Above Photo: Marco Pregnolato / Unsplash.
Am I the only American to travel overseas and feel embarrassed by the conduct of the diplomats Washington sends abroad to speak for our republic? It is pretty strange to find yourself, an ordinary citizen, apologizing for the intrusive, cajoling, bullying, badgering and otherwise crude utterances of this or that ambassador in this or that nation. But such is the state of things as the late-phase imperium fields its elbows-out undiplomats—a term I borrow from the Swiss, who suffer one as we speak.
Scott Miller, the Biden regime’s ambassador to Bern for a little more than a year, is indeed a doozy in this line. In his often-demonstrated view, he is in Switzerland to tell the Swiss what to do. At the moment, Miller is all over this nation for not signing on as a participant in Washington’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine—pressuring ministers, denigrating those who question the wisdom of the war, offending the Swiss in speeches and newspaper interviews. It is a one-man assault on Switzerland’s long, long tradition of neutrality, waged in the manner of an imperial proconsul disciplining an errant province. Swiss commentators question why the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the FDFA, has not expelled this tone-deaf ignoramus.
We should pay attention to people such as Miller and what they get up to, even if they rarely make headlines in our corporate media. It is now nearly lost to history, but Europeans were effectively force-marched—and occasionally bribed at leadership level—into following the Americans as they instigated and waged Cold War I. This is exactly what the State Department is doing once again. It behooves us to watch this process in real time so the realities of Cold War II are not so easily obscured.
According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, in effect since 1961, diplomats are barred from intervening in the internal affairs of host countries. The State Department lately displays as much concern for this U.N.–sponsored accord as it does for international law altogether: Little to none, you find when you watch these men and women at close range.
I do not know when these breaches of etiquette and indeed law started, but at this point illegal diplomatic interventions into the politics and policies of others are the U.S. Foreign Service’s anti–Convention convention. These coercions are key, let us not miss, to the Biden regime’s concerted campaign to divide the world once again into confrontational blocs and erase all traces of principled neutrality. The Finns have succumbed and just joined NATO. We can put the Swedes in the same file. Now it is the Swiss and their neutrality in international affairs who take the heat. This is the thing about the liberal imperialists: They cannot tolerate deviation from their illiberal orthodoxies. It was George W. Bush who famously told the world “You’re either with us or with the terrorists.” American liberals deployed as diplomats cannot get enough of the thought.
If you want to talk about the decline of diplomacy into crudely asserted demands that host countries conform to the wishes of other powers, you have to start with Andriy Melnyk, the blunt instrument representing Ukraine in Berlin until mid–2022, when even the Zelensky regime, never short of adolescently offensive behavior, found him too much to take. Melnyk thought nothing of calling German ministers “fucking assholes” if they questioned the wisdom of arming Ukraine, and openly celebrating Stepan Bandera, the Russophobic murderer of Jews, who allied with the Third Reich before and during World War II.
For sheer vulgarity Melnyk is nonpareil. I miss the guy, honestly. American diplomats effect a more polished veneer, but they are every bit Melnyk’s match if the metric is self-righteous presumption that what Washington wants others to do is what others should do.
You saw what was coming when Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state, named Richard Grenell ambassador to Berlin in 2018. Among Grenell’s choicer acts was to threaten German companies with sanctions—publicly, we’re talking about—if they participated in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which, as Seymour Hersh has thoroughly and persuasively reported, and whose reporting has not been substantively contradicted, the Biden regime destroyed in a covert operation last year. By then he had dressed down Angela Merkel for opening the Federal Republic’s door to Syrian refugees in 2015. His broader mission, Grenell declared, was to encourage rightist European leaders: Sebastian Kurz, the right-wing populist serving as Austria’s chancellor during Grenell’s time, was “a rock star” in the American ambassador’s book.
You can call this many things, but diplomacy is not among them. I call it a measure of Washington’s loss of interest in dialogue, negotiation, compromise—altogether an understanding of other countries and their interests. It is the diplomacy of no diplomacy, as I have remarked elsewhere. Diplomats are effectively the guardians of trust among nations: Proper statecraft requires they should be competent to talk even to, or most of all, adversaries. But the policy cliques in Washington now prove indifferent to trust, even among allies, in favor of supine obeisance.
The world darkens in many ways. This collapse of traditional statecraft is a certain marker of our not-so-gradual descent into a barbarism that ought to worry all of us.
We come to the case of Ambassador Miller, who arrived in Bern as the Biden regime’s appointee in January 2022.
With increasing alacrity in recent months, he has taken it upon himself to cajole Switzerland to drop its policy of neutrality and begin sending Swiss-made arms to Ukraine while lifting a ban on other nations’ re-export of Swiss matériel to the Kyiv regime.
It is a fool’s errand on the very face of it. I would say trying to persuade the Swiss to abandon their neutrality is the equivalent of telling Americans to put aside the Declaration of Independence, except that the neutrality principle goes much further back in Swiss history. The Congress of Vienna formally guaranteed neutral status for the Confoederatio Helvetica, the nation’s official name, when it fashioned a new European order in 1815. By then the Swiss had considered themselves neutral in international affairs since sometime in the late Middle Ages.
But who cares about all that? Who cares that the Swiss pride themselves on what they have accomplished by way of their neutral role in world affairs—not least but not only during and after World War II? Who cares that Switzerland, because it is formally neutral, has represented American interests in Cuba since 1961 and in Iran since the 1979 revolution? Who cares that Geneva is a city that survives, apart from the watches, on its dedication to mediation, the site of too many negotiations to count?
Not Ambassador Miller.
Surely under orders from the Blinken State Department, Miller has been boisterously hammering the Swiss in speeches and public forums to lift their longstanding stipulation that countries purchasing Swiss-made arms cannot re-export them, along with its determination that it will not sell weaponry to countries at war. It is in part a measure of the Biden regime’s desperation that the Swiss, whose armaments industry’s exports come to all of $900 million yearly, is suddenly essential to saving Ukraine from defeat.
The Swiss are nothing like essential. The thought is ridiculous. The larger point, in my view, is far more insidious. It is to eliminate all thought of neutrality among nations in the (undeclared but obvious) name of the Biden regime’s intent to get everyone on side for a nice, long, profitable new Cold War.
On his arrival, Miller was quick to berate Swiss officials who questioned the sense of the sanctions regime the U.S. and the European Union have imposed on Russia. The Swiss government, reluctantly and controversially, went along with the sanctions that followed the outbreak of hostilities last year, but Miller has been pressing Bern not merely to sequester more funds deposited by Russian oligarchs, but to confiscate them so that they can be sent to Kyiv to finance the eventual reconstruction of Ukraine.
Confiscation of this kind is straight-out illegal—something that matters not at all to the U.S. but matters greatly to Switzerland. When two journalists from Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the big Zurich daily, asked him about this in an interview a few weeks ago, Miller retreated into the cotton-wool language Americans routinely get from public figures. “This requires international dialogue,” Miller replied. “We assume we will find a way.”
In other words: We insist you breach international law, and worry not. We do it all the time.
When the Neue Zürcher Zeitung correspondents pointed out that Swiss President Alain Berset had recently defended Swiss neutrality and called for early negotiations to end the war, Miller replied, “Anyone can call for negotiations.”
Nice. American diplomacy at its best. Or at its typical worst these days.
It is a matter of record that Miller has imposed himself into ministerial deliberations on the sanctions and arms-sales questions, boasting at one point that senior FDFA officials “know what we expect.” But it was a remark Miller made during the Neue Zürcher Zeitung interview that has landed Miller in seriously bad odor among the Swiss. “In a way, NATO is a donut,” he said with exquisite insensitivity, “and Switzerland is the hole in the middle.”
I loved the outrage that followed. He has called Switzerland “nothing in the middle of a greasy American confection,” Roger Kōppel, a populist member of the National Council, the lower house of the legislature, exclaimed. “Bern should have reprimanded him immediately.”
It should have but it didn’t. The only constituencies sympathetic to Miller’s obnoxious importunings are sectors of the business community who stand to profit were Switzerland to abandon its neutrality to please the Americans and the political factions allied with them. Miller will stay, but there is no way under the sun that the vast majority of Switzerland’s nine million people would accept so fundamental a change in policy—and, indeed, in national identity.
This leads me to a larger point. Miller can bang on all he likes about his commitment to democracy, but his conduct since arriving in Bern is measure enough that he doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about Swiss democracy–an impressive direct democracy–when it impedes Washington’s imperial pursuits. Do not tell me you are shocked, please: American diplomats no longer represent Americans abroad. They represent American elites to other nations’ elites.
Miller is 43 and arrived with his partner without one day’s experience in statecraft. Together they were and may remain major donors to the Democratic Party, giving the appearance that they bought the Bern appointment–a common practice since at least the Reagan years. Scott Miller is an example of the cost of such practices to our institutions in terms of competence.
The war against neutrality—and effectively sovereignty and self-determination—goes on. Last week Le Temps, the leading Geneva daily, reported that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz accosted Berset during the latter’s visit to Berlin with the demand that the Swiss “take uncomfortable but correct decisions” on neutrality, arms sales, and the Ukraine question. “We hope certain things will get done,” Scholz added with all the subtlety of… Scott Miller.
Certain things will not get done. The Americans are not going to win this one, no matter how many obsequious Olaf Scholzs prevail on the Swiss in their behalf. Berset wasted no time making this clear in Berlin.
I loved the response of Benedict Neff, a commentator at Neue Zürcher Zeitung, after Miller’s hole-in-the-donut remark. Diplomats such as Miller “take a considerable risk,” he wrote. “When their public rebukes are too high-handed, they trigger irritated reactions. The undiplomats are therefore useful in prompting critical reflections on one’s policies and giving them a clearer direction.”
This is not as it always turns out with the Europeans—Scholz being proof enough of the point—but it is as it should be, and as one hopes it will come to be.