Monday, December 26, 2005

Jester to the Court of St James

Other than the campaign funds raised, there really is no upside to King George's policy of selling ambassadorships to political donors. Our favourite post on this topic from earlier this year is Lord of the Onion Rings, a tribute to the ambassador to New Zealand, but (no disrespect to NZ) the stakes are a bit higher when a hack is sent as Ambassador to the UK. Hence this morning's revealing segment on BBC Radio 4's Today show. Both governments are probably glad that it aired on a holiday morning, but here's what happened.

Today's James Naughtie did an interview with US Ambassador Robert Tuttle last Thursday and it ran this morning (sound file, no transcript available). Naughtie raised the issue of renditions and specifically mentioned Egypt and Syria as countries to which renditions have taken place. Tuttle went out of his way to deny that there had been renditions to Syria, which is a demonstrably false statement given the well-known case of Maher Arar, detained as a transit passenger at JFK en route to his home in Canada, and flown to Syria and tortured.

After the interview ended, Naughtie explained when it had been taped, and continued that the US Embassy had contacted Radio 4 the next day and requested that a statement of clarification be read. In the statement, the Embassy acknowledged that there were "media reports" of rendition to Syria, but otherwise refused to admit a mistake, and then segued to a restatement of Condi's pleasing formulation that the US doesn't do bad stuff. Naughtie closed the segment with an interview with BBC's Washington correspondent, who outlined Tuttle's double gaffe of having gotten drawn into a discussion about a specific country, and then getting his facts wrong once he had done that.

The episode encapsulates several problems -- aside from Tuttle's lack of .. er... diplomatic skills, note the official US government policy of not admitting any specific mistake in the GWoT, a policy that contributed to all the confusion between Condi and Angela Merkel a few weeks ago. But also, something that perhaps King George is not going to know, just because people have lots of money doesn't make them very smart.

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