“A little scepticism is undoubtedly a good thing..”

In the Irish Times, out-going US ambassador to Ireland, Thomas Foley, says goodbye with humour, and some sharp observations.

MOST THINGS about my two years and three months in Ireland have been fabulous, but I do have a complaint which I have been hesitant to discuss until now. I will get to it in a moment. Before arriving in Ireland, I set a goal for my stay here. I set it low so I would have a good chance of succeeding. The goal was under no circumstances to allow war to break out between Ireland and the United States on my watch. With only one day to go, it looks as if I will succeed, surprising most of my best friends at home.

A couple of those sharp observations

I notice a much higher level of cynicism here toward your most important institutions and leaders than I am used to in the US. Gratuitous criticism is accepted as good sport in Ireland. The media are some of the most enthusiastic participants.

A little scepticism is undoubtedly a good thing, but institutions and leaders perform better and can deliver more when they are believed in and held in high esteem. In the past, when Ireland and its institutions were not run by the Irish, an elevated cynicism might have been understandable. It is more difficult to understand today.

Ireland’s neutrality seems out of sync with Ireland’s culture and temperament. For reasons that made sense at the time, Ireland didn’t choose to enter into an alliance with Britain during the second World War. There was no historical or cultural precedent for Ireland’s neutrality – it was merely circumstantial.

Circumstances having changed, and yet, acceptance of neutrality as a long-term policy persists. Some here interpret neutrality as pacifism, which shares even less with Irish history. Does this make sense? Small countries benefit most from alliances.

Go read the whole thing.

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  • kensei

    Ireland’s neutrality seems out of sync with Ireland’s culture and temperament.

    If we have become less fond of war then that would be a spectacularly good thing.

    For reasons that made sense at the time, Ireland didn’t choose to enter into an alliance with Britain during the second World War. There was no historical or cultural precedent for Ireland’s neutrality – it was merely circumstantial.<

    Strange of the US ambassador to miss it was the democratically endorsed and popular policy.

    Circumstances having changed, and yet, acceptance of neutrality as a long-term policy persists. Some here interpret neutrality as pacifism, which shares even less with Irish history. Does this make sense? Small countries benefit most from alliances.

    That is a somewhat dubious claim to make. Small countries can often get caught up in the interests of greater powers with little benefit to them. Larger countries can gain access to some strategically very important places.

    First – where is the external threat to Ireland? You have to go a long way in either direction to find an unfriendly nation. If anything it would have made more sense to fight in WW2. But now? What does Iran or North Korea care about Ireland? Jihadists are a possibility but Europe has never really bought them as a threat comparable to Nazism or Communism.

    You might say Ireland is relying on the UK and the US to provide defnse implicitly. And?

    Second, the little good Ireland could do on the world stage is if it is seen as an honest broker with no interests in anyone’s territory, oil, gas strategic bases or wherever else. I think I’ll run with Tennyson here:

    My strength is as the strength of ten, Because my heart is pure

  • niall

    Kensei,

    I agree with what you say as long as we are honest about it.

    As for being an honest broker in world affairs!

    I think we should accept our own level of importance and while aware of the greater good be primarily concerned with keeping international allies at arms length for the people here.

  • Alan

    Got to be a little realistic here. The outgoing ambassador was no doubt being diplomatic but really the world powers couldn’t give a tos about what Ireland’s foreign or security policy is. It just doesn’t matter. Now that the tiger is dead the influence will be even less if that is possible. We have got to accept this about ourselves.

  • Greagoir O Frainclin

    “Got to be a little realistic here. The outgoing ambassador was no doubt being diplomatic but really the world powers couldn’t give a tos about what Ireland’s foreign or security policy is. It just doesn’t matter. Now that the tiger is dead the influence will be even less if that is possible. We have got to accept this about ourselves.”

    Very true indeed Alan!

    Now, if we had nuclear weapons or vasts amounts of oil, I’m sure folk would be all ears!

  • www

    I found his observation that underdogs are not always right interesting given that he represents a country that can hardly eever be said to be underdog in any competition such as military, economic, cultural.

  • EWI

    Here’s my considered response:

    F*ck you and your precious President both, Mr. Foley. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

  • RepublicanStones

    I second EWI’s sentiment.