A Translation Guide to Foreign Policy Gibberish – By Micah Zenko | Foreign Policy

This is what diplo-speak looks like:

  • We’re evaluating the situation”: We still haven’t done anything.
  • Events on the ground are fluid”: If I articulate an official position on what’s happening, somebody could get upset with my word choice.
  • All options are on the table“: Bombs.
  • We can’t rule anything out”: We retain the right to do anything and everything.
  • Our position has been very clear“: Let me re-read some nonspecific generalizations from the briefing book that don’t address your question.
  • We welcome this debate“: After harnessing the federal government’s resources to hide the issue, we’re going to dilute it with adjectives, already-public information, and selective leaking.
  • We have serious concerns“: The harshest possible condemnation of an American ally.
  • Intolerable”: Tolerable — obviously, since we’re still only talking about it.
  • Policy X is not aimed at any one country“: Policy X is aimed at China or Iran.
  • We’re in close consultation with X”: We’re going through the pretense of listening to others in an effort to spread the blame and burden.

via A Translation Guide to Foreign Policy Gibberish – By Micah Zenko | Foreign Policy.


7 thoughts on “A Translation Guide to Foreign Policy Gibberish – By Micah Zenko | Foreign Policy”

  1. This is a great intro to “Diplomat Speak.” In an environment where the specific words or their placement in a sentence in an important document can be debated for days or weeks on end, it is important for students of diplomacy to begin to understand the true or hidden meanings of the words they hear or read day in and day out in the news. We have to be able to critically analyze what is being said, not accept them at face value, and should try to get to the point where we know what the true meaning of words are without much thought.

  2. Certainly an amusing article, though the satirical tone should not overshadow the main points here. The English language can be so nuanced at times that at first I wondered if those who learned it as a second language, albeit fluently or semifluently, possess the understanding and expressive power to be involved in diplomacy, but then realized that even limited exposure to people who communicate like this frequently can be enough to normalize such speech. In the end, such language has clearly evolved out of necessity, shaped by precedent and circumstance, to most effectively facilitate the use of diplomatic means today.

  3. As a ‘newbie’ to diplomatic speech, I found this both funny but also serious. It helped me to realize that like anything in politics, there seems to be a lot of hedging. While I was in the Washington Seminar. we had the opportunity to speak with Secretary Tilleman, who was a speech writer for Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State. He explained that in the State Department, they have to have at minimum 20 different areas of the Department approve each speech given by Secretary Clinton. This just goes to show how political even the language can be when trying to reach a compromise or agreement with other countries.

  4. A very entertaining article. In a world where every word or phrase can be taken out of context, politicians and diplomats have to be very careful in how they respond to questions. It’s a necessity of the job. But it does end up sounding ridiculous and can create doubts of whether or not the public is getting the full story.

  5. This article was pretty funny, and does a good job of highlighting how people can talk a lot without actually saying anything. In today’s day and age with the impact of the media I can certainly understand why they hide behind generic statements that don’t mean a lot. In fact, it reminds me of certain coaches in sports that hide behind cliches (it is what it is…play four quarters…step up to the plate…it’s gut-check time…one game at a time, etc) so as to not create any controversy.

  6. Like everyone above me said, this is a very entertaining little article that actually does hold a decent amount of truth. Political jargon has been a screen for politicians to hide behind since it all got started because, for security purposes and simply the overwhelming amount of information out there, they cannot say it all even if they wanted to. There is a balance to the amount of information Americans need to know and although Americans would like to believe they have a right to all the information, if Americans have all the information, so does everyone else in the world. Diplomats frankly have to be quite careful with what they say so as to maintain the relationship America has with various other countries. One wrong move or word could change everything.

  7. I agree that a direct US involvement should not be carried out but it should not seize to support the interests of Syrian people trying to fight against tyranny. A strike is certainly not the best action but providing some kind of aid to the Syrian rebels such as medical and food supplies would bring about a humanitarian response. However, there are problems with either action that the US decides to follow. If it does provide support to Syria, Russia might give greater support to the Syrian government. From this point on, the US would already be involved and it would all become a vicious growing cycle of violence. If it does not take action, then there might be a spillover of violence. Syria might go to war against Israel, which would then lead to a major scale war between Middle Eastern Countries, larger than it is now.

    Expanding on what was previously mentioned, I think the US should seek the support of other countries in providing the Syrian rebels with humanitarian resources in order to counteract the actions of Russia. This way Russia might seem overwhelmed and remain with minor involvement or even neutral in this turmoil. It seems as if in the past, the US has decided to join conflict with all out war. Given this is a majorly humanitarian approach in providing aid to Syria; it is certainly their best approach.

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