Nuland: Comic misunderstanding?

7 February 2014, 1733 EST

Have Duck readers been following the latest glitch in U.S.-European relations? Josh mentioned it in his recent roundup. Here’s how the Washington Post explained the story:

On Thursday, a video was posted on YouTube in which Victoria Nuland,, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, disparagingly dismissed European Union efforts to mediate the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine by bluntly saying, “F— the E.U.”

On Friday, [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, through press attache Christiane Wirtz, described the gaffe as “absolutely unacceptable,” and defended the efforts of Catherine Ashton, the E.U.’s foreign policy chief.

Here’s the video on youtube (you can also go to a different upload via that Post link above), though it is actually an audio recording of a telephone call between Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt, the current United States Ambassador to Ukraine:

Personally, an interesting side note to the story caught my eye:

Der Spiegel online published an opinion column titled “Relax, Europe.”

“Europe should simply laugh about the American F-word,” the outlet said in an editorial that also offered a critique of the E.U.’s diplomatic efforts in the Ukraine. “Some humor would do no harm to the transatlantic relationship at the moment.”

Why did this catch my eye? Well, for too long, I’ve been slowly working on a project that I call “the comedy of global politics.” Over the years, I’ve blogged about various  conference papers making this argument and explained how I have integrated comedic (and satirical) narratives into my teaching about IR.

Unlike tragedy, a narrative often employed by realist IR scholars, comedic narratives allow for happy endings and can center upon ordinary people in ordinary situations. Unlike romantic (epic) stories,  often employed by liberal idealists, they don’t require a triumphant hero to end a significant quest successfully. Rather, comedic narratives can be employed to resolve day-to-day situations made complicated by misunderstandings and errors of judgment. Basically, comedic heroes need not take themselves too seriously and can correct their errors by using their resourcefulness.

Various scholars in the field have published interesting pieces explaining the role comic narratives can play in IR. For instance, Riikka Kuusisto’s piece in EJIR in December 2009 notes that the comic is “a story traditionally used in ordinary disagreements among friends.”

The comic framework…is the standard solution of the Western leaders to ordinary disagreements among friends, problems with ‘small foes’ and disputes with important rivals. Western leaders do not claim, for example, that differing views among friends on world trade or the environment are not serious or important. Yet, there is usually room for negotiation and some compromise. A desire for mutual understanding is publicly pronounced and a wide range of options are officially considered.

I’m guessing that this latest incident will end with an apology that will be accepted and the long-time allies will mostly forget about this incident over the long-haul.