final two years of the Clinton administration to advance the Middle East peace process. This study was intended to compile a comprehen- sive background for the Bush adminis- tration, which was considering whether and how to pursue its own initiatives. To our dismay, we found that there was no negotiating record comparable to those kept for other sensitive diplo- matic processes (e.g., the Panama Canal Treaty, U.S. military basing agreements, arms control treaties, etc.). Between 1999 and 2001, many senior members of the Clinton administra- tion’s Middle East peace process team wrote neither reporting cables nor memoranda of conversation. Much of the material in the files was undated, had no classification, and lacked draft- ing and other identifying information — the epitome of the “nonpaper.” This systemic failure was com- pounded by the absence of negotiators’ notebooks in the State Department’s retired files. Nor could we locate the notes of key National Security Council officials in the Clinton Presidential Li- brary files. In a further break with previous practice, the Arabic translators and in- terpreters apparently kept none of their notes, either. Compare that with the negotiations for the Intermediate- Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, where the interpreters’ notes were invaluable. Indeed, they served as the basis for memcons that became part of the offi- cial negotiating record. Those notes were also available for department principals to review as they prepared for subsequent meetings. The most egregious gap we found was a complete absence of official records from the historic July 2000 Camp David Summit. There was liter- ally nothing in the department’s files re- porting on individual meetings, agreed results, or the sequencing and status of documents and papers exchanged dur- ing those talks. Instead, we found a hodgepodge of partial notes, sketchy commentary and self-serving recollections that contained more anecdotes than analysis and were, in any case, often quoted in the subse- quent memoirs of participants. Strengthen the Process for Middle East Diplomacy B Y D AVID T. J ONES S PEAKING O UT A key component of diplomacy is maintaining complete files on past negotiating efforts. Sadly, this has not been consistently done.