Diplomacy With Open Hands

The Times has a good piece looking at the perils of safe-guarding diplomats. But there's also a good section on how that safe-guarding can actually injure the entire project:


There has also long been tension among diplomats over whether the "Fortress America" approach of building imposing diplomatic compounds is less productive than allowing personnel to circulate in the countries where they are posted and permitting visitors to arrive at embassies without off-putting body inspections.

The latest attacks could threaten a new effort to relax the imperious architecture of the past decade, said Jane C. Loeffler, an architectural historian who wrote "The Architecture of Diplomacy." She said that when she visited the State Department this week, just before the attacks, to conduct research on the effort, she found officials "excited and upbeat about this incredible change in direction" that would place embassies closer to the middle of cities and generally make them more welcoming by reimagining security features. 

After the attacks, she said, "my first reaction was, who could argue that architecture matters at all?" But reflecting further, she added that making the embassies less forbidding was as important as ever in reducing America's image problems overseas.

Daniel Serwer made a similar point on the day of the attacks:

These deaths are likely to have an out-sized impact on American relations with Libya as well as the security posture of American diplomatic posts worldwide. This is unfortunate. Our understandable reaction will be to pull our people back into the fortresses we call embassies and consulates, and strengthen their perimeter defenses. That degrades our interactions with the countries in which we are stationed. Nor is there real safety in that direction, as rockets, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades can breach even high and thick walls. 

The right approach is to lean more heavily on host governments to provide security. Accounts of the demonstrations in Benghazi and Cairo yesterday suggest less diligence than the Libyan and Egyptian governments are obligated to provide. We would also do ourselves a favor by reducing our excessive numbers of officials stationed abroad and by working more anonymously, but those are subjects for another day.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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