The Trilateral Commission, Once More

Diplomats are expected to be careful and judicious in their speech — which is why the word “diplomatic” found its way into everyday speech — but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is the exception to the rule.  He seemingly has a knack for ill-advised comments.

In recent remarks, Kerry said that Israel risks becoming an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace agreement with Palestinians.  Of course, “apartheid” is a highly loaded word, evoking images of the repressive and racist South African regime that imprisoned Nelson Mandela.  Kerry’s statement was promptly and roundly criticized by supporters of Israel from both sides of the aisle, and Kerry then apologized, saying he wished he could rewind the tape and use a different word — although he blamed the chorus of criticism in part on “partisan, political purposes.”

What’s interesting about the story is not Kerry’s blunder — we should all be used to that by now — but that it happened at a super-secret, closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission.  For decades, the Trilateral Commission has been a favorite target of conspiracy theorists, who have depicted is as a kind of shadow world government that puts people into positions of power and then pulls the strings.

So, how did someone get a recording of a powerful figure speaking to the Commission?  It turns out that a journalist just walked into the meeting — he “slipped past both Commission staff and Diplomatic Security,” according to a letter of apology the North American chair of the Commission wrote to Kerry — and recorded Kerry’s remarks.  The incident therefore doesn’t reflect the kind of approach to security you’d expect from the  hyper-competent, brooding omnipresence depicted by the conspiracy-minded.

So, perhaps John Kerry’s latest bit of thoughtless floundering may have a positive impact after all:  it may finally strike the Trilateral Commission from the list of organizations that are the focus of international intrigue and the latest conspiracy theories.

Advertisements

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela died today, at age 95, after a long illness.  He was one of the most extraordinary figures of our time — a selfless man in an increasingly selfish world, a man whose example was so deeply powerful that it brought down a wicked regime, and a man whose compelling life story was inspirational to millions around the world.

Mandela fought against the evil of apartheid, which legalized and institutionalized racism in South Africa.  He was jailed for his efforts, spent almost three decades in prison cells, and became the most celebrated political prisoner in the world.  He was freed, immediately became a leading voice in the country, and was elected president when South Africa held its first all-race election in 1994.  Crucially, Mandela did not use his ascension to power to obtain vengeance for his years of wrongful imprisonment.  Instead, he supported a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that sought to expose the wrongs of apartheid and heal his divided country.  His actions demonstrated his commitment to peace and inclusiveness and made him the most deserving recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in a generation.

It is interesting that this astonishing historical figure bore the name Mandela — pronounced in the same way as the mandala, a Buddhist and Hindu concept that represents the universe as a circle.  In those religions, a mandala is an instrument of peaceful meditation and a gathering point for essential universal forces.  Nelson Mandela, too, was a gathering point for universal concepts of peace, and freedom, and equality, and he served in that role with decency and without rancor.  A true giant has left the world stage.