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There have been disturbing but not earth-shattering disclosures in the Wikileaks documents, but one the press hasn't talked about much is the way the Bush administration turned our Foreign Service into salesmen for Lockheed Martin.
A series of cables flew back and forth between Oslo and Washington in the autumn of 2008. The first one rather urgently called for "high-level advocacy" NOW.
The GON decision making process on the purchase of new fighter aircraft has entered a critical phase. Public opinion has swung away from the F-35 due to negative coverage, and private contacts warn that the GON may decide to purchase the Saab Gripen or leave the decision to a future government. High-level Washington advocacy on this issue is needed to help reverse this trend. Norway's decision on this purchase will either end or sustain one of the strongest pillars of our bilateral relationship and could impact subsequent Danish and Dutch decisions on the F-35, affecting NATO joint operational capacity and the vulnerability of the Northern Flank. Septel requests Deputy SecDef direct engagement, possibly with a visit to Oslo.
I may be a bit ignorant of such things, but the idea that all countries must use the same airplane strikes me as a bit disingenuous. However, those high-level officials did come to the rescue, and behold, Norway agreed to buy the F-35, which overjoyed all parties involved.
On November 20, PM Stoltenberg and Defense Minister Strom-Erichsen announced that the GON recommends the purchase of the F-35 to replace Norway's aging F-16 fleet. The timing of the announcement was a surprise, coming earlier than expected, as was the exceptionally strong endorsement of the F-35 by the GON panel. A concerted effort by Lockheed Martin, Embassy Oslo, EUCOM, and the Departments of State and Defense played a key role in this decision.
Who knew high level diplomacy included pimping Lockheed Martin's jets? The post-mortem written after the deal was inked reads like a Republican PR map:
--Get the whole country team involved. The active involvement of the Ambassador and DCM, ODC, DAO, Pol/Econ, FCS, and Public Affairs offices ensured that the fighter plane decision was an Embassy priority. This was necessary to convince Lockheed Martin and Washington officials that it was important to devote time and resources on Norway,s decision.
--Working with Lockheed Martin to determine which aspects of the purchase to highlight. In Norway the capabilities of the JSF vs. the Gripen were the strongest suit, and Embassy and Lockheed Martin efforts focused on discussions of why the JSF,s capabilities were the best match for Norway,s needs, especially in the High North. This focus played to the JSF,s strengths and eventually proved to be the decisive factor, despite perceived weaknesses in other areas such as the industrial package.
--Jointly develop a press strategy with Lockheed Martin and collectively determine the role the Embassy will play in this strategy.
--Use the Ambassador to give numerous on-the-record interviews but also to have off-the-record in-depth discussions with editorial boards on the purchase.
--Be constantly available to the media to discuss the technical merits of the aircraft, and be assertive in refuting disinformation. In Norway, there were many self-proclaimed experts talking about the F-35 and making wildly inaccurate statements on everything from its lack of ability to its exorbitant price. It was important to counter these assertions and our ODC chief gave more than 20 separate interviews.
It's interesting to me that I haven't seen anything this blatant or similar in cables written under the Obama administration. Surely it couldn't be that the Bush administration was using our Foreign Service personnel to benefit American industry like that? Surely not.