“If the U.S. would make a former diplomat avail for questioning by a foreign government without evidence of wrongdoing, then that would be quite horrifying” —former ambassador to Afghanistan and current president of the American Academy of Diplomacy https://t.co/IUW2Vvi7Oe
For those keeping score at home, this means Putin asked the President to let him get his hands on a former US ambassador to Russia, @McFaul, and man who successfully lobbied for one of the primary sanctions against Russia. And the WH can’t say how POTUS responded. Remarkable. https://t.co/Ly3vPuP2vS
I am not an "associate" of Bill Browder. I am the former US ambassador to Russia. Putin is seeking to arrest a former Ambassador. Please understand how outrageous this act is, discussed no less between our two presidents https://t.co/A1pPQZr9dJ
The one-on-one summit meeting between President Trump and Russian President Putin finally happened today in Helsinki with no American officials in attendance as observers or notetakers, only interpreters. The interpreter for the USG side is Marina Gross.
After a whole morning trapped in the vomitorium, we finally surfaced for air and some coffee. That joint press conference frankly was more bonkers than the SBC show we watched last night. After picking up our jaw from the floor, we saw that the Department of Justice this morning also unsealed a criminal complaint in the District of Columbia charging Maria Butina, a Russian national residing in Washington, D.C. with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States.
I’m still sick to my stomach. We’ll remember this Helsinki moment in the future.
Trump and Putin entered their one-on-one meeting two hours ago. It was scheduled to last 1.5 hours but is still ongoing,a Finnish official says. There are no other advisers or note-takers in the room, other than two interpreters. pic.twitter.com/ur9YIqKg6A
Reporter to @POTUS: Just now, President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. My first question for you sir is, who do you believe? https://t.co/ayZoKGvWxkpic.twitter.com/b5ad79963g
"I think it's a good start. A very, very good start for everybody," said Pres Trump of his one-on-one with Pres Putin. US delegation includes @SecPompeo, WH Chief of Staff John Kelly, US Amb to Russia Jon Huntsman, NSC Dir of Russian Affairs Fiona Hill, interpretor Marina Gross. pic.twitter.com/oFqhEaxIjM
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia William J. Burns doesn't mince his words on the Trump/Putin summit: "I think that press conference was the single most embarrassing performance by an American president on the world stage that I've ever seen." https://t.co/tQzciloNCn
"Never before have I seen an American president consistently, repeatedly, publicly, and shockingly advance the interests of another country over those of his own government and people," writes @JamesFallows: https://t.co/3yVghW9q9K
Brushback pitch from DNI Dan Coats saying IC had “been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election & their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy & we will continue to provide unvarnished & objective intel in support of our national sec.” pic.twitter.com/F5JaLnlpD6
As part of the "low expectations" that Pres Trump says he has for the Putin summit, US officials are admonishing reporters not to call it a "summit." US Amb to Russia Jon Huntsman told @MeetThePress "it isn't a summit. It's a meeting."
Heading to Helsinki, Finland – looking forward to meeting with President Putin tomorrow. Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the Summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia…
VIDEO: More than 2,000 people protest in Helsinki denouncing attacks on human rights, press freedom and dissent as the city prepares to host an historic US-Russia summit where Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are to meet pic.twitter.com/3TpqCIOKjO
Pres. Trump and Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin will meet Monday at Finnish presidential palace in Helsinki that overlooks the Baltic Sea — the same venue where two of their predecessors met in 1990. https://t.co/TqBvEuLSGnpic.twitter.com/D871SFX9ia
Ahead of the Trump-Putin meeting here, Finland’s largest newspaper has put up ads around Helsinki which are less than complimentary about the visiting leaders. The sign in Russian says: “Putin is trying again to bring the media to heel.” pic.twitter.com/Oy89XnP2WJ
President Trump left Washington for the seventh foreign trip of his presidency with stops in Brussels; London; Glasgow (Scotland); and Helsinki. Secretary Pompeo was on a visit to six countries in eight days with Brussels as the last leg of his trip where he joined President Trump in a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
The Secretary’s swagger update continues telling his State Department employees that they “put a lot of mileage on the plane in a tight window of time. But our teams on the road, at posts, and at home delivered on the mission no matter where we were or what we were doing.”
He also informed employees that our new ambassadors to the Kingdom of Belgium, Ronald Gidwitz, and the European Union, Gordon Sondland “are off to a great start leading their respective missions” and that both are “working closely with our NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison.”
Apparently USNATO mission is now in the new NATO headquarters and there was a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by the Secretary, Ambassador Hutchison, and Secretary of Defense Mattis. The Secretary told employees that “In many ways, this building symbolizes a new era for the most successful Alliance in history. Our goal is to strengthen NATO by increasing shared contributions and adapting it to better confront both conventional and unconventional threats.”
After President Trump’s confrontation at NATO which left the Alliance according to the NYT “intact but distracted and shaken”, the Secretary of State apparently chaired a meeting of the Coalition to Defeat ISIS, along with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg and that he “encouraged greater stabilization assistance to support areas of Syria liberated from ISIS in Coalition-supported operations.”
He ended his report with the following inspiring words: “You showed your swagger on every leg of this trip. Keep working hard, keep delivering on mission, and keep proudly representing the United States of America.”
He forgot to add that you should not forget to keep a brown paper bag handy in case you need to hide from the moon and the sun.
America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news.
Trump, in Orwellian spin, brands EU a foe. Our largest trade partner, largest investor in our economy, our ally in climate, human rights+protecting democracy. Most of its members our NATO allies. Trump dividing us from our true friends. https://t.co/w4ZQdlXaBt
And then this — reports that the Pentagon embarked on “damage-control” after President Trump’s departure, and then the Secretary of Defense called that report fiction saying, “That was fascinating. I love reading fiction.”
Hours after Pres. Trump departed NATO HQ Thursday, U.S. military leaders embarked on a full-scale “damage control” operation with calls to their counterparts across Europe to reassure them that America will abide by its defense commitments in the region. https://t.co/8pQOaStgef
But even before Trump’s belligerent foreign policy positions, America had been gradually losing its dominant role in world affairs.
A power shift among the nations of the world began at the end of the Cold War and has been accelerating this century.
It is not as simple as saying “America is in decline,” since America remains a powerful country. But American global power has been eroding for some time, as I argue in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2018” volume. The power of other countries has grown, giving them both the ability and the desire to effect global affairs independently of U.S. desires.
I am a foreign policy scholar and practitioner who has studied U.S. foreign policy through many administrations. I believe this global trend spells the end of the “exceptional nation” Americans imagined they were since the nation was founded and the end of the American era of global domination that began 70 years ago. We are no longer the “indispensable” nation celebrated by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the end of the last century.
American diplomacy has been essential to multinational agreements on trade, climate, regional security and arms control. Americans could and did claim to be at the center of a “rules-based international order.”
Those days are gone.
Not only do China and Russia contest America’s global role, a growing number of other countries are asserting an independent and increasingly influential role in regional economic and security developments.
Neither American political party has come to grips with this sea change. Until they do, U.S. global actions are likely to be less effective, even counterproductive.
Who’s on top?
The power shifts are increasingly visible. In the Middle East, the U.S. hoped for decades to isolate Iran as a pariah and weaken the regime until it fell.
Today, that goal is unimaginable, though national security adviser John Bolton continues to imagine it.
Turkey, a rising regional power, acts increasingly independent of the preferences of the U.S., its NATO ally, playing its own hand in the regional power game.
The U.S. helped unleash these trends with the strategically fatal invasion of Iraq in 2003 – fatal, because it permanently removed a regional leader who balanced the power of Iran. The failure to create a stable Iraq stimulated regional religious and political conflicts and rendered ineffective subsequent U.S. efforts to influence current trends in the region, as the continually ineffective policies in Syria show.
The U.S. cannot slow Chinese economic growth nor contain its power. China is changing the rules, whether the U.S. likes it or not.
Elsewhere in Asia, Japan moves toward a renewed nationalism and has removed restrictions on its defense spending and the deployment of its military in the face of growing Chinese power.
North Korea behaves more and more like a regional power, winning a direct meeting with the U.S. president while making only a general commitment to denuclearize. The prospect of a unified Korea would bring into being another major regional power center in the Northern Pacific.
President Vladimir Putin asserts Russia’s interests and role in the world, like any other great power. Russia is consciously and actively rebalancing the power of the United States, with some success.
Military power, the American global trump card, is not as useful a tool as it once was.
While the U.S. continues to have the world’s only global military capability, able to deploy anywhere, it is no longer evident that this capability effectively sustains U.S. leadership. Clear military victories are few – the Gulf War in 1991 being an exception. The endless U.S. deployment in Afghanistan carries the whiff of Vietnam in its inability to resolve that country’s civil war.
Meanwhile, the militaries of other countries, acting independently of the U.S., are proving effective, as both Turkish and Iranian operations in Syria suggest.
Abroad at home
The transition to this new era is proving difficult for American policy-makers.
The Trump “America First” foreign policy is based on the view that the U.S. needs to defend its interests by acting alone, eschewing or withdrawing from multilateral arrangements for trade, economics, diplomacy or security.
Liberals and many Democrats criticize Trump for alienating traditional allies like Canada, France and Germany while befriending dictators. Policy-makers once critical of confrontational policies now condemn Trump for failing to confront Russia and China.
A different president in Washington, D.C., will not restore the “rules-based” international order. The underlying changes in global power relations have already undermined that order.
A neo-conservative foreign policy, featuring unilateral American military intervention, as favored by John Bolton, will only accelerate the global shift. Liberal internationalists like Hillary Clinton would fail as well, because the rest of the world rejects the assumption that the U.S. is “indispensable” and “exceptional.” Barack Obama appeared to recognize the changing reality, but continued to argue that only the U.S. could lead the international system.
America will need to learn new rules and play differently in the new balance-of-power world, where others have assets and policies the U.S. does not and cannot control.
On June 7, the community editor of Malnutrition Deeply’s Amruta Byatnal reported about the attempt of the United Staes Government to derail a nonbinding resolution on breastfeeding at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva.
Last week, I wrote about the politics of policy-making at the World Health Assembly in Geneva. The United States attempted to derail a resolution on breastfeeding from being passed, thus favoring private sector interests over health: https://t.co/pVXjINdodN#breastfeeding#WHA71
What should have been a non-controversial discussion on breastfeeding turned rancorous at the recent World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva.Advocates at the event have accused the U.S. delegation of trying to stop a resolution on infant and young child feeding from being introduced. The U.S. representatives later pushed for diluted text that removes references to regulating aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes.
The first draft was originally supported by Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and Nepal, and contained several references to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which outlines what levels of marketing are acceptable while seeking to protect the health of infants and young children.
This opposition made its way to the WHA, where the U.S. delegation allegedly threatened countries with trade retaliation if they introduced the resolution, according to civil society advocates. Ecuador, which had led the drafting of the resolution, actually pulled out from introducing it.
The United States also attempted to stall this passage, advocates say, by suggesting an alternative text that omitted any reference to the WHO code or any of the text relating to specific guidance around inappropriate marketing of infants foods.
Reports say that the U.S. delegation was led by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar who reportedly declined requests to provide on-the-record comments to news deeply. Remember this is the same guy who told Congress that he could find separated kids with basic keystrokes.
“There is no reason why any parent would not know where their child is located,” said Azar during a Senate hearing Tuesday. “I sat on the ORR portal, with just basic key strokes and within seconds could find any child in our care for any parent available.”
Juliette, I'm young enough to remember when HHS Secretary Alex Azar testified that he could find the children "within seconds." https://t.co/iM2nhIsZAu
On July 8, NYT also reported the threats against Ecuador:
The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.
In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.
An anonymous HHS spox (not a blogger) provided a statement to the NYT:
“The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” an H.H.S. spokesman said in an email. “We recognize not all women are able to breast-feed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so.” The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely.
So, it looks like there’s a growing list of cabinet secretaries and others who go on national TV, or speak from the podium to eternal, historical embarrassment … pray tell, who taped them to those lying microphones?
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Senior Fellow, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island, 17 April 2018
This is the third and last of three connected lectures on diplomatic doctrine. The series was preceded by an introductory presentation. This lecture deals with diplomacy as risk management. The first lecture described diplomacy as strategy; the second as tactics.
At its most basic level, diplomacy is the management of foreign relations to reduce risk to the nation while promoting its interests abroad. In this task, diplomacy’s success is measured more by what it precludes than by what it achieves. One can never prove that what didn’t happen would have happened if one had not done this or that. But, for the most part in foreign affairs, the fewer the surprises and the less the stress, the better.
The ideal outcome of diplomacy is the assurance of a life for the nation that is as tranquil and boring as residence in the suburbs. And, like suburban life, in its day-to-day manifestation, diplomacy involves harvesting flowers when they bloom and fruits and berries when they ripen, while laboring to keep the house presentable, the weeds down, the vermin under control, and the predators and vagrants off the property. If one neglects these tasks, one is criticized by those closest, regarded as fair prey by those at greater remove, and not taken seriously by much of anyone.
Viewed this way, the fundamental purpose of U.S. foreign policy is the maintenance of a peaceful international environment that leaves Americans free to enjoy the prosperity, justice, and civil liberties that enable our pursuit of happiness. This agenda motivated the multilateral systems of governance the United States created and relied upon after World War II – the Pax Americana. Secretary of Defense Mattis has called this “the greatest gift of the greatest generation.” Institutions like the United Nations. its specialized agencies, like the International Monetary Fund and the World Health Organization, and related organizations like the World Trade Organization sought to regulate specific aspects of international behavior, manage the global commons, provide frameworks for the resolution of international disputes, and organize collective responses to problems.
In the aggregate, these offspring of U.S. diplomacy established and sustained widely accepted norms of behavior for many decades. International law drew on consensus to express these norms as rules. To the extent they were accepted internationally, these rules constrained state actions that could damage the common interests of the society of nations the rules had brought into being. Despite its uneven performance, the Pax Americana assured a relatively high degree of predictability in world affairs that facilitated peaceful international interactions. It did so on the same philosophical basis as the rule of law in domestic affairs – a belief that rules matter and that process legitimizes outcomes rather than the other way around.
Today, that philosophy and its ethical foundations are under attack both at home and abroad. For the time being, at least, Washington has set aside the rule-bound international order and the market-driven economic interactions it enabled. The United States is discarding the multilateral strategic framework that it built to restrain the behavior of lesser states in the last half of the 20th century. In its place, the Trump administration is experimenting with neo-mercantilist theories that seem to have been crowd-sourced to right-wing talk radio. Washington seeks to maximize U.S. leverage over trading partners by dealing with them only on a bilateral basis. Trade and investment are increasingly government-managed and hence politicized rather than freely contracted between private buyers and sellers. So far, it must be said, bird-brained bilateralism is proving no substitute for the complex regulatory regimes it is replacing and the supply chains it is disrupting.
With the fading of previously agreed codes of conduct and the principle of PACTA SUNT SERVANDA [“agreements must be kept”], what could once be taken for granted in managing relations with other states must now be repetitiously renegotiated and affirmed bilaterally. But Washington has demoted diplomacy as a tool of American statecraft in favor of primary reliance on military and economic coercion. Escalating uncertainties are driving nations toward unrestrained unilateralism and disregard for international law. As this century began, the United States popularized contemptible practices like the assassination and abduction for questioning under torture of foreign opponents. A lengthening list of other countries – China, north Korea, Russia, and Turkey, to name a few – have now brazenly followed this bad example. More issues are being deferred as intractable, addressed ad hoc, or dealt with through the threat or use of force.
In this new world disorder, the need for diplomacy to tend fraying relationships is manifestly greater than ever. The Congress and public, as well as the U.S. military, sense this. They have resisted efforts by the Trump administration to slash budgets for peaceful international engagement by the U.S. Department of State and related agencies. Still, the American diplomatic imagination has not been so myopic and enervated since before World War II. Nor have U.S. investments in diplomacy, Americans’ expectations of their diplomats, or international trust of the United States been so low.
Diplomatic preparedness requires constant attention to other nations and their views. Showing that one’s government is interested in and understands what others think encourages them to be more receptive to one’s own ideas. Attentiveness to their needs, views, and doubts signals willingness to work together and cultivates willingness to cooperate in defending common interests. The regular nurturing and reaffirmation of relationships is what makes it possible to call on a network of friends in times of need. Responding politely and considerately – in the least offensive way one can – to others’ messages conveys respect as well as substance. It invites their sympathetic study of the logic, intent, and interests behind one’s own messages.
Constant diplomatic intercourse promotes stability and predictability. It inhibits inimical change, reducing the risk that amicable states will become adversaries or that adversaries will become enemies. And it provides situational awareness that reduces surprise and enables governments to respond intelligently and tactfully to trends and events.
All this may seem obvious. But it takes a sustained commitment by national leaders, public servants, and well-trained diplomats as well as reliable funding to carry it off. In the contemporary United States, none of these is now assured. The safety net provided by routine diplomacy as I have just described is increasingly neglected. The resulting disarray in American international relationships is shaking our alliances, eroding cooperation with our international partners, raising doubts about U.S. reliability, causing client states to seek new patrons, and diminishing deference to U.S. national interests by friends and foes alike. Increases in military spending demonstrate eagerness to enhance warfighting capabilities. But greater capacity to wreak havoc does nothing to rectify the doubts of foreign nations about American wisdom, reliability, and rapport in our conduct of relations with them.
U.S. military power is as yet without effective challenge except at the regional level. But, on its own, it is proving consistently incapable of producing outcomes that favor our national security. It is a truism that those who cannot live by their brawn or their wallets must live by their wits. Neither war nor the threat of war can restore America’s lost political primacy. Only an upgrade in American competence at formulating and implementing domestic and foreign policies, coupled with effective diplomacy in support of credible American leadership, can do that.
In recent years, Americans have become better known for our promiscuous use of force and our cynical disregard of international law than for our rectitude and aspirations for moral excellence. U.S. foreign policy has featured unprovoked invasions and armed attacks on foreign countries, violations of their sovereignty through drone warfare and aid to insurgents, assassinations and kidnappings, interrogation through torture, the extrajudicial execution of citizens as well foreigners, universal electronic eavesdropping, Islamophobia, the suspension of aid to refugees, xenophobic immigration policies, and withdrawal from previously agreed frameworks for collective action on issues of global concern, like climate change. This sociopathic record inspires only the enemies of the United States. It is not a platform that wins friends, influences people in our favor, or encourages them to view us as reliable.
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Senior Fellow, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island, 5 April 2018
This is the second of three lectures directed at laying a basis for the development of diplomatic doctrine. It deals with diplomacy as the tactics of foreign relations. The preface to this series and the first lecture in it set out some thoughts on diplomacy as strategy. The third lecture will consider diplomacy as risk management.
In American foreign policy, perpetual warfare, arms races, economic bullying, and derogatory rhetoric seem for the time being to have supplanted diplomacy. This is a profoundly destabilizing approach to foreign relations. Once it has run its course, Americans will need to rediscover, reconstitute, and rebuild diplomatic capacity.
Our objective in doing so should be to train and field diplomats who are as skilled in the profession of persuasion as our military are in the profession of arms. The extent to which we are able to draw on diplomatic doctrine – guidance for the application of judgment to trends, events, and opportunities – will determine the speed and effectiveness with which we can accomplish this. We need to work now on developing such doctrine for application to our foreign policies and practices when that is possible.
Diplomacy is an instrument of statecraft that few Americans have been educated to understand and whose history – even in relation to our own country – most do not know. Diplomacy emphasizes peaceably arranged change, but it is not pacifist. Diplomacy is how power persuades states and peoples to accommodate adjustments in relations they instinctively disfavor. It uses words to portray capabilities and convey intentions in order to shape the calculus of foreign partners and opponents and cause them to make desired changes in their policies and behavior.
Diplomacy is the verbal tactics of foreign relations. It is the alternative to the use of force as well as its prelude, facilitator, and finale. It is both the implementer of policy by measures short of war and the translator of the results of war into durable outcomes.
Americans celebrate our independence on the day of its official declaration, July 4, 1776. Most imagine that we achieved our autonomy then or on October 19, 1781, when we (and the French) defeated the British at Yorktown. But this ahistorical view disregards the essential role of diplomacy in such adjustments of relations. U.S. separation from the British Empire was only secured when the British conceded it. It took John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Thomas Jefferson nearly two years to persuade the British to accept that the necessary consequence of their military defeat was American independence. This became a legal reality only on September 3, 1783, when Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris.
The failure of Americans to recognize the centrality of diplomacy to war termination, including in our own war of independence, is not inconsequential. Recall the ludicrous triumphalism of President George W. Bush after the defeat of the Iraqi Army in 2003, when he stood on an aircraft carrier under a banner, reading “Mission Accomplished.” Subsequent events in Iraq provided a costly reminder that no war is over until the defeated admit defeat and accept its consequences. Such adjustments do not happen automatically. They are achieved through diplomacy or not at all.
The tragic American experience in Iraq was also a reminder that to achieve peace, there must be a leader among the defeated populace with the authority to commit them to it. This is why the United States left the Japanese emperor on his throne after World War II. The failure to consider, let alone address, the question of who might be able to commit Iraqis to cooperation with their foreign occupiers – and what would be required to persuade Iraqis to do so – accounted in no small measure for the anarchy that followed the removal of the Saddam regime in Baghdad.
Diplomatic tactics for war termination are an essential element of any war strategy. But the translation of military triumph into political victory is a task that the American way of war all too often omits. This reflects a history of pursuing the annihilation of enemies, their unconditional surrender, and their political reconstruction through occupation. Disdain for diplomacy that negotiates postwar adjustments in relations, together with “mission creep,” is a major reason that so many American wars spin on without end or abate, only to resume in altered form.
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.