Tuesday, March 7, 2023

David Lindsey's "Delegated Diplomacy"

David Lindsey is assistant professor of political science at Baruch College, City University of New York.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Delegated Diplomacy: How Ambassadors Establish Trust in International Relations, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Importantly, the theory of sympathies described above suggests that diplomats at intermediate sympathy levels will periodically lie. The theory of reputation for honesty suggests that any such lie should destroy a diplomat’s credibility. The sympathy theory, however, suggests that it should be possible to sustain a sympathetic reputation (and thus credibility) despite having lied, at least if sufficient other indications of sympathy are available.

The career of Prince Bandar, the long-serving Saudi Ambassador to the United States, provides a useful example of this sort of dynamic. Bandar began his diplomatic career, while serving as a special envoy before his ambassadorship, with a brazen and somewhat clumsy lie to President Carter in the Oval Office. Hoping to influence Carter’s peace efforts in the Middle East, Bandar deliberately mistranslated a letter from Arabic into English. American officials soon discovered the deception after obtaining a copy of the letter, leaving Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski “furious.” Indeed, such misrepresentations were something of a habit with Bandar; a senior American official reported years later that “Bandar’s accounts of what Arab leaders had allegedly told him had to be checked and double-checked for accuracy.”

Bandar’s deceptions went further than misrepresenting conversations. In the mid-1980s, the ambassador personally brokered a secret deal for Saudi Arabia to buy ballistic missiles from China. Not only did the ambassador lie to his American contacts about the deal, he also hoodwinked the American intelligence community into sharing sensitive information about satellite reconnaissance capabilities that allowed the Saudis to avoid detection when importing the missiles. The United States discovered the sales in 1988, and Secretary of State George Shultz was so incensed that he temporarily cut off contact with Bandar. But Bandar weathered the storm. As one of the few ambassadors with direct access to the White House, he had little need for the Secretary of State. Ironically, while Bandar was unscathed, the episode claimed the job of the American ambassador in Riyadh as collateral damage.

Not long thereafter, Bandar ascended to the peak of his influence. During the first Gulf War, the ambassador became so close to the Bush administration that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell described him as “a virtual member of Bush’s cabinet.” This extraordinary trust despite repeated acts of deception was the result of a strong underlying confidence in the sympathies of the Westernized and American-educated Bandar. David Ottaway describes the ambassador as “the most pro-American resident of the House of Saud.”
Page 99 does a remarkably good job at uncovering some of the key ideas in the book. In general, the book looks at two questions: What makes diplomats credible (i.e., when will foreign governments believe what a diplomat says)? And, when do leaders want to hire credible diplomats?

There are three basic answers to the initial question. First, diplomats might not have any independent credibility at all. A foreign interlocutor might be entirely indifferent to who is sending a message and treat a communication from an ambassador exactly the same as a foreign ministry press release. Second, a diplomat might have some measure of independent credibility by virtue of a personal reputation for honesty. That is, if a given diplomat is known for telling the truth, then his or her messages might carry added weight. Third, a diplomat might be independently credible because he or she is sympathetic towards the foreign country. Because deception can harm the host country, a sympathetic diplomat will be disinclined to "lie to a friend" so to speak.

I emphasize the third position, arguing that diplomats can add credibility and that they generally due so on the basis of sympathy rather than honesty. Page 99 is teasing out a particular implication of this perspective — that sympathetic diplomats can maintain their credibility even after lying. I briefly explore this through the career of one of America’s most famous diplomats, Bandar bin Sultan, who was both strongly pro-American and periodically dishonest. As such, the anecdote does a pretty good job of laying out one of the central debates at play in the book.

The book has many, many anecdotes. I think it’s very important to consistently apply theoretical material to the real-world, and page 99 captures this. At the same time, as a work of social science, the book has a lot more than just engaging anecdotes and you don’t get that from page 99. The key theoretical parts of the book are all worked out in rigorous, game-theoretic terms and the middle chapters test the basic predictions quantitatively. To supplement the many brief anecdotes throughout the text, the final two chapters present much more detailed, fleshed-out historical case studies of two notable diplomats.

In sum, page 99 hints at the gist of the argument and does a pretty good job showing how I’ve written the material. But there’s more to read!
Learn more about Delegated Diplomacy at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue