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THE AUDIENCE C H A P T E R T H R E E 15 D iplomatic political analysis can be an existential experience, done for the good of your soul and transmitted into the ether without any particular expectation that it will ever land on someone’s desk. I served for several years as the only political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Ivory Coast, then a stable, peaceful, relatively prosperous West African country that had made a lot of good political and economic choices since becoming independent. Our desk officer at the State Department had responsibility for several other countries in the region as well, all of which were politically unstable, economic basket cases. She was smart and hard-working, but there were only so many hours in her day. One of her countries, traditionally unfriendly to the United States, had recently begun to make positive overtures, but its people were on the verge of starvation. In another of her countries, the pro-American ruling class had just been overthrown by an army corporal of unknown political leanings and questionable sobriety who had walked into the presidential mansion one night, shot the president, and announced that he was the new ruler. It would have been truly naïve to expect a wide readership for my political dispatches, admirable as I considered them to be, although they would probably have been read in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Also, the more fully staffed geographic offices at the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) might have had someone available to read them. Nevertheless, there are both personal (because it is good for you) and professional (because it is your responsibility) reasons to produce the best work of which you are capable.1 By contrast, my previous assignment had been as one of nine members of the political section at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. We had a guaranteed audience with an 16 ———— THE CRAFT OF POLITICAL ANALYSIS FOR DIPLOMATS inexhaustible appetite for our work. We will use this audience for Moscow reporting as the basis for our discussion, understanding that readership will vary proportionately with a country’s size and strategic or economic importance, and inversely with its level of stability. It behooves the drafter of an embassy dispatch to keep in mind both who his audience is and what its members want, since different elements of the audience vary greatly in the amount and kind of information they are prepared to absorb. By keeping the target group in mind as he prepares dispatches, he can make intelligent decisions on style, content, completeness, and timeliness that increase the chances his work will have an impact. The ideal dispatch is complete, accurate, correctly predictive, and timely.2 Much of the craft of diplomatic political analysis lies in reconciling this ideal with the limitations of everyday life. Let us begin with a reality check. Only on the rarest of occasions will your audience include the president. The chances that he will ever see the actual text of an embassy dispatch are slim at best, in part because of the audience you can actually aspire to reach. Washington contains serried rank upon serried rank of government workers whose raison d’être is to receive information, interpret it, whittle it down into manageable size, and funnel it upward. The volume of this information is immense. For example, in 1990, Embassy Moscow transmitted about 3,600 cables per month. While most of them obviously involved routine administrative matters rather than political analysis, the sheer volume of information coming into Washington can be overwhelming. When I was not sending in those dispatches from abroad, I was at the Washington end taking part in the receiving, interpreting, whittling, and funneling. We once had a president, who shall go unnamed (at least by me), who received his foreign policy information on note cards. I know this because a high-ranking National Security Council (NSC) aide stopped by the Soviet desk where I was working and told us so. He said that at the end of the day whatever we sent him for the president was going to be put onto a note card. We could either do our own editing down to note card size, or he would do it for us. This may be an extreme example, but it is well worth remembering because it vividly illustrates a crucial difference between the audiences for diplomatic political analyses and those...


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