Kurt Waldheim, former UN secretary-general, former president of Austria and former Nazi, is dead, and so it suddenly became my job to come up with a condolence statement in five minutes that our ambassador could inscribe in a memorial book for the departed.

Considering Waldheim’s unrepentant Nazism and the bland record of his years as SG (granted, during a period when the UN was still sidelined by the Cold War), there was not much to say. But we said it nicely. Diplomacy is all about finding a way to communicate on amicable terms with the folks you don’t necessarily like.