Diplomacy: A Rusting Tool of American Statecraft

by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Senior Fellow, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University, Washington, DC and Cambridge, Massachusetts, February, 2018 

Diplomacy: A Rusting Tool of American Statecraft
A Lecture to programs on Statecraft at American University, Harvard, and MIT [Republished with permission. The original text is available here]

I am here to talk about diplomacy.  This may seem an odd moment to broach the subject.  Our president has told us that it doesn’t matter that his administration is not staffed to do it, because “I’m the only one who matters.”  In other words, “l’état c’est moi.”

Now that it’s got that straight, the United States Department of State has set about dismantling itself.  Meanwhile, the Foreign Service of the United States is dejectedly withering away.  Our ever-flatulent media seem unconvinced that Americans will miss either institution.

I suspect they’re wrong about that.  Diplomacy is an instrument of statecraft that Americans have not been educated to understand and whose history they do not know.  It is not about “making nice.”  Nor is it just a delaying tactic before we send in the Marines.

Diplomacy is a political performing art that informs and determines the decisions of other states and peoples.  It shapes their perceptions and calculations so that they do what we want them to do because they come to see doing so as in their own best interest.  Diplomacy influences the policies and behavior of states and peoples through measures short of war, though it does not shrink from war as a diversion or last resort.  It is normally but not always overtly non-coercive.  It succeeds best when it embraces humility and respects and preserves the dignity of those to whom it is applied.  As the Chinese philosopher, Laozi put it:  “A leader is best when people barely know he exists.  When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.”

Napoleon called diplomacy, “the police in grand costume” but it is usually not much to look at.  It seldom involves blowing things up, most of its action is unseen, and it is relatively inexpensive.  Diplomacy’s greatest triumphs tend to be preventing things from happening.  But it’s hard to prove they wouldn’t have occurred, absent diplomacy.  So diplomats are more often blamed for what did happen than credited for what didn’t.  Diplomats are even worse than sailors at marching.  Diplomacy stages no parades in which ambassadors and their political masters can strut among baton-twirling majorettes or wave to adoring crowds.   Nor, for the most part, does it justify expensive programs that generate the pork and patronage that nourish politics

All this makes diplomacy both obscure and of little or no direct interest to the central institutions in contemporary Washington’s foreign policy.  As any foreign embassy will tell you, the U.S. Department of Defense and other elements of the military-industrial-congressional complex now dominate the policy process.  Both are heavily invested in theories of coercive interaction between states.  Both favor strategic and tactical doctrines that justify expensive weapons systems and well-paid people to use them.  Activities that cost little and lack drama do not intrigue them.  They see diplomats as the clean-up squad to be deployed after they have demolished other societies, not as peers who can help impose our will without fighting.

U.S. foreign policy is heavily militarized in theory, practice, and staffing.  No one has bankrolled the development of professional diplomatic doctrine, meaning a body of interrelated operational concepts describing how to influence the behavior of other states and people by mostly non-violent means.  So there is no diplomatic equivalent of military doctrine, the pretensions of some scholars of international relations (IR) theory notwithstanding.  This is a very big gap in American statecraft that the growing literature on conflict management has yet to fill.  The absence of diplomatic doctrine to complement military science eliminates most options short of the raw pressure of sanctions or the use of force.  It thereby increases the probability of armed conflict, with all its unpredictable human and financial consequences.

Working out a diplomatic doctrine with which to train professional diplomats could have major advantages.  Diplomatic performance might then continually improve, as military performance does, as experience emended doctrine.   But developing diplomatic doctrine would require acceptance that our country has a need for someone other than dilettantes and amateurs to conduct its foreign relations.  Our politicians, who love the spoils system, seem firmly convinced that, between them, wealthy donors and campaign gerbils can meet most of our needs in foreign affairs, with the military meeting the rest.  The Department of State, which would be the logical government agency to fund an effort at the development of tradecraft and doctrine, is usually led by diplomatic novices.  It is also the perennial runt at the federal budgetary teat.

Leadership of foreign policy by untrained neophytes was to a great extent  the American norm even during the Cold War, when the United States led the world outside the Soviet camp and  deployed unmatched political attractiveness and economic clout.  Now retired and active duty military officers have been added to the diplomatic management mix.  They are experts in the application of violence, not peaceable statecraft, to foreign societies.  How is this likely to work out in the new world disorder?  As the late Deng Xiaoping said, “practice is the sole criterion of truth.”  So we’ll see.  But while we wait for the outcome, there is still time to consider the potential of diplomacy as an instrument of statecraft.

The basis of diplomacy is empathy for the views of others.  It is most effective when grounded in a sophisticated understanding of another’s language, culture, feelings, and intellectual habits. Empathy inhibits killing.  It is not a character trait we expect or desire our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to have.

Language and area training plus practical experience are what enable diplomats to imagine the viewpoint of foreign leaders, to see the world as they do, to analyze trends and events as they would, and to evaluate the pros and cons of actions as they might.  A competent diplomat can use such insights to make arguments that foreign leaders find persuasive.  A diplomat schooled in strategy can determine what circumstances are required to persuade foreign leaders that doing what the diplomat wants them to do is not yielding to superior power but deciding on their own to do what is in their nation’s best interest.

Empathy does not, of course, imply alignment or agreement with the viewpoints of others, just understanding of them.  It is not the same as sympathy, which identifies with others’ perspectives.  Sometimes the aim of diplomacy is to persuade a foreign country to continue to adhere to established policies, because they are beneficial.  But more commonly, it is to change the policies, behavior, and practices of other countries or individuals, not to affirm or endorse them.  To succeed, diplomats must cleave to their own side’s interests, convictions, and policy positions even as they grasp the motivations and reasoning processes of those whose positions they seek to change.  But they must also be able to see their country and its actions as others see them and accept these views as an operational reality to be acknowledged and dealt with rather than denounced as irrational or duplicitous.

To help policy-makers formulate policies and actions that have a real chance of influencing a particular foreign country’s decisions, diplomats habitually find themselves called upon to explain how and why that country’s history and circumstances make it see things and act the way it does.  In the United States, most men and women in senior foreign policy positions did not work their way up the ranks.  They are much more familiar with domestic interest groups and their views than with foreign societies and how they work.  Explanation of foreign positions is easily mistaken for advocacy of them, especially by people inclined to dismiss outlandish views that contradict their prejudices as inherently irrational or malicious.

It’s good domestic politics to pound the policy table in support of popular narratives and nationalist postures and to reject foreign positions on issues as irrational, disingenuous, or malevolent.  But diplomats can’t do that if they are to remain true to their calling.  In a policy process driven more by how things will look to potential domestic critics than by a determination actually to change the behavior of foreigners, diplomats are easily marginalized.  But when they are backed by strong-minded leaders who want results abroad, they can accomplish a great deal that military intervention cannot.

Let me give a couple of examples of how U.S. diplomacy has rearranged other states’ and people’s appraisals of their strategic circumstances and caused them to decide to adopt courses of action favored by the United States.  These examples show both the complexities with which diplomacy must deal and its limitations in terms of its ability to secure assured outcomes.

 

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USUN Ambassador Haley Hosts Reception For “Friends” With US Against UN Jerusalem Resolution

Posted: 3:11  am ET

 

The eight countries who voted with the United States include Guatemala and Honduras, countries with significant interest in migration policies and have large number of nationals on DACA status. Guatemala has already announced that it will follow the United States in moving its embassy to Jerusalem. We’re watching how soon Honduras will follow this move. Last November, DHS extended the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Honduras until July 5, 2018. We’ll have to see what happens next; state actions are in the country’s national interest, intentional, and never coincidental.

USUN Ambassador Niki Haley’s shit list includes the top recipients of American foreign aid for years like Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and a host of other countries. How this will end? (see Snapshot: @StateDept Aid Allocation by Region and Top Recipients, FY2016 RequestSnapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Aid in FY2012 and FY2013 RequestSnapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Aid in FY2010, FY 2011 RQSnapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Aid).

On January 4, the United States announced that it is suspending at least $900 million in security assistance to Pakistan according to Reuters “until it takes action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network militant groups.”

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Amb. Callista Gingrich Presents Her Credentials to Pope Francis

Posted: 12:35 am ET

 

On December 22, the Pope finally received Callista L. Gingrich for the presentation of her credential letters as Ambassador of the United States of America to the Holy See (see The Credential Letters of the Ambassador of the United States of America to the Holy See; also Amb-Designate Callista Gingrich Still Waiting to Present Credentials Six Weeks On?).

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USUN Ambassador Nikki Haley Says United States Taking Names. Again. #UNGA #Thursday

Posted: 3:40 am ET

 

Back in January, Ambassador Nikki Haley made her first appearance before the press as USUN ambassador prior to presenting her credentials. She made a huge splash with her opening salvo:  “For those who don’t have our back, we’re taking names – we will make points to respond to that accordingly.” (see @USUN Ambassador Nikki Haley: Taking Names and Diplomatic Dustup).

Now, she’s taking names again of those who will criticize the impending US embassy move.  The UN General Assembly is set to meet on Thursday for an emergency discussion on the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Haaretz is reporting that in an attempt to avoid embarrassment, “Israel has instructed its diplomatic missions to seek meetings with high-level officials to persuade them to direct their representatives at the UN to oppose, not to support, or at the very least not to deliver a speech at the General Assembly.”

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What POTUS told “our wonderful Secretary of State” (and all) about Rocket Man

Posted: 12:12 am ET
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AND NOW THIS —

😭 😭 😭  😭 😭 😭  😭 😭 😭  😭 😭 😭  😭 😭 😭

House Foreign Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on @StateDept ReDesign With Tillerson Oops, Sullivan

Posted: 2:24 am ET
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On Tuesday, September 26, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on the State Department’s redesign efforts. You’d think that the chief sponsor of this entire endeavor, Secretary Tillerson would be at the hearing to answer questions from congressional representatives. But it looks like Mr. Tillerson is meeting the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States Paul Gallagher at the Department of State at 10:25 a.m.. That leaves his Deputy John  Sullivan as “it” for the hot seat instead.

Chairman Royce on the hearing: “This hearing is the latest in our ongoing oversight of the State Department’s vital work. It will allow members to raise important questions about the State Department’s redesign plan, and help inform the committee’s efforts to authorize State Department functions.”

The American Academy of Diplomacy previously wrote to Secretary Tillerson requesting that the reorganization plan be made public and was refused (see Former Senior Diplomats Urge Tillerson to Make Public @StateDept’s Reorganization Plan).  The group has now written a new letter addressed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressing its support for the “sensible streamlining and the elimination of offices and positions in order to promote effective diplomacy.” It also tells HFAC that it believes that “the Administration should reconsider the decision to declare its plan for reorganization “pre-decisional.” The Congress should ask that the plans to date and those to be considered be made available for public comment.” More:

The Academy believes certain principles should guide the reorganization.
–Change only those things which will strengthen U.S. diplomacy.
–People are more important than programs. Programs can be rebuild quickly. Getting a senior Foreign Service takes 5 to 20 years.
–As a rule, front-line personnel should be increased, although there are Embassies where there are more people, including those from other agencies, than U.S. interests require

It points out that the Foreign Service has a built-in RIF in its system:

The Foreign Service, as up-or-out service, loses about 300 – 400 FSOs and Specialists each year by selection out for low ranking, expiration of time in class, failure to pass over a promotion threshold or reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65. Only Foreign Service personnel are subject to world-wide availability. With their experience, capabilities and languages, they can be sent anywhere, anytime to meet America’s foreign policy objectives. Over the last 12 years the largest personnel increases have been the additions of Civil Service personnel in State’s Regional and, particularly, Functional Bureaus.

And there is this interesting request for clarity on potential appointees; are there talks that DGHR would be filled by a political appointee?

We believe the key positions of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, the Director General, and the Dean of the Foreign Service Institute should be career Foreign Service Officers. The Director General, a position established by the Act, should be appointed from those that have the senior experience and personal standing to guide the long-term future of the staff needed for effective diplomacy. We respectfully ask that Congress get clarification as to whether it is the Department’s intention to nominate an appropriately senior serving or retired Foreign Service Officer for the position of Director General.

The group also writes that it “encourage the Congress to press hard for clarity about the objectives of this reorganization process: is the goal increasing effectiveness or rationalizing budget decisions?”

Read the letter below or click here (PDF).

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American values? Tillerson: “The president speaks for himself.” Uh-oh!

Posted: 4:51 am  ET
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Axios writes: “We’ve been hearing for weeks, from sources who’ve spoken to the president, that Trump is getting more and more fed up with Tillerson, who has still yet to staff his agency.” The report enumerates multiple criticisms directed at Tillerson:
1) why he still doesn’t have political appointees in the top roles at the State Department;
2) Tillerson hasn’t put in the time to build goodwill with Washington’s foreign policy community or with the media;
3) reports that Tillerson has destroyed morale at State, empowering only the tiniest inner circle;
4) Qatar;
5) Venezuela and Tom Shannon;
6) Iran;
7) Tillerson’s Chief of Staff Margaret Peterlin

AND NOW THIS —

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The World Watches Another Trumpster Fire Week #WhatNowPublicDiplomacy?

Posted: 2:38 am ET
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Last June, USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy did a piece on Islamophobia & U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Trump Era. In another post on re-thinking social engagement, CPD writes that “in the age of Trump though, global organizations, especially those with American origins, must do all they can now to shore up their reputational capital and strengthen bonds of trust with the people they engage with and serve – customers, employees, influencers, citizens – around the world.” On Wednesday, USC Annenberg will host P.J. Crawley, former spox and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs for a conversation on U.S. domestic politics and the future of America’s global leadership in the age of Trump.

Former FSO John Brown once wrote that at its best, public diplomacy “provides a truthful, factual exposition and explication of a nation’s foreign policy and way of life to overseas audiences,”  — how do you do that particularly after what happened last week? After a new underground railroad from the United States to Canada is widely reported to “escape a harsh new U.S. regime”?

Also a quick reminder that the State Department’s Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R) who leads in America’s public diplomacy outreach is currently vacant. Ambassador Bruce Wharton, the acting “R” retired in late July. There are no announced nominees for the undersecretary or for the assistant secretaries for the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA), Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), or for Special Envoy and Coordinator of the Global Engagement Center (GEC).

Some cartoonists below looking at the United States.

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U.S. Mission Russia: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Yekaterinburg #ThinkingofYou

Posted: 3:35  pm PT
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We’re thinking about the staffers at U.S. Mission Russia, at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, and the U.S. Consulates General in St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, and Yekaterinburg.  Those who will remain at posts will have to make do without the help of their colleagues and local staff, and those who are required to depart will have to find temporary homes at other posts until they can locate new assignments.  We’re only a few weeks away from school opening, so we anticipate that some Foreign Service kids could also be affected.  We have no doubt that our Foreign Service folks are resilient and will face the next weeks with strength and fortitude, but these will be difficult times nonetheless.

This will be especially hard for a large number of employees at U.S. Mission Russia who are local employees and do not have relocation as an option. We don’t know at this time if they will be placed on administrative furlough, or if there are other options specific to the Russian posts.  3 FAM 7732.4 provides for separation by reduction in force (RIF) for local employees for “lack of funds, reorganization, decrease of work, or similar reason.” OPM says that agencies must follow RIF procedures for furlough of more than 30 continuous calendar days, however it also says that employees may be placed on an extended furlough when the agency plans to recall the employee to his or her position within 1 year. The FAM provides for reemployment of  FSNs “separated upon expiration of a short term of employment” but we won’t really know how long this will last, do we?

 

Related posts:

See photos after the fold.

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#TrumpChicken Thanks Putin For Kicking Out U.S.Mission Russia Staffers

Posted: 4:19 pm PT
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On August 10, 2017, Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States announced for all the world to hear that he wanted to thank Russian leader Vladimir Putin for slashing the United States own diplomatic staff at U.S. Mission Russia.  He was under the impression that this would result in a smaller payroll.  If he were a little bit more curious about our diplomatic missions, he would know that our career diplomats and their families would be reassigned to other posts. And he would realize that when our diplomats are kicked out from a certain country, it would impact the United States ability to analyze, report, negotiate, and improve bilateral relation with that country.

If he were a little bit more informed, he would know that the reduction in staff — beyond the upheavals it would bring to the lives of mission staffers and their families — would hinder the embassy’s ability to investigate allegations of mistreatment of or discrimination against U.S. investors in Russia. If the U.S. does not have sufficient staff, it would jeopardize cooperation with Russia in addressing pressing global challenges where U.S. core national security interests align:

  • nonproliferation
  • nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) security
  • preventing atrocities and humanitarian crises
  • combatting violent extremism and terrorism

But Mr. Trump is not curious, and he is ill informed, and he has not shown signs that he will improve with age. Unfortunately, this also shows us as clear as day that he sees no usefulness for diplomacy nor appreciation for the people who labors in it.

Frankly, the only way we are actually able to process this latest edition in bonkers news is if we imagine that Trump Chicken delivered this message and the real President of the United States is somehow working, not golfing, with the dedicated personnel at Area 51.

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