Who’s at the Table?


With the Christmas season and New Year’s Eve upon us, you may feel particularly sensitive about invitations. Why was I not invited to this party? Why was so-and-so invited? In fact, although this is the season to be generous and altruistic, distinctions between insiders and outsiders cannot be ignored. Sending cards and inviting for festivities involve making choices. It is often intriguing to note who was not invited.

A recent high level meeting about the ongoing crisis in Syria is an important political example. It may be one of the most defining events of the current geopolitical landscape and a harbinger of things to come. Foreign Ministers of Iran, Turkey and Russia met in Moscow to try to find a political solution to end the six-year war in Syria. As an article in the New York Times properly noted: “Secretary of State John Kerry was not invited. Nor was the United Nations consulted.”
At a recent conference on challenges for the new Secretary-General of the United Nations, I said that the major challenge for him was to be invited to these kinds of meetings. Any political conference is predicated on the assumption that the major players will be invited. I vividly remember negotiating with a rebel leader in Africa about payments for him to meet me at a hotel. He wouldn’t come unless he was paid cab fare and several nights in the hotel for him and his associates. All mediation lessons should begin from the dilemma of making sure that all relevant parties are present.
The absence of representatives from the United States and/or the United Nations compels one to reflect on the current situation of the global order. The Doha Round of trade negotiations has been blocked for years. Major countries have preferred bilateral or ad hoc multilateral arrangements that bypass the overall World Trade Organization system. Instead of proceeding by international protocol, countries have picked and chosen whom they want to deal with. They have not invited all important family members to the Christmas meal. They have not sent greetings to all their acquaintances or colleagues. They have made choices of insiders and outsiders.
I have no problem with choices. I have sent my cards to certain people. I have not sent cards to others. However, I understand the consequences of these choices. Certain people may be miffed. Should I apologize? Should I ask for forgiveness? Will I change my list for next year?
The fact that the United States and the United Nations were not invited to discuss a solution to the Syrian crisis is in and of itself a major event. Were they miffed? If so, what must they do to re-establish their credibility to be invited to the table in the future?
Happy holidays to all, especially to those I didn’t send specific season’s greetings.

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