‘Europeans are more comfortable with political reality, which is why their diplomats can speak more freely’


From Foreign Policy:

When I travel to a foreign capital, I will ask the U.S. Embassy there for a background briefing, but I know not to expect much from it. I’ve found it far more useful to set up meetings with the Europeans — Germans, French, or Swiss, especially. Those are the diplomats who will give you the real dirt: juicy details about corruption and political infighting and what nefarious schemes the Russians or Chinese (or Americans) are up to in the country. The difference is so striking that I long ago concluded that the Americans — the product of a Foreign Service selection process that encourages dutiful ladder-climbers rather than creative thinkers and then sends them out to be walled up in overprotected embassy compounds far from town — were just not as sharp as their wilier continental counterparts. (I exaggerate here slightly — I also have met very savvy American diplomats, including all of you who are reading this article right now.)

In any case, this is what I thought until I started reading the diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks has started making public. U.S. Foreign Service officers might not like their confidential correspondence aired in public, but overall, the cables portray them as smart and perceptive, and with no illusions about the countries they are dealing with.