In the days, weeks, maybe months before I assume the job of permanent representative to the United Nations—if I am confirmed or someone else—I will share reflections on what the job appears to entail. I have quite a reputation for flying off the handle (which I very much regret but my father had the same affliction) with words much worse than a head of government and state may use to address a foreign country. And that is why we elect presidents.
They are personal embodiments of our country, the way each of us is an embodiment of himself. In Shakespeare kings are called by the names of their countries, Henry was England, Charles was France. So in dealing with each other it was perfectly correct to express with warm regard or to damn in personal terms the good or perfidy of another country.
This is true of today’s superpowers who cannot possibly have our interests in mind, whether in telling us to take their side or threatening us not to take the other side.
I know this from long experience. Real power does not care how you say things about it, but what you really mean by what you say. And that meaning is one that real power will ascertain for itself only by your first substantial attempt to translate mere words into action.
I dealt with powerful foreign agencies in the cold war, when diplomacy was life or death. If you spoke kindly about a great foreign power but did nothing about the nice things you said, then for all practical purposes you were an enemy on that occasion.
You spoke strongly against the same and yet did exactly what it demanded then you were a friend. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words—O, just get it off your chest.
Our presidents twice declined in the most polite terms to join the United States in two invasions of the same country that it completely destroyed. And because we were not with them we were regarded as against them on that occasion. But when you are ambassador, not to a foreign country but to the United Nations, it is different—as I will explain.
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