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CASE STUDY I: THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET UNION: Early Embassy Moscow Views C H A P T E R E I G H T 83 T his chapter is a case study of diplomatic political analysis, using as examples two cables submitted by Embassy Moscow. The first is from July 1990, when the embassy initially suggested that the Soviet Union might collapse. The second was submitted in December 1990, as the process of disintegration accelerated. The following chapter also concerns the collapse of the Soviet Union but is a case study of embassy reporting during a period of intense crisis: the August 1991 coup intended to end political and economic reform. The failure of that coup marked the death of the Soviet Union, although it was not formally taken off life support for another four months. The four cables are snapshots of how the embassy attempted to carry out its analytical and advisory functions during this fast-moving and momentous period. A few disclaimers are in order. Obviously, these particular reports were not chosen at random. Some of the reasons for choosing them were entirely practical. Since I drafted them, I know the circumstances and thought processes that produced them in a way that no one else can. There is always the danger that 20/20 hindsight and the fact that they are examples of my own craftsmanship may interfere with my ability to evaluate them, and the reader should keep that in mind. I am mindful of the fact that the cables were either somewhat prescient or marked an historic moment. If that had not been the case, I might not have kept the titles, dates, and cable numbers in my personal records. Having this information at hand made it far more practical for me to request the department to go through the formal process of declassifying (or declining to declassify) the cables. Since most embassy analytical efforts are classified, using any of them as case studies in a book like this requires prior declassification. As I have previously indicated, 84 ———— THE CRAFT OF POLITICAL ANALYSIS FOR DIPLOMATS the State Department made it impossible or impractical for me to seek declassification of reports that had been nominated for awards. Thus, with the exception of the two cables presented in the previous chapter, I was left with no recourse except to fall back upon my own drafting efforts. Aside from the value indicated above of using my own work, it does seem appropriate for an author who presumes to write on the subject of diplomatic political analysis to submit at least some of his own work to the readers’ purview. The reader should also be aware that I was not the original drafter on most embassy political cables during my time there. Each political counselor has to define his job in the way that seems best to him. There were about thirty people in Embassy Moscow’s political section from 1988 to 1991, most of them hardworking, ambitious, and talented drafting officers. At the time, it was the largest U.S. embassy political section in the world. Although I prefer writing my own material to editing that of others, I made a conscious decision that I could add the most value to embassy reporting as a whole by providing ideas and direction to my staff, polishing and editing their work, and not letting it languish unread on my desk. My own earlier experience had convinced me that nothing erodes the morale of a political analyst more than having his work sit on the desk of his superior unread and untransmitted for days or weeks. My rule was either to act on a draft within twenty-four hours or tell the drafting officer why I needed more time. I spent many Saturday hours working on drafts that required more of my time than I could spare during the Monday to Friday period. Interestingly, a recipient of the director general’s reporting award cited as one of the chief obstacles to effective Embassy reporting “supervisors . . . who either slowed down the reporting process while agonizing over the difference between ‘happy’ and ‘glad’ or those who didn’t recognize important issues that lay just over the horizon.”1 Another recipient noted the important role of the reviewing officer: “Every one of my best cables benefited from the consul general’s comments. I often knew a cable would be good because it was so difficult to get past the CG. For that to work...


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