Inside the Mind of Sergei Lavrov

Russia’s top diplomat could take a number approaches in doing the job. In the case of Sergei Lavrov, despite his many successes, universal dislike and mistrust seems to be a constant companion, according to POLITICO’s Susan Glasser.

From two top Obama officials:

“He’s a nasty SOB. He would be relentlessly berating and browbeating and sarcastic and nasty. His job was to berate and beat and harass us and Secretary Kerry into conceding the Russian view. It wasn’t defeating America; it was that Russia can’t win if it has to compromise at all.”

“I don’t see him as zero-sum and suspicious of and averse to the West as Putin is,” said another former Obama official who sat in many meetings in recent years with Lavrov. “He believes more in at least tactical cooperation, at least in a broader context of strategic nonalignment. I think he did actually look for opportunities. I also think he plays to his bosses. So the extent to which he’s acerbic and nasty—that’s partly his personality and partly what he believes Putin and actual powers that be want to hear.”

Source: Russia’s Oval Office Victory Dance – POLITICO Magazine

Russia’s long game is becoming more readily apparent–and has been explored many times earlier–where it must turn weakness into strength.

“Free societies are often split because people have their own views, and that’s what former Soviet and current Russian intelligence tries to take advantage of,” Oleg Kalugin, a former K.G.B. general, who has lived in the United States since 1995, said. “The goal is to deepen the splits.” Such a strategy is especially valuable when a country like Russia, which is considerably weaker than it was at the height of the Soviet era, is waging a geopolitical struggle with a stronger entity.”

Source: Trump, Putin and the New Cold war – The New Yorker, Annals of Diplomacy, March 6, 2017 Issue

Lavrov is an essential diplomatic knight in this game.

In Glasser’s longer profile in FP,  she describes Russia’s “Minister No” as “no gray apparatchik” who dominated the Security Council, drank, “smoked like a chimney” and favorited Italian couture, even as he cites Prince Gorchakov as the Russian diplomatic model. Perhaps that is a key insight, where Russian nationalism drive the antagonism against the U.S., and is integrated into Lavrov’s diplomatic approach.

Terry Gross on How to Talk to Anyone

Diplomats, salespeople, missionaries, and journalists all talk to people. Some do it better than others. But nobody does it as well as Terry Gross, the NRP interviewer par excellance–who kept me informed and entertained as I worked a painting conservation job in college, swabbing dirt inch-by-inch across a gigantic, room-filling canvas. Foam-covered 1980’s era headphones attached to a Sony AM/FM/cassette Walkman were my lifeline to a world of fascinating ideas and people, thanks to Gross.

So when I saw this piece by Susan Burton on the art and craft of WHYY in Philadelphia’s master interviewer I wanted to see what could be learned. One insight: it takes a lot of work (and a little luck) to get a “real moment” in a hard-earned conversation, and it can be uncomfortable:

When the interview ended, Gross and her producers asked themselves, ‘‘Are we going to keep that in the edit?’’ Yes, they decided: ‘‘Maybe there’s not a really satisfactory, conclusive answer,’’ but ‘‘it felt like a real moment.’’ Gross went on: ‘‘Even if the real moment isn’t somebody being really honest and forthcoming and introspective, a real moment of friction, a real moment of tension, is still a real moment.’’

Occasionally the ‘‘real moments’’ can be awkward for Gross. In July, in an interview with the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, Gross began laughing in response to a story he told about being yelled at by a teacher. ‘‘See, it sounds like you’re laughing because, like, it’s funny if you’ve never been in the environment,’’ Coates said. Some on social media pegged Gross as a clueless white lady. But the exchange was constructive. Gross was simply reacting, and then listening as Coates explained his perception of her reaction. In doing so, he illuminated an experience of growing up in a culture of fear and violence.

Source: Terry Gross and the Art of Opening Up – The New York Times

This American Life “Cars” on Secret Sales Negotiations

One of the best listens this holiday break was an episode from This American Life that revealed the secret negotiating tactics from inside a Long Island auto dealerships–revealing everything you wanted to know about how to negotiate a car sale but were unable to find out.

The reality inside the dealership is much more complex than I would have guessed. As a customer, not only do you have to contend with the salespeople but they are in a multi-polar negotiation involving you, other customers, the manager/pit boss, and all up against hard deadlines, goals/quotas, inventory limitations, and a myriad of other obstacles. Overall I am not sure why this show was so surprising–but it is a lot of fun to consider the inside negotiations and human drama behind a dealership.

via Episode 513: “129 Cars” – bleeped | This American Life. (This bleeped version covers up the salty language used by car salespersons and is best for the classroom.)

Dealing with People in Authority

How should you deal with a more knowledgeable doctor, a defiant boss, or a police officer? Diplomats can take a page from advice provided to Mormon women at the blog Feminist Mormon Housewives to better understand how to respond effectively to others–including people in authority.

Maybe what Mormon women need is both a greater self-awareness of their own physical response to authority and a greater intellectual understanding of how to speak the language of authority. Then, upon interacting with authority figures, there will be less a sense of intimidation and more a sense of solidity and purpose.

The language of authority includes speaking in calm, purposeful tones. It includes eye contact. It includes a resolute determination that one’s own beliefs and actions are valuable, defensible, and even right. It includes carefully and genuinely listening to others’ ideas and then repeating one’s own argument — several times if necessary — even when others don’t agree. It includes being cognizant of one’s own sensations of honor, fear and intimidation and allowing those sensations to move through one’s self and then to dissipate so that one’s own position can again be clearly stated. It includes smiling and speaking to bishops and stake presidents and others who wield control over our lives with the same tones in which we’re accustomed to being spoken to. These men are our equals. Via FHM

Friedman Games Out Middle East Peace Negotiations

How could we get from here to there in the Middle East?  Could Obama and Bibi leverage each other to push the process forward? Thomas Friedman thinks there is at least a possibility:

If these two leaders were to approach these two negotiations with a reasonably shared vision (and push each other), they could play a huge role in remaking the Middle East for the better, and — with John Kerry — deserve the Nobel Prize, an Emmy, an Oscar and the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

via Bibi and Barack, the Sequel –

Critics on the Deal with Iran (Munich, redux?)

Is the newly-inked deal in Geneva a “historic mistake” as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu states or a “good deal” as Barak Ravid writes in Haaretz?  A thoughtful contrarian, Michael Rubin, makes the case that diplomacy with Iran creates a dangerous precedent:

He should not be so certain. Rather than prevent Iran’s nuclear breakout, historians may mark the Geneva deal as the step that most legitimized Iran’s path to nuclear weapons capability.

Willing to deal is not synonymous with sincere desire to reach a comprehensive settlement. Key to successful reconciliation is truth, and there are many reasons to doubt Iranian intentions, none of which did the Geneva negotiators address. Iranian authorities say they seek nuclear technology to ensure domestic energy security, but as the Bipartisan Policy Center showed, Tehran could achieve that aim for a fraction of the cost and for decades, if not centuries, longer if it chose to invest instead in its pipeline and refinery infrastructure.

via Iran deal risks creating another North Korea – Global Public Square – Blogs.

Israel makes an interesting bellwether on the issue. They are stuck in an unenviable position with several facets.

Easing economic sanctions against Iran, Israel argues, will only remove the pressure that brought Tehran to the table in the first place. Yet Israel — as well as the United States — sees initiatives to improve the Palestinian economy as a critical companion to the political and security discussions.

Do these alternate approaches to parallel issues that are crucial to Israel’s future amount to hopeless hypocrisy? Or are they simply a sign of the profound differences in the way Israel views the two problems and its starkly different role in the two sets of talks?

“Looking at how Bibi views these negotiations tells you a great deal about how he’s seeing the world,” said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, using the nickname of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “Bibi’s self-image first and foremost is shaped by wanting to lead Israel out of the shadow of the Iranian bomb. His image is not driven by being the peacemaker, creating two states and dividing Jerusalem.”

“Both offer pathways that are incredibly problematic for him,” Mr. Miller added. “It’s like the rest of the world is playing checkers and he is forced to play three-dimensional chess.

via Israelis See Ticking Clock...

But even before we consider strategic considerations on Israeli national issues, this is a tectonic change in geopolitical regional alliances between both Israel and Saudi Arabia and the US.  In the end, as Roger Cohen writes, the outcome is not clear:

Diplomacy involves compromise; risk is inherent to it. Iran is to be tested. Nobody can know the outcome. Things may unravel but at least there is hope. Perhaps this is what is most threatening to Netanyahu. He has never been willing to test the Palestinians in a serious way — test their good faith, test ending the humiliations of the occupation, test from strength the power of justice and peace. He has preferred domination, preferred the Palestinians down and under pressure.

On a different front, Dan Drezner weighs in on WSJ Bret Stephens and other conservatives who go berserk over the Munich analogy. Quoting a takedown from Reason magazine that sees the comparison of the Geneva diplomatic deal to Munich as “a crude, ahistorical gimmick to escalate military confrontation.”

The good professor has a few wise words for future would-be foreign policy pundits–invoking possibly shaky historical analogies:

See, there’s a curious but understandable asymmetry in foreign affairs punditry. Warning about an apocalypse that does not happen doesn’t exact that much of a toll on a pundit’s reputation. After all, it’s the job of the pundit to warn about the dangers of world politics, to pore over the downside risks of every region, to spin tales of looming disaster in the air. That’s perceived as prudence by readers. And if the predicted end of the world doesn’t happen? Well, that’s likely because the pundit’s loud warnings prompted preventive action (or so they will tell themselves as they drift off to sleep). Via