The Obama administration’s latest diplomatic flub involves Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, who told the U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine to “f— the E.U.” in his efforts to assist the Ukranian opposition in its confrontation with the Russian-backed government. Ms. Nuland has already apologized, which makes sense for diplomatic reasons, though she had nothing for which to say sorry.
Nuland was speaking on what she thought was a secret, private channel. That would not, by itself, excuse bad behavior–except that there is a strong national interest in having the conversations between our government and our diplomatic missions remain secret. (The Wikileaks scandal, which helped launch the Arab Spring, was largely based on the exposure of secret messages passed in diplomatic cables by the U.S. and other countries.)
We want our diplomats abroad to understand exactly what they are supposed to do. The use of expletives, as long as it is no abusive, may sometimes be the best way to make sure a message is understood. (Our military would not function without them.) In that regard, Ms. Nuland performed as expected. (And can we not celebrate the feminist milestone of a woman in authority showing she can curse with the best of them?)
As others have pointed out, the real scandal here is that some foreign intelligence agency breached American diplomatic security–probably the Russians, since Vladimir Putin loves to portray the U.S. as meddling in the region, and relishes the chance to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Europe. Germany’s Angla Merkel, the victim of eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, wasted no time in elevating her outrage.
But there is something else to the controversy that is potentially even more scandalous. On Friday, making the case for Ms. Nuland on Canada’s Sun News, I suggested that Ms. Nuland enjoyed some diplomatic cover here, because the Obama administration is the most pro-EU government in the world, at a time when the EU is very weak.
The real scandal, then, could be that the State Department might share a Euroskeptic view. Time will tell.