Am I out of the mainstream here, in wanting diplos where players act like countries and protect their interests rather than just helping their friends go for the win?
There used to be two forms of Diplo. One was called Diplo/Diplomacy and was a FFA with no rules; where using the chat is a big part of the game. There also used to also be quite a few RP / Role-playing games. There, the goal was to, well role play a country or ruler similar to what you describe.
Not sure why*, but the RP games seems gone, and the Diplo games now have lot's of rules, with some diplo games being quite similar to the old RP style. My point is that the games are still there, but a bit harder to find.
*I think it was around when levels was added, as most RP games used to end in a VTE, thus not giving any points.