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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U LY - A U G U S T 2 0 1 2
ssorted journalists, nongovernmental or-
ganizations and academics have penned
a lot of nonsense about the failure of
Western governments to predict the
Arab Spring revolutions. Yes, the United
States and Europe were caught with
their pants down during the Arab Spring,
but the failure was not one of prediction. Rather, the West
failed to acknowledge the link between the lack of regime le-
gitimacy and false stability, and so did not develop relation-
ships with the broader representatives of popular opinion who
now find themselves in power.
These lapses stemmed from a narrow focus on short-term,
“national interest”-driven transactional relationships with old
regime insiders. Responsibility for such inadequate policy-
making lies with the diplomats, the analysts and the elected
politicians who oversee them. To prevent recurrence of these
failures, policymaking needs to be driven by credible, coher-
ent values and a long-term perspective.
A Policy Machine Off Kilter
Social and political discontent had been fermenting just
under the surface of these North African andMiddle Eastern
societies long enough and visibly enough for ambassadors and
political officers with even modestly sensitive antennae to
have spotted it. These regimes’ obvious lack of domestic le-
gitimacy should not have come as a surprise: Any government
that feels the need to manufacture a 90-percent election win
is manifestly insecure.
North Africa’s dictators were also aging, and gossip about
the succession was rife throughout the region. Yet remember
the French defense minister authorizing the dispatch of anti-
riot gear to Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali as the
initial demonstrations spread? After all, Ben Ali was France’s
friend, and alternative narratives of genuine democratic ex-
pression didn’t fit the established policy of working with the
regime.
Could it be that senior diplomats on the ground chose to
ignore the inconvenient signals of impending change, so as
not to risk that next move up the career ladder?
Another part of the problem is the encroachment into for-
eign policy formulation over the past decade or so of “securo-
diplomats” — my term for officials who assess problems
through a narrow national security lens and see all foreign re-
lations as transactional and short-term. For them, foreign
policy is like military planning with suits and ties, a game of
psychological operations and realpolitik. You isolate a near-
term objective and create mechanisms to achieve it, cutting
whatever cynical deal it takes, and worry about the conse-
quences later. However, once that culture is ingrained into
T
HE
N
EED FOR
L
ONG
-T
ERM
P
ERSPECTIVES IN
F
OREIGN
P
OLICY
S
UCCESSFUL FOREIGN POLICYMAKING NEEDS OVERARCHING PRINCIPLES
,
A VISION AND A MISSION STATEMENT DECLARING ITS PURPOSE
.
B
Y
J
ON
E
LLIOTT
Jon Elliott spent 16 years in the United Kingdom Diplomatic
Service, serving as deputy high commissioner to Uganda and
head of the Zimbabwe and Maghreb/Mediterranean sections
of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London,
among other assignments. He left the Service in 2007 to join
Human Rights Watch as Africa advocacy director, serving in
that capacity until 2011. Since then, he has been based in
Tanzania working as an independent consultant advising cor-
porate, nongovernmental and governmental clients across
Africa on a wide range of issues.
A