British regime is now being governed by ‘bullshit’ warns retiring diplomat.
Although this was published some years ago it is probably more relevant today.
Former envoy makes devastating attack on Blair’s ‘bullshit bingo’ management culture of diplomacy.
British diplomacy is being subordinated to a “bullshit bingo” management culture that works against the national interest in troubled regions such as the Middle East, according to a confidential dispatch circulating the Foreign Office.
In a devastating critique of the regime imposed by Tony Blair’s premiership, the farewell telegram from Sir Ivor Roberts as he left his job as Rome ambassador is curtly dismissive of strategic concepts such as, “the war on terror”.
It suggests that top diplomatic policy makers, already burdened with a welter of management initiatives, should instead be charged with answering urgent questions including, “Iraq: How did we get into this mess and how to extricate ourselves” and “Why are we so hated in the Middle East and what should we do about it?”.
Sir Ivor, whose leaked remark in 2004 that President George Bush was “al-Qa’ida’s best recruiting sergeant” caused a major stir, returns to his assault on US-led foreign policy in his latest dispatch. He uses a quotation from Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue to sum up neoconservative doctrine as: “The strong do what they can: the weak suffer what they must.”
The dispatch, leaked to The Independent, explains why Sir Peter Ricketts, Permanent Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), reacted to its receipt last year by banning the century-old practice of valedictory telegrams from British envoys.
Sir Ivor, who was also ambassador in Belgrade and Dublin, warns that by cutting funds to the Foreign Office, the Government has failed to recognise that “conflict prevention is so much cheaper than post-conflict peacekeeping and reconstruction” and that, “greater resources for diplomacy” save spending “far larger resources through the Ministry of Defence and the Department of International Development (Dfid).”
Sir Ivor, now Master of Trinity College, Oxford, goes out of his way to cite a complaint by Rodric Braithwaite, a former foreign policy adviser to John Major, that No 10 had reduced the Foreign Office to a “demoralised cipher”.
In a pointed reference to the Government’s failure to consult more with its foreign policy professionals, Sir Ivor says: “It’s been an excellent initiative to bring together senior ambassadors from around the world twice a year but it would make better sense – even if occasionally uncomfortable for the home team – if we were allowed to debate foreign policy rather than corporate governance.”
And he says: “Why have we failed so signally to explain to the Cabinet Secretary [Sir Gus O’Donnell] that well-conducted diplomacy cannot properly be measured?
“We manage or contain disputes; very rarely do we deliver a quantifiable solution. Indeed we should be sceptical of ‘permanent’ solutions or models. Think democracy in the Middle East or War on Terror.”
He also quotes the remark by the former Hong Kong governor and European commissioner Chris Patten’s that it was “sad to see experienced diplomats trained to draft brief and lucid telegrams … terrorised into filling questionnaires by management consultants by the yard.” Referring to an editorial in The Independent that asked: “What is the Foreign Office for?” he says that rather than brush such comments aside, “perhaps we need to ask whether they have a point.”
His dispatch complains of an unending “Cultural Revolution” imposed on the FCO by the Cabinet Office and the Treasury and says much of the “change-management agenda is written in Wall Street management speak already … discredited by the time it is introduced. Synergies, best practice, benchmarking… roll out, stakeholder…. fit for purpose, are all prime candidates for a game of bullshit bingo, a substitute for clarity and succinctness.”
He adds: “Can it be that… we have indeed forgotten what diplomacy is all about?” The dispatch says there has been an “explosion” of reports commissioned by management consultants, “many of whose recommendations do little more than reverse the previous recommendations of the consultants 15 years ago”.
It says there is a “perverse comfort” in knowing that the costs alone of consultants engaged by Dfid are “said to match the whole of the FCO’s budget”.
The dispatch also complains of a “malaise” because of funding cuts and says that diplomats risk being “being demoralised”.
Thanks to Sir Peter’s ban, Sir Ivor’s valedictory telegram will be the last of a distinguished series.