|A model of a Katyusha rocket launcher and a billboard promoting Hezbollah, the militant and political group. Leaked cables reveal American diplomats’ distress over the flow of arms to Hezbollah.
A senior Syrian Foreign Ministry official, a cable from the American Embassy in Damascus reported, flatly denied the allegation. But nine months later, administration officials assert, the flow of arms had continued to Hezbollah. According to a Pentagon official, Hezbollah’s arsenal now includes up to 50,000 rockets and missiles, including some 40 to 50 Fateh-110 missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv and most of Israel, and 10 Scud-D missiles. The newly fortified Hezbollah has raised fears that any future conflict with Israel could erupt into a full-scale regional war.
A major worry was that Syria or Iran had provided Hezbollah with Fateh-110 missiles, with the range to strike Tel Aviv. (A United States government official said last week that the 40 to 50 missiles were viewed as especially threatening because they are highly accurate.) Israeli officials told American officials in November 2009 that if war broke out, they assumed that Hezbollah would try to launch 400 to 600 rockets at day and sustain the attacks for at least two months, the cables note.
In the honor/shame culture of the Arab world, when someone does something wrong it is not a source of shame until it becomes public. And that shame is to be avoided at all costs.
The world of diplomacy, on the other hand, is dedicated to keeping the unsavory facts out of public view, with the aim of eventually being able to convince the other party to cooperate due to mutual interests, or in some cases a sort of quid pro quo.
This secret diplomatic world of only privately expressing outrage plays into the Arab honor/shame dynamic perfectly. Arab leaders have no fear that their duplicity will be exposed by Western diplomats and they have no incentive to modify their actions. If it remains hidden from view, it is not a source of embarrassment. On the contrary, misleading the other party is a proud tradition – the Arab side speaks the language of the souk where both sides are expected to lie in order to strike a deal, and the honor goes to the one who most skillfully manipulates the other using a combination of lies and false compliments.
From that perspective, Arabs have a big diplomatic advantage.
The Western diplomatic fear that relations would be damaged by publicizing Arab misdeeds is overriding the huge potential benefits of threatening to expose those very misdeeds – to publicly shame the Arab leadership. In this way the Arabs can be forced to play the diplomatic game on a level playing field, not one where they can lie with impunity without any public consequence.
After all, even as this Syrian intrigue was happening, the US was preparing to return an ambassador to Syria – showing a public diplomacy completely at odds with what was really happening. Any way you slice it, this was a huge diplomatic victory for Syria and proof that its policy of lying to the US has no real consequences outside of hidden diplomatic outrage, which is meaningless to those within the shame culture.
Diplomats have a huge weapon in their hands – the truth – and they need to start using that weapon a lot more than they do today.
one commenter mentioned that sometimes totalitarian governments in opposition to another government from the same geographic area have a tendency to be secretive and use the honor shame culture as opposed to their transparent counterparts:
you’d be surprised how quickly a culture can mutate under tyranny… and how quickly a country can go Islamic (speaking of tyranny). However Arab culture is different in that they manufactured the tyranny we call Islam