Uprisings Take Diplomats By Surprise The violent extremism of the Gadhafi regime in Libya surprised many foreign policy watchers. Host Guy Raz speaks with writer Dominique Moisi, who says diplomats are often right with their predictions — but far too prudent in their actions.
NPR logo

Uprisings Take Diplomats By Surprise

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/134295411/134295401" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Uprisings Take Diplomats By Surprise

Uprisings Take Diplomats By Surprise

Uprisings Take Diplomats By Surprise

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/134295411/134295401" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The violent extremism of the Gadhafi regime in Libya surprised many foreign policy watchers. Host Guy Raz speaks with writer Dominique Moisi, who says diplomats are often right with their predictions — but far too prudent in their actions.

GUY RAZ, host:

French geopolitical scholar Dominique Moisi has been following the events in Libya closely. And he says, from a European perspective, the crisis is somewhat more complicated.

Professor DOMINIQUE MOISI (College of Europe; Author, "The Geopolitics of Emotions): For Europeans, what's happening in the Middle East is very close to us geographically and historically.

On top of it, we have specific responsibilities vis-a-vis migrants, for example. So, in a way, we are more concerned than the United States. And at the same time, it's more difficult for us to act.

RAZ: Let me ask you about the role of diplomacy here. You've recently written that one of the limitations of the diplomat posted overseas is that normally, they can't really make contact with what you call alternative sources. Can you explain what you mean?

Prof. MOISI: Well, I think classical diplomacies are emphasizing the fact that international relations are the relations between states. And, in fact, very often, one discourages the attempt by diplomats to get in touch with the opposition, with civil society, with alternative source of information. But by doing so, you run the risk of reproducing the propaganda of a regime that has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens.

RAZ: One of the interesting observations that came out after the WikiLeaks cables started to be released was how accurate many of those diplomatic cables actually were and how they really did reflect a range of views from the countries where they were written.

Prof. MOISI: I think that is very true. And it would be very interesting to have WikiLeaks relating to European diplomacies or...

RAZ: Of course, WikiLeaks was only about American...

Prof. MOISI: Exactly.

RAZ: State Department cables.

Prof. MOISI: But most often, they don't derive the necessary conclusion.

RAZ: In other words, you're saying that, for example, in the case of Libya, many of them wrote things that would indicate that change was coming, but they didn't necessarily emphasize that.

Prof. MOISI: Yes, they didn't dare to say all despots are not alike. What we've been saying about Gadhafi in the last four or five years: Oh, the man has changed. He's become more moderate.

And now, we are confronted. He's as mad as we ever thought he was. But simply because we felt the need to engage with Gadhafi after the war in Iraq. After 9/11, we declared him much more rational than he was in reality.

RAZ: Earlier, we heard about 1848 and, of course, most of those revolutions were crushed. And at least, initially, it seemed like not a whole lot was going to change. Do you think what is happening now in the Middle East and in North Africa is irreversible? Or do you think that this may be a temporary series of events that ultimately will lead to no major changes?

Prof. MOISI: What's happening in the Middle East today is a revolution in the deep sense of the term. What I do not know is the calendar of change. It's a long process that is opening in front of our eyes. Some things will never be the same as before. This is the true nature of a revolution.

RAZ: That's Dominique Moisi. He is a senior adviser at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris and the author of the book, "The Geopolitics of Emotion." He spoke with me from his home in Paris.

Dominique Moisi, thank you.

Prof. MOISI: Thank you.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.