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The Diplomatique Internationale of Seinfeld

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The American situational comedy, Seinfeld, which basically dominated television in the 1990s and still enjoys a healthy residual life in reruns all around the world, remains an emotional and philosophical touchstone for just about anyone in the United States over the age of 40.

Its ability to find the hilarious in the everyday mundane, to point out ridiculous aspects of life that we have all experienced but never bothered to truly examine the real impact on our lives, is perhaps still unchallenged to this day vis-à-vis other comedies. This is why its place in the pantheon of humor will be eternal. But some of that comedic wisdom can actually be downright profound and practical for diplomacy and global affairs. In a world that becomes increasingly interdependent and hyper-connected, with the commensurate effect of not only limiting our ability to create private space but possibly questioning whether the concept of privacy will even exist in large degree in the future, some of the axioms used throughout Seinfeld’s run for comic relief might matter in gravity for the 2020s even more than they did in laughter for the 1990s. To wit:

  1. It’s worth having an alias

Just as with the show, this is not so much about having an alias in order to commit some heinous crime against humanity or engineer a massively corrupt embezzlement initiative. Rather, it’s more about having an alias in order to gerrymander an element of anonymity behind some of the more creative ideas we have and might be afraid to risk if we had to do them completely in the open with explicit attribution. People would likely be surprised just how little is negotiated and accomplished in diplomatic global affairs up on the dais with a microphone in front of your face. In fact, there is probably a direct inverse ratio between the level of publicity and the subsequent depth of success: the strategic utilization of aliases might allow sides to engage more substantively in secret, outside of the glaring spotlight of media scrutiny and public criticism. This creation of operational space often proves critical and positive for negotiation.

  1. Privacy and home security are of the utmost importance

This axiom feeds rather naturally from the point above. If it can be valuable having an alias for purposes of keeping the external world from interfering and hindering true diplomatic progress, it is equally valuable being ‘master of your domain’ internally, as it were. Today’s world is not just epitomized by the ubiquity of technology in our everyday lives. More intriguingly (or disturbingly as the case may be), technology has made the ability to keep secrets and control your own narrative almost impossible to the point that many people now openly scoff at the idea as pure fantasy. But this ability, to keep secrets in-house and control your own strategic narrative, is an incredibly important aspect to successful negotiations in global diplomacy. The world of American politics shows how devastating ‘leaks’ are to agendas and strategies. It renders what could have been an effective initiative to something more chaotic and inconsistent. In the world of diplomacy, chaos and inconsistency are the enemies of success.

  1. It’s possible for your standards to be too high

One of the most common plot-enablers of Seinfeld was when a good idea was allowed to run free and ended up mutating into a truly ridiculous plan of outrageously grandiose ambition, with absolutely no chance of success and total guarantee of hilarity to ensue. It is impossible to underestimate the value of this lesson for almost every state in the international community that aspires to elevating its position and prestige on the global stage. Perhaps it is ironic, but the common individualist axiom of aiming too high so that when you fall a little short you will still be high up regardless doesn’t actually work in global diplomacy. Rather, this world works best when governed by actors striving to keep rationality, realism, and pragmatism in the forefront of their strategic minds. Overreach and image inflation are easily two of the most common flaws to derail what once could have been successful diplomatic overtures. So, please, let this axiom encourage states to be a bit more self-aware and humble in what they seek to accomplish.

  1. You’ll avoid a lot of headaches if you just let people have their quirks

The discovery and attempt to manage or change those ‘quirks’ became the source for some of the most insanely funny moments in the entire series of Seinfeld. However, in global affairs and diplomacy, while it is crucial to learn as many of the quirks as possible, it is even more important to not attempt to ‘remake’ those quirks into something more palatable to or pliable by you. Any such attempts are usually met with resentment and indignation and instantly sour the negotiation atmosphere between parties. And anyone who has been involved even remotely in the field of diplomacy, conflict resolution, and negotiation will tell you that the maintenance of a positive atmosphere of communication and trust is the most important, and precarious, initial element. In this beginning stage, it is often the small style details that can throw a meeting off-center, rather than any deep and important substance point. So, breathe deep, breathe easy, let the quirks run free. It’s not personal. It’s strategic.

  1. Do the opposite to broaden your horizons

In Seinfeld, more often than not, an attempt to ‘think outside the box’ for any of the main characters usually resulted in them getting into hot water and awkward situations resulting in embarrassment and/or hilarity. Quite the opposite would likely happen were diplomats more successful in moving more easily off of their talking points and buzzwords. The ability to think beyond your own comfort zone, to truly be able to ascertain and consider the perspective of the ‘other’, is in fact the unique skill innate to all of the greatest statesmen in the history of the world. ‘Doing the opposite’ in the world of international diplomacy is not just effective for being able to properly perceive the priorities of your counterpart, it also has an added benefit of tilting the negotiation field to your favor, as you have likely surprised the other side and left them scrambling to consider new tactics themselves. So, do the opposite to not just broaden your horizons but to strategically position your side for greater negotiating dominance.

And there you have it. Five simple but oh-so-profound axioms from Seinfeld that were effective in making the whole world laugh in the 1990s but might be able to make the whole world get along better heading to the 2020s. If we can have a Tao of Poo and a Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance (not that there’s anything wrong with that), then perhaps it is time to recognize the value and advancement that can be achieved with the Diplomatique Internationale of Seinfeld. After all, this world needs all the help it can get.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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Diplomacy

Soft Power Dynamics in Middle Eastern Conflict

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The Middle East is synonymous with eternal conflict as being at the cross-point between Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The paper intends to understand how the power could be derived from the cultural roots in a world filled with pre-existing biases based on religious values, nationality, and interpretation of history.

Palestine receives strong international support through social media by sharing its pain and grievances increasing its soft power that hampers Israel’s international relations. A new question emerges can the soft power paradigm be used to resolve the problem?  

The roots of the Middle Eastern problem are driven by historical-religious literature which shows the Middle East to be the historic homeland of Jews and they wanted to get back to their original homeland due to two-millennium long suppression that finally ended up as the holocaust.

Israel continues to emphasize and promote stories related to Second World War which help them gain the legitimacy to exist as a state. It is also remarked that the holocaust may have been a decisive condition for the creation of a Jewish state but this action would have occurred sooner or later.

One of the biggest strengths for Israel and its legitimacy comes from the Biblical literature which has some historical stories in it and mentions Israel and Judah in the Middle East providing American Christian Support which seems to be dropping as a result Israel needs to work on its soft power.

A similar strength can be found in Quran for Israeli as Surah Al-Ma’idah in Chapter 5 verse 12 states about the Children of Israel and verse 21 explains that they are “destined to enter and not to turn back else they will become the loser.” These verses motivate Israeli for their cause which raises an interesting phenomenon that some pro-Israeli media would use Quranic verses to gain legitimacy.

History needs to be studied to understand how and where the differences between Jews and Muslims started. Originally there was a peaceful relation between Jews and Muslims but Jews refuse to acknowledge Muhammad a non-Jew as one of the prophets of God which caused the relationship between Jews and Muslims to deplete.

Finally, Banu Qurayza a Jewish community allied with Qurashites against Prophet Muhammad that caused Medina to suffer a war-built hatred towards Judaism.

However, even after looking at the differences Muslims, Christians, and Jews are Abrahamic religions maintaining their base Judaic-monotheistic tradition as both Roman Catholics and Arab previously had polytheistic culture and Israel has indirectly benefitted from this historical fact.

Israel could benefit from various religions by showing show respect to the leaders of Abrahamic religions and even maintain an apologetic attitude on behalf of some of the members of the Jewish community which may have conducted villainous actions as per some stories based on other religious doctrines.

The tower of one’s ego can prohibit supporting the national interest which could only be achieved by becoming softer to gain soft power.

It is argued that the ancient Philistine is related to present-day Palestine. Palestine as a result gets associated with David and Goliath or Samson’s struggle with Philistine. However, the term Palestine is more complicated which had developed in the period.

There are also claims that the Syria Palaestina was constructed as a punishment for Bar Kochba Revolt in 135CE while the name Palaestina given to the region seems to be older than Bar Kochba Revolt and even older than the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

The image of the Israel and Palestine conflict is connected towards mythical combat between David and Goliath. David was an inexperienced youth who later became king of Israel and defeated a giant from ancient Philistine called Goliath.

Some actors who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have also connected Palestine with David who was weak at the beginning of the story while they perceive Israel as an unjust giant and the toughest fighter in the region.

The Middle Eastern conflict goes beyond religion and history as it has multiple dimensions due to multiple crimes against humanity causing people to be refugees that inflict social, political, and economic damages.

A medium to obtain soft power is by resolving the humanitarian crisis and Israel being perceived as a perpetrator tampered with its national image.

Israel as an economically advanced country with large spending power can establish economic institutions to raise funds in providing education, training, and employment to victims of that conflict regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, or political views who have been scattered around the world which would help Israel gain legitimacy.

The economic recovery of the war victims can minimize some damage enforced upon the national image but there is a strong opinion that the Palestinian community lacks legal rights as being in Israeli jurisdiction. So, political rights might have to be secured to the Palestinians while they have to live in Israel for Israel to create a positive national image.  

The Israeli government also create an option for the Palestinian community to have the right to return, granting them protection in Knesset (Israeli Parliament), while promoting Arab Israeli politicians, and can even reflect how they have shaped the Israeli government in the international arena to build Israel’s soft power.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the social affairs which are closely tied to the soft power paradigm.

There is a clear fear that the Jews are eclipsing the social identity of the Palestinian people but in reality, they are closely linked as Arabic language and Hebrew are Semitic languages, their scripts have common Aramaic ancestry, and Halaal and Kosher dietary cultures are also similar.

There should be an effort to study the similarities to build unity and to study unique qualities as to appreciate one another’s differences. Israel could also create Cultural Relations Centers around the world that promote both Jewish and Palestinian language, culture, and cuisine to create respect and solidarity. 

There can also be the production of television programs, movies, digital applications which could allow people to understand the Middle Eastern community.

Tel Aviv is the center for the development of many technological advancements and carries great potential to build creative applications and visual storytelling that could help spread awareness about the Middle East.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority could request the Israeli government to provide scholarships in various Israeli Universities which could enhance their credential for making effort to create a peaceful world as well as proposing exchange programs by inviting Israeli students to visit regular Palestinian colleges and working spaces decreasing bitterness.

The Palestinian Authority could also pursue Israeli investment in core-Palestinian settlements that could create employment as well as mutual dependence allowing Palestine to grow with a greater bargaining power while maintaining a symbiotic relationship.

Culture, history, and institutions can be combined to create harmony. A key aspect to gain soft power and legitimacy is by becoming softer by showing respect to the opponents while appreciating and accepting others’ viewpoints.

Therefore, the study of religion, history has to be conducted from a neutral perspective that can be trusted by all international actors and could serve as a uniting factor while maintaining an apologetic attitude towards historic mistakes. There needs to be an effort to provide economic and political compensation for the victims which have caused notoriety in the international arena and finally the culture of the two competing communities needs to be celebrated through cultural institutions to build trust and harmony.

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Diplomacy

Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva

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19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders. 

18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?

Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit

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Diplomacy

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

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In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

   One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE)  hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).

 Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India,  could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:

, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s  T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’

GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league —  extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021.  Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal  met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.

GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman  — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.

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