Our ambassador to Belgium is off-color again

Dear Editor,

Since the evolution of human societies, diplomats have been in the business of conveying messages between polities safely and reliably. In modern as in ancient diplomacy, the nature and functioning of the diplomatic machine has remained the same, with few notable additions.

Before governmental institutions arrived, we had affairs conducted between states and state actors like the Vatican, so-called bilateral diplomacy. With the arrival of organizations like the UN and the EU, they added multilateral diplomacy.

To make it all work, diplomats fall back onto a guidebook, still referred to by its Latin name – the vade mecum. This is an instructional book to diplomats to help them comport with the ageless process in which the diplomatic machinery operates.

The EU produces a vade mecum and one would think that our diplomats on Goodman’s Bay have more than a passing familiarity with it. But then, we could be wrong.

It is never acceptable to overlook the small transgressions from the rules of diplomacy, as they could lead to a major faux pas with disastrous consequences down the road.

On July 16, our ambassador in Europe, Maria O’Brien, presented her credentials to the president of the European Union.

She and the ambassador from Suriname were the only two calling on the president that day. And that is why O’Brien, who was called second, is today last on the list in the order of diplomatic precedence at the EU. Tenure gets you ranking in diplomacy.

But yet again, Ambassador O’Brien committed a sartorial gaffe. She came smartly presented in a business suit with a most appropriate hemline (unlike when she called on the king of Belgium).

Diplomats are expected to follow the EU’s vade mecum. The third paragraph in this instruction to ambassadors presenting their credentials to the president of the EU Council is that they should wear either national costume or a dark suit.

Ambassador O’Brien decided to ignore this advice (or perhaps nobody told her), and she wore a smart, two-piece, ivory-colored ensemble. The president of the EU wore a dark suit.

This is not classic sexism, as some may charge. It’s diplomacy, and while the ambassador can be excused for being new to the craft, the people in the Office of the Chief of Protocol of the foreign ministry must be asleep on the job.

Again, our last ambassador to the EU, Rhoda Jackson, wore a black dress with a black and gray jacket when she presented to the same EU president, exactly two years to the day before O’Brien.

Jackson is a career diplomat who no doubt knows the difference between the work of the Office of the Chief of Protocol (the beating heart of any foreign ministry), and the protocol chief who is more concerned with style than substance.

Ambassador O’Brien has stellar credentials in the financial services sector and should be able to handle herself when the EU again gets uppity about blacklisting our banking industry. But for now, her handlers in the foreign ministry need to step up and stop letting the side down.

It seems they can’t tell a vade mecum from a bout de papier.

– The Graduate

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