When regimes lose legitimacy in the eyes of their citizens, it is not reasonable to derive one’s information mainly from that regime’s servants and sycophants. In such cases, diplomats will too often merely report the regime’s reassuring yet biased analysis.
Diplomats, instead, should be judged by their ability to enter into a dialogue with all social actors: government representatives and business leaders, of course, but also representatives of civil society (even if it exists only in embryonic form). With proper training and incentives, diplomats would be better equipped to anticipate change.
But he does not paint all with the same brush:
The United States managed to get it right, albeit very slowly, whereas many European countries erred on the side of the status quo for a much longer time, if not systematically, as they refused to see that the region could be evolving in a direction contrary to what they deemed to be in their strategic interest. Historical and geographic proximity, together with energy dependency and fear of massive immigration, paralyzed European diplomats.
But there is something more fundamental underlying diplomats’ natural diffidence. They are very often right in their readings of a given situation – the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, for example, include a slew of masterful and penetrating analyses. But it is as if, owing to an excess of prudence, they cannot bring themselves to pursue their own arguments to their logical conclusions.