There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Federal Agency: With Its Budget on the Chopping Block and Severely Understaffed, the State Department Is at an Impasse

United_States_Department_of_State_headquarters
The State Department’s HQ in Foggy Bottom. Copyright by AgnosticPreachersKid – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Early hints of what U.S. President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal might look like emerged two weeks ago, and much of the discussion has focused on which U.S. federal agencies stand to win and lose in the Age of Trump.  In keeping with its avowed “America First” policy, the Trump administration proposes increasing American defense spending (which already surpasses the defense budgets of the next 11 biggest spenders) to $603 billion a year, while slashing the budgets of the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) by around 37%.  In interviews and speeches, Trump and his subordinates have argued that the State Department is wasteful, focuses on the wrong priorities, and may even be inherently un-American.

Fortunately, America’s foreign ministry still has some friends in the U.S. Congress, including powerful Republican Senators like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and John McCain, all of whom spoke out against the proposed cuts.  Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pooh-poohed the enactment of such dramatic cuts, thereby providing tacit support for Senate Republicans to cross party lines and vote down any eventual Administration budget proposal that would gut the State Department.

America’s military establishment also rushed to defend their diplomatic brethren: 121 retired U.S. generals and admirals released an open letter to Congressional leaders asking them to fully fund America’s diplomatic and foreign aid initiatives.  In the letter, they cited earlier Congressional testimony by current U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who as an active-duty general in 2013 said: “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Given that Congress has the final say over budgetary matters in the U.S., the State Department will probably survive budget season with its funding mostly intact.  But the politics surrounding Trump’s budget proposal are distracting attention from a different way in which the Trump administration is hobbling the work of America’s foreign ministry.  According to DiploPundit.net, a website which closely follows the inner workings of the State Department, only 4 of the ministry’s 39 most senior positions have been filled by the Administration thus far.  To a certain extent, this reflects the normal practice of new incoming administrations asking for the resignation of all senior management in order to staff Foggy Bottom with their own people.  But by historical standards, Trump has been incredibly slow in naming staffers to key positions, nor does he seem to be allowing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to simply appoint whoever he wishes either.  The same startling degree of inaction has also carried over to the State Department’s sister agencies, such as USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which together oversee the bulk of America’s foreign assistance.  Trump has not yet seen fit to appoint a single senior individual to either agency.

It deeply cripples the ability of federal agencies to act in a meaningful way when their topmost administrators are only in an acting capacity.  Not only can new policies and priorities not be enacted, but it also makes it more difficult for agencies to attract top-level talent moving forward and contributes to an overall loss of institutional memory.  Even day-to-day activities suffer when there is no clear leadership at the top: for decades the State Department has held a near-daily press briefing where reporters can ask for the opinion of America’s foreign ministry on issues from around the world.  Since President Trump took office on January 20th, the State Department has held only four.

At this point, it seems like keeping the State Department on the back foot by holding up the appointment of senior officials is a deliberate move on the part of the Trump administration.  And since appointments are purely a Presidential prerogative, there is little Congress can do to change the situation.  For a State Department already used to operating on a shoestring budget mentality, it looks like a grim year ahead.

(See also my previous post on the State Department in the Age of Trump.)

The Coming Personalization of American Foreign Policy

If 2016 has taught me anything, it’s the folly of making predictions.  Accordingly, this post represents not a prediction about the future, but instead a way of thinking about how President-Elect Donald Trump seems to be approaching foreign policy and especially diplomacy as the January inauguration draws near.

Feminist thinkers have long used the phrase “The personal is political.”  In an unintended way, this phrase arguably captures a great deal of Trump’s mindset.  Many observers have noted Trump’s preference for people over institutions; he seems to put his trust in flesh-and-blood individuals over disembodied organizations, and loyalty and personal connections go a long way with him.  Furthermore, while his own promises seem important to him (although perhaps selectively), policies, practices, and traditions he has not personally helped develop seem to hold little sway.  All of this leads to a personalization of policy-making: an environment where Trump and a small, inner band of confidantes formulate policy on topics that directly matter to him while keeping established stakeholders at arm’s length.

It will of course not be the first time in American history that the Diplomat-in-Chief has evinced these tendencies: the Nixon White House was permeated by a thick atmosphere of paranoia, racism, xenophobia, and anti-intellectualism that even Trump and company will have trouble rivaling.  (Those interested in India and desirous of a close-up look of the Nixon White House should pick up Gary Bass’ excellent The Blood Telegram.)  And look, even that human-rights-abusing, genocide-enabling administration managed to generate a few foreign policy successes.  So perhaps not all is lost.

Yet, personalizing American foreign policy opens the door to a wide range of potential pitfalls. Perhaps counter-intuitively, it can become difficult for third-party observers to separate the signal from the noise in highly personalized atmospheres, since there aren’t the lower echelons of the bureaucracy to consistently reinforce the desired message.  Did Trump’s decision to accept a congratulatory phone call from the Taiwanese president represent a drastic rethinking of America’s diplomatic stance towards the island?  No one really knows (including perhaps Trump), because the policy is not broadly emanating from across the communications apparatus of the American state.

Making politics personal carries other risks.  For instance, in a thoughtful article Bloomberg Businessweek discusses the heightened risks that Trump-branded real estate, particularly skyscrapers, are likely to face during his administration.  Who should pay to secure these highly visible, newly prominent buildings?  (For a map of their locations around the world, see here.)

One way increased personalization may be measurable in the near future could involve seeing if Trump nominates a larger-than-usual number of political appointees at the ambassadorial level.  Over the past half-dozen administrations, the percentage of American ambassadors drawn from outside the State Department’s pool of career diplomats has varied between 26% and 38%, according to data maintained by the American Foreign Service Association.  (For those curious, after several bungled nominations early on, the Obama administration ended up clocking in at around 30% political appointees over his two terms – which, depending on the exact data you use, is either the lowest or second-lowest number of political appointees by a modern 8-year president.)

A larger number of political appointees by the Trump Administration would signal a desire to bypass the State Department and keep its “experts” at bay, as well as political patronage on a larger-than-usual scale, even for Washington, D.C.  Indeed, we’ve seen Trump advocate for political appointees like Anna Wintour (!?) in the past.  And in an interesting twist, Trump is not limiting himself to nominating American ambassadors: he suggested a few weeks ago (via a tweet, of course) that he wouldn’t mind if the United Kingdom appointed former UKIP leader Nigel Farage as its ambassador to the United States.

Fortunately, there is probably a ceiling on how many political appointees Trump could name, if only because few well-heeled Americans are clamoring to be the U.S.’ top representative in Dushanbe.

The Amazingness of Imperial British Record-Keeping

Would you like to know who passed their driver’s license exam in Uganda in June of 1912?  I know, who wouldn’t?!?  Well, thanks to the amazing thoroughness of Britain’s colonial records as well as the fantastic Africana archive at Northwestern University, now you can!

Uganda May 1912 Driver's Licenses - Cropped.jpg

I find it interesting that while the historian in me loves the completeness and detail of records preserved in old archives, the civil libertarian in me is aghast when the U.S. government collects infinitely larger troves of such data today.  If the NSA simply recast its mission as one of aiding future historians, I would be way more on board.  It will be fascinating to see how historians 50 years from now will view the present era with the help of Big Data.

(Also, when did “motorcycle” become a single word?)

World, Meet Donald.

President-Elect Trump, say hello to the world.

Perhaps lulled into a false sense of security by polls that showed Hillary Clinton well ahead, the global community now seems to be scrambling to figure out who Donald Trump is and how he might govern.  As shown below, data from Google Trends confirms that worldwide searches for “Donald Trump” are at an all-time high.

donald-trump

(100 arbitrarily designates the most Google searches ever recorded for a given search term since 2004, with everything scaled relative to that.  In other words, the number of people worldwide Googling Trump has more than quadrupled in the aftermath of the election.)

The top six non-North American countries to evince interest in President-Elect Trump are apparently Kenya, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, Singapore, and Nigeria.  I’m not sure what to make of that, except that there’s probably bias in favor of English-speaking countries built into those results.

More qualitatively, I can attest to how strong interest in the American election has been in the Delhi region, and how powerfully people here have been affected by the surprising result.  An Indian colleague took the Wednesday off as a sick day to deal with her incipient depression.  And just this afternoon a forum on the future of Afghanistan-Pakistan-India relations surprisingly segued into a long Q&A about Trump’s likely future foreign policy.  Now admittedly these have been happening in the milieu of the Indian intelligentsia, so I’m glad that Google’s data confirms that this part of broader, worldwide trend.

I’m not a believer in American exceptionalism, but for a variety of material, cultural, and historical reasons much of the rest of the world does continue to pay exceedingly close attention to developments in the United States.  The rise of Donald Trump doesn’t seem likely to change that anytime soon.

Will the U.S. Tomorrow Be a 0 or a 1?

There’s a number of datasets out there that collate information about electoral violence in countries around the world (e.g. this one).  While I’m not an expert on them, I presume that the U.S. in recent decades has been coded a 0 for “no significant instances of electoral violence.”  Here’s fervently hoping that by tomorrow night the 2016 U.S. elections will not be coded as a 1 by future researchers.

Straddling the Fine Line between Healthy Nationalism and Troubling Racism at the League of Legends Worlds Tournament

You probably don’t know this, but the annual League of Legends World Championship is going on right now.  What is “League of Legends,” you ask?  Simply put, the most popular computer game in the world.  And since I’m currently in the process of writing an academic paper about it, readers of this blog are going to be hearing about it in the coming months.  (Curious to see what the game looks like?  This five-minute video provides a good primer.)

If you’re unfamiliar with League of Legends (often abbreviated LoL), the first thing we have to talk about is its globe-spanning popularity.  Riot Games, LoL‘s developer, recently announced that it’s averaging a mind-blowing 103 million monthly players (i.e. individuals who play at least once a month).  Prior to this announcement, Riot had last disclosed its player numbers in January 2014, when it claimed 67 million monthly players and 27 million daily players, so the game is continuing to grow in popularity even 7 years after its initial release.  Perhaps even more interestingly, while Riot did not break out its average number of daily players in the latest announcement, if we assume that the proportions of monthly to daily players from 2014 still hold, then somewhere on the order of 40 million people around the world play LoL on any given day (roughly equivalent to the population of Algeria).

Compare those numbers to something like Pokémon Go, which you surely heard about during the big craze in July.  At its peak, Pokémon Go was averaging around 43 million daily users worldwide (see Figure 1 here), but has since seen a precipitous drop-off in its player base.  And while it’s not a perfect comparison, the bottom line is that insofar as you thought that Pokémon Go was significant/important/worthy of further study, you should be even more interested in the bigger, richer, and much more stable LoL.  Indeed, one (admittedly non-randomly-sampled, and hence suspect) analysis done in November 2015 found that LoL accounted for 23% of all the time people spend playing online computer games.

Ok, so the game is a big deal, at least for people who play computer games.  But the second thing you need to know about LoL is that people don’t simply play the game, they also watch it.  As in, they watch highly-skilled professional players compete live or online as a form of entertainment.  Watching video games in this way is called e-sports, and e-sports, according to its proselytizers, is the future of all sports.  I don’t want to wade too much into that debate (you can instead read a random Wall Street Journal columnist tackle it here).  Rather, what’s significant for our purposes is that the biggest LoL competition of the year is the annual World Championship, which 334 million viewers across the world tuned into last year (a number which will be undoubtedly even higher for this year).  And the World Championship is directly owned and operated by Riot Games, which invites the teams, chooses the venues (this year’s finals will be in a sold-out Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles), broadcasts the matches, and sets the overall tone of the event.

The third thing about LoL we have to talk about is “the Koreans.”  Statistically speaking, professional LoL teams based in South Korea are the most dominant in the world.  As the figure below shows, while South Korean teams have only made up 19% of the entrants in the five most recent LoL Worlds, they have taken 33% of the quarter-finals spots, 50% of the semi-finals spots, and 70% of the finals spots.  A Taiwanese team managed to take home the trophy in the 2012 tournament, but since then a Korean team has won the top spot every year… including in this year’s finals, which hasn’t even happened yet, but given that both of the finalists are from South Korea, the trend is sure to continue.

lol-chart

(* All teams based in Russia and Eastern Europe are categorized as “European,” even if they qualified for the tournament via the Wild Card slots.)

What makes the South Koreans so dominant (and not just at LoL, but e-sports more generally)?  Arguably a series of interconnected factors: a well-established professional gaming infrastructure, with things like dedicated gaming houses, coaches, and support staff; financial and social rewards for elite pro players that are higher than anywhere else in the world; accordingly, more elite competitors in close proximity, giving Korean teams better opponents to practice with; and lastly, truly relentless training regimens.

From the perspective of Riot Games, the continued streak of Korean dominance at Worlds is not necessarily a bad thing, since it generates some handy narratives and provides a useful framing device everyone can grasp: will this finally be the year the Koreans are upset?  Indeed, in my academic working paper I focus on how Riot Games is seeking to commodify nationalism in order to generate interest in its professional-level e-sports offerings while at the same time trying to avoid the problematic racism and xenophobia that is often prevalent in the online gaming community.

This is an ongoing tight-rope walking act for the savvy, Chinese-owned but Santa Monica-based studio.  Some other game developers have punted in similar situations.  For instance, Blizzard Entertainment designed its popular Hearthstone game in such a way that players can only interact with one another through a very limited set of pre-scripted dialogue options, lessening the possibility of negative player interactions.  At the other end of the spectrum, Valve Corporation seems to have little interest in policing the notoriously toxic Counter-Strike community.  Overall, e-sports is already and quite unfortunately developing a reputation as a nasty realm, with all-too-frequent examples of racist language occurring (e.g. here, here, and here).  And the misogynistic streaks rife in online gaming culture were on prominent display during the 2014 Gamergate saga.

It is into this potent and problematic brew that Riot is making huge splashes.  I argue in the paper that Riot’s model thus far seems to be to emulate FIFA’s World Cup, while also borrowing liberally from ESPN and the Olympics.  Thus, Riot allows some displays and markers of what I believe it considers to be “healthy nationalism” to appear in its broadcasts as a way of playing up regional differences and generating audience interest in its tournaments.  For instance, Riot has allowed players at Worlds to incorporate national flags as part of their on-stage uniforms and even to drape themselves in their national flags.*

But at all times Riot remains extremely leery of opening the door to racist and chauvinist behavior from fans and players, which the company clearly believes would delegitimize its product, affect its bottom line,** and dash its dreams of bringing e-sports into the global mainstream.  That fine line between healthy nationalism and troubling racism was on prominent display at this year’s LoL Worlds tournament.  For instance, the Chicago crowd at the quarter-finals waved American flags and cheered on North American team Cloud 9 with chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”, but also had the dubious distinction of openly booing South Korea’s Samsung Galaxy team when they took the stage, a first for the LoL community (see reactions here and here).  On an even less positive note, Riot took the drastic decision to formally sanction a professional Chinese player while the tournament was ongoing for having recently used racial slurs in non-tournament play.

In the end, what all of this offers the outside observer is a window into the thinking of a hyper-globalized company that makes a digital product that it seeks to distribute and monetize across cultural lines.  How can nationalism and international competition be commodified in “good” ways in the 21st century?  We’ll have to see what Riot’s long-term answer is, and if it continues to prove as successful as it has.  For the time being, though, if you’re at all curious about any of this, I invite you to tune into the world finals on Sunday.

Put your money down on the Koreans.

* Technically Team Solo Mid’s support player Biofrost wore the Canadian flag onstage at last month’s North American regional qualifier, not Worlds.

** For a useful discussion of the limitations of Riot’s commitment to diversity, particularly in its hiring of broadcast personnel, see Ferguson Mitchell’s commentary here.  But see also Phil Kollar’s recent paean to Riot’s farsightedness and all-around decency here.  The truth is doubtless somewhere in the middle.

The Iranian Government is Broadcasting the American Presidential Debates…

From Slate‘s Joshua Keating, citing Bloomberg:

The second presidential debate on Oct. 9, featuring Donald Trump denying allegations of sexual assault and threatening to jail Hillary Clinton, was the first U.S. debate ever broadcast live on television in Iran. Evidently, they were so happy with that demonstration of the virtues of liberal democracy that they’re going big for Wednesday night’s showdown in Vegas: airing the debate on three channels so it will be available in Persian, Arabic, and English.

As Trump might put it, “SAD.”  Read more here.

Why U.S. Foreign Policy is Nothing Like That Time Your Friend Flaked on You

This post is the first in an irregular series of blog posts titled “Surprising Findings in IR” which will highlight political science research that is counter-intuitive or unexpected.

I was at a dinner several weeks ago where a friend criticized the Obama administration, and Obama specifically, for issuing threats and then failing to back them up.  “Obama keeps telling other countries not to do things, but then they do them and the U.S. does nothing in response.  This emboldens our enemies and makes us look weak.”

Now, my goal here is not to engage in either a defense or a critique of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.  Instead, I’m interested in this prevalent idea that failing to carry out foreign policy threats causes a state to be perceived as weak or otherwise encourages its rivals.  It turns out that there is a literature in IR that deals with precisely this topic: studies of credibility.  And a major study within that literature that directly speaks to the topic at hand is Calculating Credibility by Daryl Press.

In the book, Press examines the archival record of top-level leaders during several major crises in international politics: the “appeasement” crises that pitted Nazi Germany against France and the United Kingdom in the run-up to WWII; a number of instances during the early Cold War where the Soviets threatened war if the Western allies did not pull out of West Berlin; and that perennial favorite of IR scholars, the Cuban Missile Crisis.  What did Press find digging around in all those archives?

The conventional wisdom holds that credibility depends on a country’s past behavior–its history of keeping and breaking commitments.  Like people who keep their word, countries that keep their promises will be believed when they issue new assurances.  And like people who casually break their promises, countries that renege on their commitments soon discover that their promises carry no weight.  […]

This book argues that the conventional wisdom about credibility is wrong.  A country’s credibility, at least during crises, is not driven by its past behavior but rather by power and interests.  If a country makes threats it has the power to carry out–and an interest in doing so–those threats will be believed even if the country has bluffed in the past.  […]  When assessing credibility during crises, leaders focus on the “here and now,” not on their adversary’s past behavior.  Tragically, those countries that have fought wars to build a reputation for resolve have wasted vast sums of money and, much worse, thousands of lives.

Find this hard to swallow?  I invite you to take a close look at Press’ case studies, such as the West Berlin impasse, where fascinatingly senior officials never refer to the past even though the practically the exact same situation keeps playing out over and over again every few months.  Instead, decision-makers myopically focused on the present, treating each new crisis on its own individual terms.  Furthermore, Press notes the tragic irony that the same countries that themselves never consider others’ past behavior when assessing credibility nevertheless feel very strongly that maintaining their own credibility at all times is crucial, no matter the cost.

Now of course Press’s book is not the definitive final word on credibility (for the curious, see Daniel Drezner’s primer), but at least it might somewhat reassure those worried that Obama has frittered away America’s standing in the world.  More generally, Press’ work shows us that relying on analogies and heuristics developed at the everyday level of interpersonal relations does not always translate upwards to the realm of states, international relations, and foreign policy.  As easy as it is to do, anthropomorphizing the state can be quite misleading.  There are significant differences between how we deal with our friends, colleagues, and children and how states interact with one another: the raw number of interactions, the time that elapses between interactions, the difficulty of sending clear signals from one state to another, the difference between a single individual’s memory and the diffuse and generally far less effective institutional memory of governments, etc.  This same caution also applies to international economics, where one well-known fallacy is thinking that government finances are akin to household budgets (debunked here, here, here, here, and many other places on the Internet).

The Distracted Driving of American Diplomacy

In January 2010, a message went out from the State Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. to every U.S. embassy around the world.  In this message, the State Department instructed each of its embassies to conduct a formal diplomatic démarche with their host governments on a pressing topic the State Department had recently grown quite concerned with: texting while driving.  In practice, this meant that somebody from the U.S. Embassy would have to go in person to find a counterpart in the host country’s government, explain to them how concerned the United States was becoming with the problem of “distracted driving,” ask them what policies/laws their country had concerning texting while driving, and then report that information back to Washington.

At first, one might wonder why American diplomats all around the world had to scramble to set up governmental meetings about distracted driving–does the State Department really have nothing better to do?  In the State Department’s defense, however, traffic accidents are a big deal everywhere, and are one of the leading causes of human death.  It’s estimated that there are about “1.24 million traffic deaths a year – nearly triple the UN’s estimate of annual murders, and twenty times the estimated annual total of deaths in wars.”  The World Health Organization is quite concerned, noting that traffic accidents are the single most important cause of death among those aged 15-29 worldwide, and further estimating that traffic accidents cost the planet about 3% of global GDP annually.  So it’s very likely that the impulse behind the U.S.’s worldwide démarche was humanitarian in nature.  Still, while the WHO’s most recent report does note that “distracted driving is a serious and growing threat to road safety,” it nevertheless appears as seventh out of seven reforms countries should undertake to improve road users’ behavior (behind things like increasing motorcycle helmet use, increasing seat-belt usage, and reducing drunk driving), suggesting that road safety experts do not accord it topmost priority at the moment.

More broadly, the démarche illustrates a disturbing one-size-fits-all diplomatic mentality, as well as some of the perils of America’s hegemonic influence.  The WikiLeaks-hosted Public Library of U.S. Diplomacy records the responses that 62* U.S. embassies sent back to Washington after having completed their missions: everywhere from Bangui to Budapest, Sana’a to Seoul.  And reading between the lines, it’s pretty easy to get a sense of how many American embassies, particularly in the developing world, thought their instructions from Washington were rather ridiculous and very poorly tailored to the actual conditions in their host countries.  Some expressed their dissatisfaction via arch terseness, whereas others were more than happy to explain in great detail how their host governments might have more pressing matters to deal with than texting while driving laws:

Many roads in Chad are so deeply pot-holed, or function so much like sand-traps, that they are suitable only for travel via camel, horse or donkey. There are few police on public thoroughfares except in large towns, few hospitals to which to take accident victims, no real ability outside the capital to enforce existing driver’s license or vehicle maintenance laws, and little formal driver’s training. Driver’s licenses can be obtained in many locations through bribery. Regulations on how vehicles may be used are spotty: it is not against the law to pilot a motorcycle with four riders, or to carry a 50-gallon drum filled with gasoline on the back of a motorcycle and a live goat on the handlebars. Transport vehicles are often overloaded to the point where they collapse under their cargo, and passenger vehicles designed for eight routinely carry 20 inside and one or more hanging out the open doors. Recent laws ban carrying more than 20 passengers in the open back of pick-up or transport trucks unless seats and an overhead cover are installed. The 1980-era Peugeots that serve as taxis in N’Djamena are know euphemistically as “neuf morts,” as they are assumed to kill an average of nine people when they crash. Chad recently followed Cameroon in passing motorcycle helmet laws, but many of those who possess helmets carry rather than wear them when they ride.

Taking a step back, very few other countries around the world besides the U.S. would attempt to unilaterally conduct a worldwide governmental information campaign on this scale, particularly unprompted and for an issue that is unquestionably within the remit of countries’ domestic politics.  For better and worse, this is the unique role the United States continues to play in global politics, and the U.S.’s influence is such that countries have to pay attention when it speaks.  In Tanzania, the démarche seems to have been conducted at the very high level of a direct meeting between the U.S. Ambassador and the Tanzanian Foreign Minister–one can only wonder at what was going through the Minister’s mind during the meeting…

* Because of the semi-random nature in which the Cablegate cables were collected, only some of the cable traffic in a given year was recorded and leaked.  Presumably all or almost all U.S. diplomatic missions in the world undertook the démarche as requested.

Nyerere and Diversionary War

There’s a concept in International Relations called “diversionary war“: a war governments deliberately start in order to distract their populations of troubles at home by giving them an external foe.  The canonical example is probably the decision in 1982 by the Argentine military junta to start a war with the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), which they subsequently lost pretty handily.  Indeed, recent scholarship suggests that most governments which start diversionary wars go on to lose them, which points to the tragic irony of diversionary wars: the same domestic unrest that prompts governments to start them also usually makes those governments ineffective at waging them.

This U.S. diplomatic cable from 1976 relating a private meeting between Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere and the U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania offers further evidence that policymakers do indeed pursue diversionary foreign policies at times.  Commenting on growing military tensions between Jomo Kenyatta’s Kenya and Idi Amin’s Uganda, Nyerere says:

NYERERE TOOK A CERTAIN WRY AMUSEMENT FROM FACT THAT UK, ISRAEL, AND KENYA ARE NOW AMIN’S CHIEF ENEMIES. HE COULD UNDERSTAND KENYA’S MAKING A BIG THING OF THE UGANDAN THREAT. “JOMO NEEDS A LITTLE EXTERNAL TROUBLE TO REINFORCE INTERNAL UNITY RIGHT NOW AND AN EXTERNAL FOOL ALWAYS HELPS IN SUCH A CASE.” (NYERERE ADDED: “WE ALL DO IT SOMETIMES.”)

Despite calling for peaceful restraint in this cable, it would ultimately be Nyerere’s Tanzania, not Kenya, which would go to war with Uganda two years later, ultimately leading to the ouster of the increasingly brutal and erratic dictator.

(See also the cameo by Donald Rumsfeld in this 1976 cable.)