WikiLeaks Slovenia: Make Me An Offer I Can’t Refuse

Diplomatic incontinence strikes Slovenia too. Once again this sorry excuse for a country is front-and-centre on the international stage, courtesy of Julian Assange and his Wikileaks. OK, so we’re still just a comical sidekick, but there you go. Slovenia was put forward as prime example of US diplomacy bullying other countries into doing what Washington wanted. The story made the timing of my yesterday’s letter to PM Borut Pahor a bit unfortunate, as a plethora of issues was overshadowed by Cablegate – The Slovenian Edition. Well, there’s little use crying over spilled milk.. eerr… cables.

Obama: “Yo B., wassup?!” Pahor: “Make me an offer I can’t refuse” (source)

So, what’s the story (morning glory)? The esteemed New York Times (one of only a handful of media to have been granted advance access to 250k+ US State Department cables) reported that Slovenia was pressured by the current US administration to take in at least one Gitmo prisoner and that Slovenian leadership could look forward to some quality time with Barack Obama in return. The story was picked up by The Beeb and (naturally) every Slovene media. Big bad America picking on someone not even a tenth of it’s size. Not nice.

But then came the twist. Spanish El Pais, another paper with advance access to Cablegate material, posted the “problematic” cable (one of about 900 pertaining to Slovenia). Assuming that he cable is genuine, it was Slovenian PM Borut Pahor who floated the idea of Slovenia accepting a prisoner from Guantanamo in exchange for 20 minutes with President Obama.

And then, another twist. According to Der Spiegel, it was actually foreign minister Samuel Žbogar who was asking around what would the US give in return if Slovenia were to take over a Gitmo detainee. (link kindly provided by alcessa)

Wait. What!?

Yeah, I know. Embarrassing, to say the least. Naturally, all hell broke loose. Spineless begging. Sellout. Corruption. Ass-kissing. Those were prevailing reactions in Slovenia yesterday. However, there’s more to this than meets the eye. We’ll deal with differing versions of the story a bit later on, but for the sake of the argument let’s assume that the cable as published by El Pais is genuine.

The said cable was sent from US Embassy in Ljubljana on 5 January 2010 and detailed a visit by PM Pahor to the embassy on 30 December 2009, where he was hosted by Charge d’Affairs Bradley Freden, at the time the top-ranking US diplomat to Slovenia. The cable summarised the meeting (requested by Pahor) as follows:

CDA [charge d’affairs] and Pahor discussed political and economic priorities for 2010, including the relocation of Guantanamo detainees, stability and integration of the Western Balkans into the EU and NATO, and Westinghouse involvement in the planned second nuclear plant at Krsko.

At this point it should be noted that this was apparently the second such visit Pahor made to the US embassy which (obviously) did not go unnoticed by Freden and was interpreted as “the U.S.-Slovenian relationship [being] one he [Pahor] seeks to cultivate.“.

I won’t bother you with the actual cable, as you can read it here. Let us focus on analysis instead.

Borut Pahor goes shopping

In pengovsky’s opinion this cable shows (if anything) that Prime Minister Pahor, rather than spinelessly licking American ass, actually knows how to play the foreign policy game. Bear in mind that the meeting took place a little less than two months after Slovenia and Croatia signed the Arbitration Agreement on the border dispute, where apparently it was the US who manhandled Croatia into signing the paper which was decried as “high treason” on both sides of the border. Also bear in mind that Slovenia was in 2004 indeed bullied into the “Coalition of the Willing” by the Bush administration just prior to the illegal invasion of Iraq and there was plenty of (needless) embarrassment over a leaked Slovenian cable from Washington on how to handle the imminent declaration of independence of Kosovo. In short, Slovenia-US relations have not been entirely rosy, courtesy of both sides, and PM Pahor saw it fit to keep the current good streak going.

So what Pahor did, apart from going above and beyond the call of duty to show how important the US is (by visiting the embassy in person rather than having the charge d’affairs – then the top ranking US diplomat – come to see Pahor), was actually outlining how he saw US interests in Slovenia and the region. Broadly, these interests include security in the Balkans, a Westinghouse investment into Krško nuclear power plant and relocation of Guantanamo prisoners.

But things don’t just happen by themselves. To make these the above possible, Slovenia obviously wanted something in return. And rather than saying outright what Slovenia wanted, Pahor basically said: “Make me an offer I can’t refuse“. He was, in fact, shopping. With some strings attached. Case in point being Gitmo prisoner(s) where Pahor made it plain that his government was willing to consider the relocation “as long as ‘political’ and ‘financial’ obligations were considered separately“. Translation: show me the money.

The main problem, according to Slovene media was the fact that “PM gently – but unambiguously – linked success on detainee resettlement to a meeting with President Obama. He said that “a 20-minute meeting” with POTUS would allow him to frame the detainee question as an act of support for Slovenia’s most important ally and evidence of a newly-reinvigorated bilateral relationship.

Shit. Fan. Aim. Fire

This is where the shit hit the fan. Outrage was almost unanimous, especially in the media. One of my favourites was the conclusion that for the PM and – by extension – his government “a life of a (possibly illegaly) detained Arab prisoner is worth 20 minutes with Barack Obama” (Delo, yesterday, in Slovene only)

It was as if everyone was oblivious to the fact that the cable says in no unclear terms that Pahor linked Gitmo and meeting with Obama “in a one-on-one pull-aside with CDA“. In other words, he did this after the meeting, unofficially. This was neither his not his government’s official position. He floated an idea. Hinted. Tested the waters, if you will. But he never made it a precondition.

Did Pahor make a mistake?

Yes and no. Foreign policy is a dirty business (and yes, someone’s got to do it). Most of it is trade, tit-for-tat. Taking in Gitmo prisoners is not peanuts. Not just because there is no legal grounds for Slovenia to do it (a law would have to be passed to do it), but also because a) it is a security risk and b) means a country (in this case Slovenia) is really going above and beyond the call of duty to help the US solve a human-rights disaster of their own making.

So Pahor felt he could play the table a bit against the Americans. Maybe he miscalculated. But the point is that he was trading. The trade, however, was not just “Gitmo prisoner for quality time with Obama”, but rather “Westinghouse deal, help in the Balkans and Gitmo prisoner in return for more US investments into Slovenia, (officially) recognising Slovenia as an important player in the Balkans, some plain old cash plus 20 minutes with the Big. O (the last one would help, but is optional).

However, the problem with these 20 minutes of Obama’s time is not that the idea had been floated, but how it was floated. As @DC43 said on Twitter, the other day, this is not something a PM does personally, but has someone from his cabinet talk to someone from the embassy. That way neither side loses face in case the idea is nixed, plus the whole thing is absolutely deniable in case of a leak such as this one.

More mistakes

The mistake Pahor did – and subsequent damage control he and foreign minister Žbogar are engaging in today – is more of an embarrassment than anything else. On the other hand the media, both Slovenian and international, made some serious errors.

As already noted, Slovene media were over the “Gitmo-for-time-with-Obama” thing faster than you can say WikiLeaks. But only 24 hours earlier, they were all over the “US-is-blackmailing-Slovenia” story with virtually the same gusto. While right now no-one disputes authenticity of the cable as published by El Pais, we have yet to see anyone retract their statements about “big bad US diplomacy treating everyone else like shit”. Right now it is as if the original version of the story (published by NY Times) never happened.

Three newspapers with advance access to 250k+ cables. All three of them saw it fit to point out a specific Slovenia-US cable. And every one of them came up with a significantly different interpretation of the cable. How is this possible? The cable is about as unambiguous as they come. This is what makes it interesting. And yet we have three totally different stories. Are interpretations of other cables subject to this “variation” as well? And – last but not least – are most of the cables so uninteresting that a relatively unproblematic Slovenia with its globally unimportant issues is the best they can do?

If any of the above is the case, are we to take Cablegate seriously in the first place?

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

17 thoughts on “WikiLeaks Slovenia: Make Me An Offer I Can’t Refuse”

  1. are we to take Cablegate seriously in the first place?

    No, don’t!

    Oh and: keep on analysing. Someone absolutely has to 🙂

  2. Judging from the report on Spiegel, which is quite specific, it could just be a matter of those particular communications not being made available yet i.e. like the one published in El Pais. The one we’ve seen (El Pais) could have come before or after the bartering process, from the US side, began. There are 947 communications tagged SI in this document dump, quite a few presumably dealing with GITMO detainees. There is still plenty of holiday season reading ahead of us! 🙂

  3. liked the reading (as usual) (i admire your style of writing, too, if i haven’t said that to you yet)

    you raised some questions in my opinion – for example (your question) – how come that Slovenia got so much coverage from those leaks (in that early stage) (and what is your explanation about that so far?)

    about different stories about that US-SLO thingy… i haven’t read all early coverage, but i’m sure that stories weren’t SO different at first? MMC RTVSLO reported, that first different story/interpretation(?) came from El Pais (the one where Pahor is “offering” a life of prisoner for 20 minute java time with Obama)

    and just one more thing; i remembered that, when i was reading early article about leaks on the New York Times site, i saw that there were 4 newspapers with advance access or. smth similar was in my mind… so i went searching and wikipedia says
    “The first 291 of the 251,287 documents were published on 28 November, with simultaneous press coverage from El País (Spain), Le Monde (France), Der Spiegel (Germany), The Guardian (United Kingdom), and The New York Times (United States).”

    and I’m with alcessa on “keep on analysing” boat.

  4. eerm, not to be misunderstood here. i’m not claiming that wikipedia is 1oo% reliable source or smth. i was just wondering about that “three” of yours. i dunno, haven’t read every newspaper and cable-related articles, so maybe you’re talking about three newspapers which pointed out that specific situation or something. (because you always have solid grounds and arguments for your writing, so i can’t be sure if that “three” has some background meaning or it was just a mistake) (and now i’m writing this disclaimer because i don’t wan’t to be smart ass/douche… because Chuck Norris could pay me a visit in my dreams 😀 )

  5. As they say over here, all this is just a storm in a glass of water.

    I mean, seriously, is anyone surprised that a) this kind of cattle trade is part and parcel of international politics and b) the U.S. government would bully even their allies into accepting a quid pro quo where the ‘pro’ part is more in their favour?

    That kind of behaviour hasn’t surprised me ever since I grew a brain in the late 80’s and saw the U.S. government for what it is, be it a Democratic one or a Republican, which is a frying pan/fryer kind of deal.

    I agree with you, P, that Pahor made the mistake of playing ‘the mountain came to Moses’ instead of vice versa, but other than that, the same thing would have happened to whoever preceded him (yes, Janez, even you). As it happens, one of the leaked cables says just about the same about our – still resigning PM – Yves Leterme re. the issue of incarcerating one or several Gitmo prisoners. If anyone feels up to it, they could try and flesh out all the cables between the U.S. and several other countries regarding such issues. They would in all likelihood see the same kind of wheeling and dealing in them, no doubt creating more or less the same kind of media upheaval in said countries.

    Like a one time Scottish friend says whenever something is irrelevant : NEXT!

  6. @alcessa: Thy wish is my command 🙂

    @pirano: could be, but that leads to the question how come everyone else missed it, if they saw it fit to point out this specific round of horse-trading.

    @feta: Actually, they were substantially different. NYT wrote US was pressuring SLO. Spiegel wrote it was Žbogar who was shopping around, whereas the cable El Pais ran show it was PM Pahor. I don’t mind different versions, what bothers me is such differences in stories all based on the same info. Oh, and thx for the compliment 😀

    @dr. Arf: A comment very much to the point (as usual :)) Next, indeed 😀

  7. Unbelievable! Slovenian online media are saying today a SECOND cable has been found by SPIEGEL, in which Zbogar is found begging for Obama’s attention. Spiegel never claimed there was a cable with such content. Where is it? If it exists, how come noone’s linked to it?


  8. hey,

    As i read the calbe it is clear that the president did not trade face time with Obama for accepting prisoners (which would be abosulte lowest point in slovenian diplomacy, probably something even rupel wouldnt do ) but he suggested he needed a meeting with the president as a way to justify accpeting the guantanamo detainee ( the cable vclearly mentiones the acception would be “out of gratitude towards the us” for their “generous help” and what not so its not that bad actually…. But it is stupid nevertheless even the ambassador notes it was uncommond ofr pahor to come see him and that he had no distinct aim ni coming to see him aside from rambling about the economic situation in slovenia….

  9. @Janez: Hey, thx for stopping by. Well, if you read the cable that way, then your reasoning is sound. It’s just that the charge d’affairs saw it necessary to point out the Gitmo detainnee – Time with Obama connection.

    As for visiting the embassy, that is unusual, but not wrong. It just emphasises how important US is to Slovenia. And let’s not forget Pahor said himself he was visiting other embassies as well. I guess he has a reason to do so. Just remember the screw-up with Russia Janša caused by cancelling the meeting with Putin.

    What IMHO is wrong is that Pahor offered the deal (I still think he did) in person, rather than through an intermediary.

  10. Slovenia’s leaders should be awarded the “Arse Lickers of the Century” award for their pathetic, emabarrassing grovelling. Communists Pahor and Turk arse lick and grovell to Russians, Americans, the EU and the balkans. Will they sell their mothers as well?? Do they have no principles??

    Pahor is also CORRUPT.

    There should be an investigation into what Inducements Pahor offered and to whom re: the offer for a US company to build a nuclear reactor in Slovenia? It is corrupt behaviour to bypass proper tendering processes and promise contracts to certain companies in return for favours.

    In the US, Pahor’s behaviour would be investigated and he would be forced to resign. If found guilty he would be jailed.

    In Slovenia there is no hope for that because the media and legal system are controlled by the communists who harrass and intimdate people who challenge them and don’t agree with them. Slovenia is NOT a real democracy.

    Solution – Lustration laws like in the Czech Rep and Poland to remove all communists from positions of power and from institutions. The fact that Slovenia hasn’t passed such a law proves the communists are still in power.

    As for Russia, well Jansa was right. Putin is a former communist who likes to bully countries like Georgia, Poland and the Baltic states. He even bullied Slovenia into accepting that Chechen human rights abuser as an embassador. Russia in reality is a communist mafia state pretending to be a democracy.

    If Pahor is prepared to sell Slovenia’s interests simply for a photo what would he sell for money?

    As for the balkans who cares?? Slovenia is part of Central Europe and I will NOT allow any communist or foreigner to dictate to me what region we are part of. We are CENTRAL EUROPEANS and always will be!!

    In the next few weeks wikileaks will expose further how the communists in Slovenia exploit Slovenians for their personal gain and how they try to sell Slovenia’s national interests to the highest bidder.

    Bring it on.

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