Sunday, October 22, 2006

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Maybe blogs and diplomacy don't mix too well

The chief United Nations envoy for Sudan has been kicked out of the country because of what he's said on his blog. Warren Hoge explains in the New York Times:

Sudan’s government ordered the chief United Nations envoy out of the country today, saying he was an enemy of the country and its armed forces.

Secretary General Kofi Annan said that he was reviewing the letter from the Khartoum government and had requested the envoy, Jan Pronk, to return to New York for “consultations.”

The Sudanese order said he had to leave by Wednesday. United Nations officials confirmed he would depart before then.

Mr. Pronk, a blunt-spoken former Dutch cabinet minister, has been outspoken in reporting on the killings, rapes and other atrocities in Darfur, the region in the western part of Sudan where 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes.

He has become increasingly pointed in his comments because of the rise in violence across the area despite a May peace accord between the Sudanese government and a major rebel group, and because of the government’s refusal to grant permission for a new United Nations force to take over peacekeeping in the country from the overstretched African Union.

Mr. Pronk is known as a forceful presence at the United Nations from his frequent appearances before the Security Council, where he characteristically delivers unflinching accounts of the continuing mayhem and political breakdowns in Sudan in a rhetorical style that includes finger-jabbing and dramatic pauses for emphasis.

Sudan’s action against him was apparently provoked by an entry he made in his personal blog — — last weekend that said Sudan’s armed forces had suffered two major defeats with extensive casualties against rebels in Darfur in the past six weeks. He also reported that generals had been cashiered, that morale had sunk and that the government had collaborated with the feared Janjaweed Arab militias, which are held responsible for pillaging villages and killing and raping their residents.

The Sudanese armed forces on Thursday cited the blog entry in calling Mr. Pronk a threat to national security and asking that he be expelled.

The fact that one of its top officials has put sensitive findings in a personal blog has embarrassed the United Nations and put its officials in an awkward position. When the matter arose Friday, United Nations officials resisted rebuking Mr. Pronk for the practice for fear that it would appear to be a vote of no confidence in the mission, rather than just in his professional lapse.

Questioned repeatedly on Friday over whether the United Nations stood by the statements in Mr. Pronk’s blog, Stéphane Dujarric, Mr. Annan’s spokesman, said, “Those views are expressed by Pronk, are his personal views.”

Mr. Dujarric indicated that this was not the first time a problem with Mr. Pronk’s blog had come up. “There have been a number of discussions with Mr. Pronk regarding his blog and the expectation of all staff members to exercise proper judgment in what they write in their blogs,” he said.

Here's the relevant section of Pronk's blog that raised the ire of the Sudanese government:
[The Sudanese Armed Forces] has lost two major battles, last month in Umm Sidir and this week in Karakaya. The losses seem to have been very high. Reports speak about hundreds of casualties in each of the two battles with many wounded and many taken as prisoner. The morale in the Government army in North Darfur has gone down. Some generals have been sacked; soldiers have refused to fight. The Government has responded by directing more troops and equipment from elsewhere to the region and by mobilizing Arab militia. This is a dangerous development. Security Council Resolutions which forbid armed mobilization are being violated. The use of militia with ties with the Janjaweed recalls the events in 2003 and 2004. During that period of the conflict systematic militia attacks, supported or at least allowed by the SAF, led to atrocious crimes.
I confess to mixed feelings about all of this.

On the one hand, it seems morally repugnant to blame Pronk for writing a blog that exposes Sudanese duplicity and moral depravity. Later in his story, Hoge observes, "commenting on the international campaign that has arisen to try to end the violence in Darfur, [Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir] said, 'Those who made the publicity, who mobilized the people, invariably are Jewish organizations.'" And as the Independent points out: "Observers says Pronk's direct style may have been a contributing factor in naming him the UN envoy to Sudan. He is often credited with keeping the crisis there high on the international agenda." It certainly seems like diplomats are shooting their mouths off with increasing regularity these days.

And yet, I'm pretty sure that one of the primary jobs of a diplomat is not to needlessly piss off an actor who has a seat at the negotiation table. By blogging about such a sensitive matter, Pronk gift-wrapped the Sudanese an excuse to expel him and delay dealing with the United Nations Security Council. How does this help anyone in Darfur?

This is not an issue to which I've paid a great deal of attention, so I'm issuing a bleg: for those who have been keeping tabs on Darfur, was Plonk's blog post a necessary or counterproductive action?

There are certain jobs that would not seem to agree with blogging at all, and being a diplomat might be one of them.

posted by Dan on 10.22.06 at 09:11 PM


Plonk was a fool and should not have been blogging except anonymously. I remain (quasi) anonymous as I am sure my financial sector clients, governmental interlocutors and in this region (MENA) would be most unhappy to read some of my views (not that they are important, but if I am trying to close a deal...). It's common sense.

Or if he blogs "in the open" he has to be bland or avoid subjects he may work on.

posted by: The Lounsbury on 10.22.06 at 09:11 PM [permalink]

I'm not sure I get the one-the-one-hand-on-the-other-handness here.

On the one hand, it seems morally repugnant to blame Pronk for writing a blog that exposes Sudanese duplicity and moral depravity.

So maybe he shouldn't be blamed. Maybe he's a moral hero. Maybe he'll get into heaven for it. Doesn't mean he should be left on the job as a diplomat. Careful modulation of words spoken and some degree of public pretense are the stuff of the job, nu?

For a working diplomat to blog about either the home administration for which he/she works or about the policies of the host government in any but the most general and approved terms seems certain to be out of bounds. Maybe an ambassador could keep a "my favorite restaurants of the host city" blog, but not this kind of thing.

posted by: Jacob T., Levy on 10.22.06 at 09:11 PM [permalink]

I'd certainly deprecate blogging by any American diplomat. For obvious reasons I have no strong feelings about blogging by diplomats of other countries, or by employees of international organizations like the UN.

Pronk position is that of a diplomat representing an oganization nominally committed to stopping an ongoing campaign of genocide but in fact powerless to do so, while accredited to the government sponsoring the campaign and determined to control the flow of information coming from the region in which the campaign is taking place. It is hard to criticize someone in this position for seeking ways to let the outside world know what is happening (Pronk's story about reverses suffered by Sudanese government forces was, incidentally, confirmed in the NYT today).

This isn't quite the same thing as maintaining a blog divulging the course of negotiations about a trade agreement with Jamaica. Interestingly, Pronk is regularly bashed for being ineffective, and disingenuous about the extent of Darfur's agony, by Eric Reeves, the blogger of record on this subject (as in Reeves' most recent post -- The post, per usual for him, is very long and the reference to Pronk is toward the end). Though in no position to comment on Pronk's skills as a negotiator, I don't think it's hard to imagine the tension that must go with his current assignment. And offenses given to the government in Khartoum are not high on my list of things for which anyone should be reprimanded.

posted by: Zathras on 10.22.06 at 09:11 PM [permalink]

Why is the blog the big iossue? would it have been any different if he had been quoted to the same effect in a news report? Or if he had given the information onbackground, to be cited in a news report but not directly attributed to him?

There is not a great deal of evidence that diplomacy is working in Darfur. What precisely has been lost by Plonk being in effect PNGed?

posted by: Gene on 10.22.06 at 09:11 PM [permalink]

On the one hand, it's probably not a good idea for a diplomat to blog. On the other hand, what difference does it make? Does anybody on this planet believe diplomacy is going to make a difference in Darfur?

posted by: David Nieporent on 10.22.06 at 09:11 PM [permalink]

Nearly every interest group in Darfur is happy about Pronk's expulsion. He was widely resented by everyday Sudanese for the way he charged through Khartoum in armed motorcades. he was the subject of numberous and disaproving editorials in Khartoum papers comparing him to British colonial governors. Pronk didn't understand those references so he hired a Northwestern University history professor to interpret them for him.

NGOs resented Pronk too. They disliked the way he lectured them about Darfur while seldoming visiting the region. One compound of international aid workers re-named their pet donkey "Pronk" when they realized how he-hawing loud it was.

Even Pronk's own staff felt embarrased when he spoke. His press conferences were comical. Pronk would be spitting into the microphone, right hand jabbing upwards for emphasis, while his staff looked at their shoes.

His removal is an excellent opportunity for Sudan and Darfur. There's talk the Sec Gen might appoint someone better able to bring everyone back to the table, something the held-in-poor-esteem Pronk was utterly unable to do. Laktar Brahimi is being mentioned for the post.

I've read Pronk's post and they use the word 'demand' frequently. But do diplomats demand?

posted by: JP on 10.22.06 at 09:11 PM [permalink]

As a diplomat, his actions were unfortunate. But in defense of Pronk, I must say that he is a man of his word. He is horrified by what is happening in Darfur and, as far as i can see, very worried by the ongoing lack of credible international action. After all, this conflict is going on since 2001, 2002?? And still there is no solution.

I really doubt whether any other diplomat can make a difference. At least Pronk kept demanding attention for Sudan. And that was his primary job.

posted by: Harmen Breedeveld on 10.22.06 at 09:11 PM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?