The USA regime will soon recover from the embarrassments created by the massive release of diplomatic documents onto the Internet. There will be investigations and prosecutions. There will be ironic attempts by Madame Clinton and her colleagues to pretend that personal attacks on heads of state and foreign diplomats are de rigueur in the business of foreign affairs, but what few commentators have bothered to point out is the childish style of the papers. Mme. Clinton wants to probe the anxieties and possible drug use of the Argentine President; Putin and Medved are compared with Batman and Robin. The rhetoric and tone range from bitchy to puerile to paranoid. And these are the people that rule the world.
No, to anticipate the obvious question, it was not ever thus. We have thousands upon thousands of pages of state papers and private letters from leading politicians over the past two thousand years, and while Cicero may make jokes about Pompey or members of Lincoln's cabinet sneer at the vulgarity and ignorance of their chief, the language of diplomats has been veiled and guarded even when caustic--especially when caustic. A famous diplomat of the 17th century said a diplomat was someone sent to lie abroad for his country. What Sir Henry Wotton did not say--because it was obvious--that the lying had to be managed with dignity and grace. Remember the odious Harold Macmillan's response to Kruschev's shoe-rapping outburst at the United Nations? He dryly asked for a translation. Reserve, tact, self-restraint--the virtues of a good card player--were required of diplomats and statesmen. Now we have churls and braggarts like Clinton, Rice, Albright, and that unspeakable pair, Richard Holbrooke and John Bolton, spoiled children who go around the world stirring up resentment against their government and its people.
American journalists are still whining about poor Richard Nixon. Nixon made many mistakes, not the least of which was to promote Henry Kissinger to a position that was so far beyond his competence as to defy the Peter Principle, but for the most part,, when he was not pretending to be a regular guy, Nixon knew how to conduct himself on the world's stage. Our current crop of statesmen are perfect for Saturday Night Live.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.