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THE ANALYST’S PERSONAL TOOLKIT C H A P T E R F I V E 35 A disclaimer is in order. There are hundreds and hundreds of books available about political analysis. This chapter does not survey or summarize them. Rather, it offers my views about the knowledge and conceptual tools that I found useful during a career devoted primarily to doing diplomatic political analysis. Like the rest of this book, it is a personal perspective rather than an academic study. The reader should take what he can use and leave the rest. I find it useful to think of these analytical tools as falling into three categories: • Personal tools • Analytical tools that can be used everywhere • Analytical tools that are specific to a country Personal tools are those that the analyst controls. They include linguistic and cultural competence, writing style, and sources and contacts. In principle, the breadth and depth of the analyst’s abilities in each of these areas is limited only by his own talent and energy. These tools are the subject matter of this chapter. The others will be covered in the next chapter. CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING The ideal diplomatic political dispatch would be complete, accurate, correctly predictive , and timely. The good diplomatic political dispatch recognizes that compromises must be made among these qualities and finds the right balance for the subject matter 36 ———— THE CRAFT OF POLITICAL ANALYSIS FOR DIPLOMATS and circumstances at hand. Chapter 2 describes a hypothetical conflict between the demands of completeness and timeliness. In the real world, the political officer faces that particular conflict on a daily basis. If completeness involves having all the facts, accuracy obviously involves getting the facts right. At first blush, facts would seem to be hard, tangible things. Something either is, or it is not. Facts provide the basis of analysis and support for opinion. Separating the two is essential but not always straightforward. How often have we heard that one person’s fact is another person’s opinion? Reporting what someone has told you is factual reporting. In the chapter 2 example, it is a fact that the head of the mineworkers’ union told the political officer that his union would go on strike at noon the next day. That did not necessarily mean that the union would actually do so. Suppose the union chief rolled his eyes and squirmed in his chair while he said this. Those are also facts, but are they relevant to what he said? Do they indicate that he may be lying, that he is under pressure, or that he has a stomach ailment? Does he think that his office is bugged and he is actually delivering a message to the authorities, while ostensibly providing information to you? Facts sometimes speak for themselves. Often, they require context in order to be meaningful. In supplying context, the political officer moves from reporting to analysis and prediction. He brings to bear more of the tools of his trade, including his linguistic and cultural competence. Diplomacy thrives on linguistic competence and cultural immersion. The ideal diplomat would speak the host country’s language like a native, be so immersed in the local culture as to be able to think like a native, and would never forget that he is not one—that he is there to represent his own country’s interests. I have known one or two diplomats who come close to that ideal, although I do not count myself among them.1 Much of diplomatic political analysis involves filtering out the noise so as to isolate the information—in other words, distinguishing the significant from the trivial. In most contemporary societies, diplomats are awash in what passes for information but which, for their purposes, is usually noise. The diplomat’s job is to hear what is significant in that cacophony of voices. In closed societies, particularly totalitarian ones, information in the traditional sense is in short supply. Information is, or can be, power in all societies, but in totalitarian ones it is also a weapon and is treated as such. In closed societies, one often learns as much from what is not said as from what is said. Linguistic competence and cultural understanding are two of the most important tools the diplomat uses to filter, prioritize, and interpret information. During the Cold War, use of these tools to analyze developments in the Soviet Union came to be known THE ANALYST’S PERSONAL TOOLKIT ———— 37 as Kremlinology. Both diplomats and journalists practiced...


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