The July 25 edition of the Marshall Island Journal reports that RMI President Litokwa Tomeing schooled U.S. Ambassador to the RMI, Clyde Bishop, on how to conduct diplomacy with the Marshallese leadership.   The MIJ article stated that Tomeing sent an “unmistakable message about diplomacy” to Ambassador Bishop during a meeting with the Commanding Officer of U.S. Army operations at Kwajalein in the RMI.    The most senior diplomatic and military officials representing the U.S. in the RMI were there to brief Tomeing on the reduction of local and U.S. employees at Kwajalein during the current operational cycle of the base, and the prospects of recovering lost jobs in the future if Kwajalein operations continue and use of the facility increases in the future.



With Bishop’s fellow senior U.S. military counterpart present, Tomeing reportedly adopted an informal and seemingly folksy attitude and told Bishop that if he wanted to be more effective dealing with Marshallese leaders he should abandon normal diplomatic protocol and come to the President’s office without any advance notice.  “No need for an appointment…Surprise me by just walking in unannounced…see how we can help each other out…,” Tomeing is reported to have told Bishop.   According to the MIJ, the RMI President then proceeded to instruct Bishop on Marshallese custom, telling him that since he was “a university professor of sociology” he should be more sensitive to cross cultural relations by learning the meaning of the Marshallese custom of “Bwebwenato.”



According to the MIJ report, Tomeing did not explain that custom, but told Bishop to use his training as a professor to “investigate” and study “Bwebwenato” because it is the “oil that fuels friendship” in Marshallese society, and will enable Bishop to improve his performance as a diplomat in the RMI.   Bwebwenato is the Marshallese word for informal story telling and conversation about events of the day, a relaxed and random discussion ranging from important issues to gossip.   Tomeing told Bishop that he should set aside American and international rules of protocol and adapt his performance of diplomatic duties to Marshallese custom.



The MIJ did not comment on whether Tomeing’s remarks were also consistent with Marshallese customs regarding respect for guests, or whether it was Marshallese custom to criticize one distinguished guest in front of another distinguished guest, even if the criticism was expressed in the most friendly and cordial way, so that it seemed to be shrewd and yet not appear anti-social or unfriendly.   This raises a question about how it would be perceived if Bishop was hosting a meeting with Tomeing and the Marshallese High Chief, Imata Kabua, who is the “King” under Marshallese feudal customs.  What if the U.S. Ambassador told one of those Marshallese leaders in the presence of the other to perform their duties in a way that was more agreeable to American culture?   Even if it was said with a smile and with the best of heartfelt intentions, would President Tomeing and King Kabua feel that they had been embarrassed in front of the other Marshallese guest?



Upon hearing about the MIJ report one former U.S. State Department career diplomat and Foreign Service Officer who was posted in the RMI, speaking on condition of anonymity, said



“Showing cross cultural respect is an important part of diplomacy, but the rules of protocol have evolved over many centuries to ensure that official communications are delivered and received without allowing personalities and cross-cultural issues to cloud or confuse the clear communication of the formal positions of the governments concerned.   Informality and personal rapport are appropriate and can be a critical element of diplomacy, but there also are examples of situations where informal or personal communications created misunderstandings and confusion, sometimes with tragic consequences.  



Ambassador Bishop is a highly respected, experienced diplomat honored with prestigious awards by his nation, a real pro with the best professional training available in the world, so he does not really need to be treated like an absent minded professor being taught a lesson by Tomeing.  Even if Bishop insists he took no offense personally or as a diplomat, that is just the diplomatic thing for him to do.   Ambassador Bishop is doing his best to sustain free association, and he may well adopt the position that Tomeing was just being hospitable in a good natured way, and that may even be true, but someone fed the press a verbatim account of the exchange that has a less than benign and good natured meaning in the RMI.   It is a political message that the disconnect between the RMI and U.S. is because the Ambassador has not been consulting with RMI enough.  



We all know better, and that the problem is that the Foreign Ministry in this administration is doing the bidding of the feudal land barons of Kwajalein, and now they are trying to blame the friction caused by a failed “show down” with U.S. that is forcing the feudal lords of Kwajalein to back down.   So they are trying to make Bishop their scapegoat and fall guy.   Well, he has been very diplomatic because he is a pro, and this so-called  “unmistakable message about diplomacy” reported in the MIJ is another case of the Foreign Ministry using the press to negotiate with the U.S. and influence public opinion in the RMI with Orwellian falsehood.   It is subtle and heavy handed at the same time.



It is nothing less than propaganda trying to make Bishop look like the problem.  It is the same thing attempted with past Ambassadors who have been blamed and targeted to create the false impression that the U.S. is being inflexible or overbearing.   It is intended to arouse public sentiment against the U.S. in order to generate support for the current administration, and it will backfire in Washington as it always has, and it will backfire in the RMI if the public gets accurate information about U.S. policy.   It is lamentable that the MIJ would publish an account of the meeting without identifying the source of the quoted material, or even the journalist who wrote the article, if there is one, and it is not just a staged report prepared for the MIJ by the Foreign Ministry. 



Whether Tomeing is speaking as a traditional leader or as a Senator who has been appointed by the RMI parliament to serve as head of state under the RMI national constitution, he should perhaps have been a little more formal himself, instead of telling Bishop to be less formal.  Especially when the U.S. officials were there to deliver a formal and sobering message about Kwajalein that has profound implications for U.S. and RMI political, economic and security relations.   Since Tomeing was the one who publicly threatened to kick the U.S. out and turn the base over to China, perhaps a little formality and respect was in order.”           



Another former senior U.S. Department of Defense official read the MIJ report and said Tomeing’s suggestion that U.S. Ambassador stop by and chat anytime is perceived among some in Washington who help make U.S. policy on free association as an ambivalent message:



“It sends a mixed signal, and it has a double meaning.   He may think it is clever to tell Bishop he does not need an appointment, and that Bishop should study RMI culture and language, but this is not a game.   Ambassador Bishop is there to conduct official business, and right now there is a lot of RMI business with the U.S. that is not exactly in good order.   It is not the time for local political rituals, it is a time for serious business.  Tomeing is seen as pretending to be sincere, but instead being flippant trying to make it about personalities, when it is not personal at all, it is the official agenda that matters.   Everyone can be nice personally, but the question is whether the RMI wants to be taken seriously as a treaty partner.   Tomeing is still living in the past, talking about the ‘ties that bind’ the RMI and the United States, those were his words in the meeting according to the report.   But the U.S. is not bound, the RMI is not bound, the terms of free association are only binding as long as neither party decides to end it.   Litokwa Tomeing needs to realize this is not some kind of personal diplomacy exercise, and his government needs to get serious about how to remain allied with the U.S. in a dangerous world.”  



How MIJ Editor Giff Johnson got such a detailed account of the exchange quoted in the report is not clear.  In any event, perhaps someone in the RMI Foreign Ministry should provide President Tomeing with a copy of Ambassador Bishop’s official U.S. State Department biography.   Dr. Bishop is not merely an academic serving as a diplomat, he is a seasoned career diplomat who is also a distinguished scholar.   Maybe the MIJ should reprint the following information about the U.S. Chief of Diplomatic Mission in the RMI, who the MIJ refers to only as “Clyde” on its front page:


“Clyde Bishop, PhD, was confirmed as US Ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands on September 28, 2006 and assumed his duties on December 5, 2006.  Ambassador Bishop is a career diplomat and Minister Counselor in the Senior Foreign Service of the United States.


Prior to his assignment to the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Ambassador Bishop served     as the Consul General at the US Embassy Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic.  He also served as Principal Officer in Naples, Italy.  His previous Foreign Service postings include Hong Kong, Bombay, Rio de Janeiro, and Korea.  He began his career as a Consular/Economic officer in Palermo, Italy. 


Ambassador Bishop served as Diplomat in Residence at City College New York.  After his promotion into the Senior Foreign Service, he participated in the Foreign Service Institute Senior Seminar.


Clyde Bishop received his Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Delaware State in 1964.  He received a Master of Arts in Sociology from Delaware University in 1972 and was awarded a Doctorate degree from the University of Delaware in Public Policy Analysis in 1976.  He is fluent in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.  He is a recipient of two Meritorious Honor Awards and a Superior Honor Award.”






  1. MIJ acts as stalking horse for Tomeing administration in effort to silence dissent « Marshall Islands Freedom Blog Says:

    […] In its July 25 edition the Marshall Islands Journal published an anonymous article attacking U.S. Ambassador Bishop’s alleged lack of diplomatic skills.   See the August 2 posting below “RMI PRESIDENT LITOKWA TOMEING EXPOSES HIS OWN LACK OF DIPLOMATIC SKILLS BY SUGGESTING U.S. AMBASSADO….”  […]

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