Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr: Diplomacy as Risk Management

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.

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Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr: Diplomacy as Tactics

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.

 

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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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The Middle East in the New World Disorder

By Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)

Not so long ago, Americans thought we understood the Middle East, that region where the African, Asian, and European worlds collide.  When the Ottoman Empire disintegrated in World War I, the area  became a European sphere of influence with imperial British, French, and Italian subdivisions.  The Cold War split it into American and Soviet client states.  Americans categorized countries as with us or against us, democratic or authoritarian, and endowed with oil and gas or not.  We acted accordingly.

In 1991, the Soviet Union defaulted on the Cold War and left the United States the only superpower still standing.  With the disappearance of Soviet power, the Middle East became an exclusively American sphere of influence.  But a series of U.S. policy blunders and regional reactions to them have since helped thrust the region into chaos, while progressively erasing American dominance

In the new world disorder, there are many regional sub-orders.  The Middle East is one of them.  It is entering the final stages of a process of post-imperial, national self-determination that began with Kemal Atatürk’s formation of modern Turkey from the rubble of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.  This process is entrenching the originally Western concept of the nation state in the region.  It led to Gamal Abdel Nasser’s repudiation of British overlordship and overthrow of the monarchy in Egypt in 1952, Ayatollah Khomeini’s rejection of American tutelage and replacement of the Shah with the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, and the misnamed “Arab Spring” in 2011.  Its latest iteration is unfolding in Saudi Arabia.

In the Middle East, as elsewhere, regional rather than global politics now drives events.  The world is reentering a diplomatic environment that would have been familiar to Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, who served nineteenth century Britain as secretary of war, foreign affairs, and prime minister.  In his time, the core skill of statecraft was manipulation of regional balances of power to protect national interests and exercise influence through measures short of war.

Palmerston famously observed that in international relations, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests.  In the new world disorder, with its narcissistic nationalism, shifting alignments, and wobbling partnerships, this sounds right, even if national interests are also visibly evolving to reflect fundamental shifts in their international context.  Palmerston’s aphorism is a reminder that the flexibility and agility implicit in the hedged obligations of entente – limited commitments for limited contingencies – impart advantages that the inertia of alliance – broad obligations of mutual aid – does not.  One way or another, it is in our interest to aggregate the power of others to our own while minimizing the risks to us of doing so.

To cope with the world after the Pax Americana and to put “America first,” we Americans are going to have relearn the classic vocabulary of diplomacy or some new, equally reality-based version of it.  If we do, we will discover that, in the classic sense of the word, we now have no “allies” in the Middle East.  The only country with which we had a de jure alliance based on mutual obligations, Turkey, has de facto departed it.

Today, Ankara and Washington are seriously estranged.  Turkey is no longer aligned with the United States on any of our major diplomatic objectives in the region, which have been: securing Israel, excluding Russian influence; opposing Iran; and sustaining strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.  Americans can no longer count on Turkey to support or acquiesce in our policies toward the Israel-Palestine issue; Syria; Iraq; Iran; Russia; the Caucasus; the Balkans; Greece; Cyprus; Egypt, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries; the members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; NATO; or the EU.

Having been rebuffed by Europe, Turkey has abandoned its two-century-long drive to redefine its identify as European.  It is pursuing an independent, if erratic, course in the former Ottoman space and with Russia and China.  The deterioration in EU and US-Turkish relations represents a very significant weakening of Western influence in the Middle East and adjacent regions.  As the list of countries Turkey affects suggests, this has potentially far-reaching consequences.

Meanwhile, U.S. relations with Iran remain antagonistic.  American policy blunders like the destabilization of Iraq and Syria have facilitated Iran’s establishment of a sphere of influence in the Fertile Crescent.  Our lack of a working relationship with Tehran leaves the United States unable to bring our influence to bear in the region by measures short of war.  U.S. policy is thus all military, all the time.  The White House echoes decisions made in Jerusalem, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi.  It no longer sets its own objectives and marshals others behind them.

For our own reasons, which differ from country to country, Americans have unilaterally taken under our wing a variety of client states, some of which are each other’s historic antagonists.  Our commitments have not changed despite the fact that the regional context of our relationships with our client states and their orientations and activities are all in rapid evolution.  Other than Turkey, the United States has never had a Middle Eastern partner that has seen itself as obliged to come to our aid or, indeed, to do anything at all for us except what might serve  its own immediate, selfish interests.  The obligations all run the other way – from us to them.

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America’s Redefinition as the Foreign Relations Equivalent of a Sociopath

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Posted: 1:55 am ET
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The following is an excerpt from Ambassador Chas W. Freeman‘s lecture on Reimagining Great Power Relations – Part 1.

America has now chosen publicly to redefine itself internationally as the foreign relations equivalent of a sociopath[1] – a country indifferent to the rules, the consequences for others of its ignoring them, and the reliability of its word.  No nation can now comfortably entrust its prosperity or security to Washington, no matter how militarily powerful it perceives America to be.

In the United States, there has been a clear drift toward the view that outcomes, not due process, are the sole criteria of justice.  Procedures – that is, judicial decisions, elections, or actions by legislatures – no longer confer legitimacy.  The growing American impatience with institutions and processes is reflected in the economic nationalism and transactionalism that now guide U.S. policy.  Washington now reserves the right to pick and choose which decisions by international tribunals like the World Trade Organization (WTO) it will follow or ignore.

The idea that previously agreed arrangements can be abandoned or renegotiated at will has succeeded the principle of “pacta sunt servanda” (“agreements must be kept”).   The result is greatly reduced confidence not only in the reliability of American commitments but also in the durability of the international understandings that have constituted the status quo.  In the security arena, this trend is especially pronounced with respect to arms control arrangements.  As an example,, Russia has cited American scofflaw behavior to justify its own delinquencies in Ukraine and with respect to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

When a hegemon fails to pay attention to the opinions of its allies, dependencies, and client states or to show its adversaries that it can be counted upon to play by the rules it insists they follow, it conjures up its own antibodies.  In the absence of empathy, there can be no mutual reliance or collective security.  Without confidence in the reliability of protectors or allies, nations must be ready to defend themselves by themselves at any moment.  If covenants are readily dishonored, the law offers no assurance of safety.  Only credible military deterrence can protect against attack.
[…]
[1]Mental health specialists define a “sociopath” as someone who exhibits a lack of empathy and a disregard for community norms, the rules both written and unwritten that help keep the world safe and fair for all. A sociopath is someone with no conscience who ignores reality to lead an uncaring and selfish life. The sociopath cares only for himself and lacks the ability to treat other people as worthy of consideration.

Read in full here. See Part II Reimagining China and Asia, and Part III Reimagining the Middle East.

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Who will be Secretary of State on Jan. 31, 2017?

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PredictIt is a real money site that tests your knowledge of political and financial events by letting you make and trade predictions on the future.  The website says it is an educational purpose project of Victoria University, Wellington of New Zealand, a not-for-profit university, with support provided by Aristotle International, Inc., a U.S. provider of processing and verification services.  It involves real money so the consequences of being wrong can be bad for your pocket.

One of its current contracts is Who will be Secretary of State on Jan. 31, 2017? Right now the prediction market is favoring career diplomat, William Burns as the next SecState with Wendy Sherman and John Kerry following at second and third place. The other names making the list is Senator Bob Corker, Senator Rob Portman, and Ron Paul.

predictit-secstate

click on image to go to predictit

 

The names above are not the only ones going around these days, take a look:

 

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Yemen: Retired U.S. Diplomats on American-Backed Saudi War in Yemen

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Via The Intercept::

“I don’t think you can restore a government, especially an unpopular one, from the air, and I don’t think the use of force in this matter does anything but create long-term enmity,” said Chas Freeman, who served as the ambassador to Saudi Arabia between 1989 and 1992. He noted that former President Hadi’s unpopularity was partly due to his deep ties to Saudi Arabia and the United States.
[…]
“The humanitarian situation is as bad as it is in Syria,” said Bill Rugh, who was ambassador to Yemen between 1984 and 1987. “The American press hasn’t paid that much attention to it. But it’s been a disaster particularly as a result of the bombing and … the lack of outside humanitarian assistance as a result of the fighting. It’s really been tragic for the Yemeni people. The country’s always been very poor but to have your hospitals and your schools and your civilian population bombed and killed and injured on a large scale has added to their tragedy.”
[…]
“Our participation in the war is only silent in the United States Congress and in Washington, D.C.,” Murphy said at an event on Saudi relations at the Brookings Institute on April 21. “In the region, it’s not silent at all. Yemenis will tell you that this isn’t a Saudi-led bombing campaign, this is a U.S.-Saudi bombing campaign.”

Freeman offered an explanation for the silence on Capitol Hill. “Congress is amazingly responsive to the military-industrial complex, and it’s making a bunch of money by providing munitions, ordinance, as it’s expended,” Freeman said.

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Ambassador Chas Freeman: “NSC staff has evolved to resemble the machinery in a planetarium …”

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Below is an excerpt from The End of the American Empire remarks to East Bay Citizens for Peace, the Barrington Congregational Church, and the American Friends Service Committee by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.), Senior Fellow, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, 2 April 2016, Barrington, Rhode Island:

We went into Afghanistan to take out the perpetrators of 9/11 and punish the Taliban regime that had sheltered them.  We did that, but we’re still there.  Why?  Because we can be?  To promote girls’ education?  Against Islamic government?  To protect the world’s heroin supply?  No one can provide a clear answer.

We went into Iraq to ensure that weapons of mass destruction that did not exist did not fall into the hands of terrorists who did not exist until our arrival created them.  We’re still there.  Why?  Is it to ensure the rule of the Sh`ia majority in Iraq?  To secure Iraq for Iranian influence?  To divide Iraq between Kurds and Sunni and Sh`ia Arabs?  To protect China’s access to Iraqi oil?  To combat the terrorists our presence creates?  Or what?  No one can provide a clear answer

Amidst this inexcusable confusion, our Congress now routinely asks combatant commanders to make policy recommendations independent of those proposed by their civilian commander-in-chief or the secretary of state.  Our generals not only provide such advice; they openly advocate actions in places like Ukraine and the South China Sea that undercut White House guidance while appeasing hawkish congressional opinion.  We must add the erosion of civilian control of the military to the lengthening list of constitutional crises our imperial adventurism is brewing up.  In a land of bewildered civilians, the military offer can-do attitudes and discipline that are comparatively appealing.  But American militarism now has a well-attested record of failure to deliver anything but escalating violence and debt.

This brings me to the sources of civilian incompetence.  As President Obama recently said, there’s a Washington playbook that dictates military action as the first response to international challenges.  This is the game we’ve been playing – and losing – all around the world.  The cause of our misadventures is homemade, not foreign.  And it is structural, not a consequence of the party in power or who’s in the Oval Office.  The evolution of the National Security Council Staff helps understand why.

The National Security Council is a cabinet body established in 1947 as the Cold War began to discuss and coordinate policy as directed by the president.  It originally had no staff or policy role independent of the cabinet.  The modern NSC staff began with President Kennedy.  He wanted a few assistants to help him run a hands-on, activist foreign policy.  So far, so good.  But the staff he created has grown over decades to replace the cabinet as the center of gravity in Washington’s decisions on foreign affairs.  And, as it has evolved, its main task has become to make sure that foreign relations don’t get the president in trouble in Washington.

Kennedy’s initial NSC staff numbered six men, some of whom, like McGeorge Bundy and Walt Rostow, achieved infamy as the authors of the Vietnam War.  Twenty years later, when Ronald Reagan took office, the NSC staff had grown to around 50.   By the time Barack Obama became president in 2009, it numbered about 370, plus another 230 or so people off the books and on temporary duty, for a total of around 600.  The bloat has not abated.  If anyone knows how many men and women now man the NSC, he or she is not talking.  The NSC staff, like the department of defense, has never been audited.

What was once a personal staff for the president has long since become an independent agency whose official and temporary employees duplicate the subject expertise of executive branch departments.  This relieves the president of the need to draw on the insights, resources, and checks and balances of the government as a whole, while enabling the centralization of power in the White House.  The NSC staff has achieved critical mass.  It has become a bureaucracy whose officers look mainly to each other for affirmation, not to the civil, military, foreign, or intelligence services..  Their focus is on protecting or enhancing the president’s domestic political reputation by trimming foreign policy to the parameters of the Washington bubble.  Results abroad are important mainly to the extent they serve this objective.

From the National Security Adviser on down, NSC staff members are not confirmed by the Senate.  They are immune from congressional or public oversight on grounds of executive privilege.  Recent cabinet secretaries – especially secretaries of defense – have consistently complained that NSC staffers no longer coordinate and monitor policy formulation and implementation but seek to direct policy and to carry out diplomatic and military policy functions on their own.  This leaves the cabinet departments to clean up after them as well as cover for them in congressional testimony.  Remember Oliver North, the Iran-Contra fiasco, and the key-shaped cake?  That episode suggested that the Keystone Cops might have seized control of our foreign policy.  That was a glimpse of a future that has now arrived.

Size and numbers matter.  Among other things, they foster overspecialization.  This creates what the Chinese call the 井底之蛙 [“jĭng dĭ zhī wā”] phenomenon – the narrow vision of a frog at the bottom of  a well.  The frog looks up and sees a tiny circle of light that it imagines is the entire universe outside its habitat.  With so many people now on the NSC staff, there are now a hundred frogs in a hundred wells, each evaluating what is happening in the world by the little bit of reality it perceives.  There is no effective process that synergizes a comprehensive appreciation of trends, events, and their causes from these fragmentary views.

This decision-making structure makes strategic reasoning next to impossible. It all but guarantees that the response to any stimulus will be narrowly tactical.  It focuses the government on the buzz du jour in Washington, not what is important to the long-term wellbeing of the United States. And it makes its decisions mainly by reference to their impact at home, not abroad.  Not incidentally, this system also removes foreign policy from the congressional oversight that the Constitution prescribes.  As such, it adds to the rancor in relations between the executive and legislative branches of the federal establishment.

In many ways too, the NSC staff  has evolved to resemble the machinery in a planetarium.  It turns this way and that and, to those within its ambit, the heavens appear to turn with it.  But this is an apparatus that projects illusions.  Inside its event horizon, everything is comfortingly predictable.  Outside – who knows? – there may be a hurricane brewing.  This is a system that creates and implements foreign policies suited to Washington narratives but detached from external realities, often to the point of delusion, as America’s misadventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria illustrate.  And the system never admits mistakes.  To do so would be a political gaffe, even if it might be a learning experience.

Read in full here.

Well, that’s not all.  On April 14, WaPo’s David Ignatius has the following Robert Gates’ nugget:

Gates criticized the current National Security Council’s implementation of policy, arguing that “micromanagement” by a very large NSC staff undercut Obama’s efforts to use power against the Islamic State and contain China in the South China Sea. “It becomes so incremental that the message is lost. It makes them look reluctant,” he said.

Gates’s criticism of the NSC is noteworthy because he served as deputy to national security adviser Brent Scowcroft in President George H.W. Bush’s NSC, which Obama has cited as a model for how policy should be managed. By that standard, Gates implied, the current NSC team, led by Susan Rice, needs to lift its game.

And then here’s the following extracted from Brett D. Schaefer‘s How to Make the State Department More Effective at Implementing U.S. Foreign Policy (backgrounder via heritage.org, April 20, 2016):

…To increase their direct control over foreign policy and their perceived capacity to deal with fast-evolving crises, modern Presidents have also increasingly empowered and expanded the size of the National Security Council (NSC).

The original NSC, established in 1947, comprised only a handful of key advisers to the President. It grew slowly at first. Total NSC staff did not exceed 20 until the 1970s, or 60 until the mid-1990s.[10] The size of the NSC spiked in the late 1990s and stabilized at roughly 100 staff in the post-9/11 period. NSC growth resumed in the latter part of the George W. Bush Administration, and this trend has accelerated under President Barack Obama. Currently, the NSC staff is estimated to be over 400 people, more than twice the number at the end of the Bush Administration.[11] This growth has been a direct result of the President relying more on the NSC to devise and implement his foreign policy than on the Department of State.

The expanding responsibilities of the NSC can undermine several of its critical functions: serving as an honest broker of differing perspectives and equities among the various parts of the executive branch, managing the President’s scarce time to focus on the most important issues, and providing medium-term and long-term strategic thinking and perspective to the President. The Hart–Rudman Commission noted this problem 15 years ago: “The power to determine national security policy has migrated toward the National Security Council (NSC) staff. The staff now assumes policymaking and operational roles, with the result that its ability to act as an honest broker and policy coordinator has suffered.”[12 ]While not new, this problem has grown since then. As explained by former Assistant Secretary of State and current Heritage Foundation fellow Kim Holmes,

The 24-hour news cycle has thrust many issues, no matter how trivial, into the limelight, making them the President’s responsibility. The news media expect every tactical detail, from the timing of a raid on a terrorist bunker to the targets of drone attacks, to be known and controlled by the President. As a result, the NSC staff gets overly involved not only in the minutiae of operations, but also in politics. It begins to operate more as a personal White House staff than as an advisory and policy coordination staff, sometimes even to the point of acting like a Praetorian Guard for the President’s political fortunes, which is particularly inappropriate given that many people on the staff are career civil servants from national security agencies rather than political appointees. The results are quite often disastrous.[13]

 

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Ambassador Chas Freeman on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences

Posted: 3:02 am EDT
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Ambassador Chas Freeman did a speech on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences at Foggy Bottom’s Ralph Bunche Library earlier this month. He also recently spoke about America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East.  We need more people like Ambassador Freeman telling it like it is; unfortunately that often puts people like him in the outs with people who do not want to hear what needs to be said. More often than not, the top ranks have large rooms for obedient groupies and not much room for anyone else.

Below is an excerpt from his diplomatic amateurism speech:

In other countries, diplomacy is a prestigious career in which one spends a lifetime, culminating in senior positions commensurate with one’s talents as one has demonstrated them over the years.  But, in the United States, these days more than ever, the upper reaches of diplomacy are reserved for wealthy dilettantes and celebrities with no prior experience in the conduct of relations with foreign states and peoples, national security policy, or the limitations of the use of force.  Policy positions in our government dealing with such issues are now largely staffed by individuals selected for their interest-group affiliation, identity, or sizable campaign contributions.  These diplomatic neophytes are appointed for the good of the political party with which they are affiliated and to reward their loyal service during political campaigns, not for their ability to do the jobs they are given.  It is assumed that they can learn on the job, then move on after a while to give others a chance at government employment.  But whatever they learn, they take with them when they leave, adding nothing to the diplomatic capacity of our government.

If you tried to staff and run a business or a sports team like this, you’d get creamed by the competition.  If you organized our armed forces this way, you’d be courting certain defeat.  You can judge for yourself how staffing and running a foreign policy establishment through the spoils system is working out for our country now that our margin for error has been reduced by “the rise of the rest” since the end of the Cold War.  Staffing national security policy positions and ambassadorships with people whose ambition greatly outstrips their knowledge and experience is a bit like putting teenagers in charge of risk management while entrusting lifeguard positions to people with no proven ability to swim.  Hit and run statecraft and diplomacy were never wise, but they didn’t matter much when America was isolated from the world or so powerful that it could succeed without really trying.  Neither is the case anymore

The United States is now the only great power not to have professionalized our diplomatic service.  As the trove of diplomatic reporting spewed out by WikiLeaks shows, our career people remain very bright and able. But their supervisors are less prepared to carry out their duties than their counterparts in the diplomatic services of other great and lesser powers.  One of the 20th century’s greatest diplomats, Abba Eban put it this way

“The word ‘ambassador’ would normally have a professional connotation but for the American tradition of ‘political appointees.’ The bizarre notion that any citizen, especially if he is rich, is fit for the representation of his country abroad has taken some hard blows through empirical evidence, but it has not been discarded, nor should the idea of diluting a rigid professionalism with manpower from less detached sectors of society be dismissed out of hand. Nevertheless, when the strongest nation in the world appoints a tycoon or a wealthy hostess to head an embassy, the discredit and frustration is spread throughout the entire diplomatic corps in the country concerned.”

That was in 1983. Quite a bit before that, about 130 years before that, demonstrating that this is indeed a lengthy American tradition, the New York Herald Tribune observed, “Diplomacy is the sewer through which flows the scum and refuse of the political puddle. A man not fit to stay at home is just the man to send abroad.”

These American observations, or observations about American diplomacy, contrast quite strikingly with the views expressed by the classic writer on diplomatic practice, François de Callières. Writing now almost exactly three centuries ago, in 1716, he said:

“Diplomacy is a profession by itself, which deserves the same preparation and assiduity of attention that men give to other recognized professions. The qualities of the diplomatist and the knowledge necessary to him cannot indeed all be acquired. The diplomatic genius is born, not made. But there are many qualities which may be developed with practice, and the greater part of the necessary knowledge can only be acquired by constant application to the subject.

“In this sense, diplomacy is certainly a profession, itself capable of occupying a man’s whole career, and those who think to embark upon a diplomatic mission as a pleasant diversion from their common task only prepare disappointment for themselves and disaster for the cause that they serve. The veriest fool would not entrust the command of an army to a man whose sole badge of merit was his eloquence in a court of law or his adroit practice of the courtier’s art in the palace. All are agreed that military command must be earned by long service in the army. In the same manner, it must be regarded as folly to entrust the conduct of negotiations to an untrained amateur.”

There is indeed every reason for diplomacy to be a learned profession in the United States, like the law, medicine, or the military.  But it isn’t.  When top positions are reserved for people who have not come up through the ranks, it’s difficult to sustain diplomacy as a career, let alone establish and nurture it as a profession.  Professions are human memory banks.  They are composed of individuals who profess a unique combination of specialized knowledge, experience, and technique.  They distill their expertise into doctrine – constantly refreshed – based on what their experience has taught them about what works and what doesn’t.  Their skills are inculcated through case studies, periodic training, and on-the-job mentoring.  This professional knowledge is constantly improved by the critical introspection inherent in after-action reviews.

In the course of one’s time as a foreign service officer, one acquires languages and a hodgepodge of other skills relevant to the conduct of foreign relations.  If one is inclined to reflect on one’s experience, one begins to understand the principles that undergird effective diplomacy, that is the arts of persuading others to do things our way, and to get steadily better at practicing these arts.  But, in the U.S. foreign service, by contrast with – let’s say – the military, there is no systematic professional development process, no education in grand strategy or history, no training in tactics or operational technique derived from experience, no habit of reviewing successes and failures to improve future performance, no literature devoted to the development of operational doctrine and technique, and no real program or commitment to the mentoring of new entrants to the career.  If one’s lucky, one is called to participate in the making of history.  If one is not, there is yet a great deal to learn from the success or failure of the diplomatic tasks to which one is assigned.

As an aside, I also don’t believe that, as an institution, the Department of State now understands the difference between bureaucrats and professionals.  (I’m not sure it ever did.)   Both have their place in foreign affairs but the two are quite different.  Bureaucrats are trained to assure uniform decisions and predictable outcomes through the consistent interpretation and application of laws, regulations, and administrative procedures.  Professionals, by contrast, are educated to exercise individual, ad hoc judgments, take actions, and seek outcomes autonomously on the basis of principles and canons of behavior derived from experience.  They are expected to be creative, not consistent, in their approach to the matters in their charge.

[…]

There is an obvious alternative to this bleak scenario.  That is that the secretary of state – this secretary of state, who is the son of a foreign service office and who has personally demonstrated the power of diplomacy to solve problems bequeathed to him by his predecessors – will recognize the need for the U.S. diplomatic service to match our military in professionalism and seek to make this his legacy.  In the end, this would demand enlisting the support of Congress but much could be done internally.

Read in full here:  http://chasfreeman.net/diplomatic-amateurism-and-its-consequences/

AFSA’s media digest failed to include Ambassador Freeman’s event in its daily digest for members. But AFSA members got a nice treat with the inclusion of Taylor Swift: America’s Best Public Diplomat? as reading fare.

 

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Related posts:

Too Quick on the Draw: Militarism and the Malpractice of Diplomacy in America

Lessons from America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East

 

Amb. Chas W. Freeman, Jr: Militarism and the Malpractice of Diplomacy in America

Posted: 2:19 am  EDT
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What if every four or so years, you administered a frontal lobotomy to yourself, excising your memories and making it impossible to learn from experience?
– Chas W. Freeman, Jr.

Ambassador Chas Freeman is a career diplomat (retired) who served as U. S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm). He was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the historic U.S. mediation of Namibian independence from South Africa and Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola.  Ambassador Freeman worked as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires in the American embassies at both Bangkok (1984-1986) and Beijing (1981-1984) and was Director for Chinese Affairs at the U.S. Department of State from 1979-1981. He was the principal American interpreter during the late President Nixon’s path-breaking visit to China in 1972.  He is the author of Interesting Times: China, America, and the Shifting Balance of Prestige,at Just World BooksAmerica’s Misadventures in the Middle East,at Just World BooksArts of Power: Statecraft and Diplomacy, at US Institute of Peace bookstore and The Diplomat’s Dictionary, at US Institute of Peace bookstore. We have previously blogged about him here, here, here, and here.

The following piece is the speech he delivered at the Academy of Philosophy and Letters on June 13, 2015.

Too Quick on the Draw: Militarism and the Malpractice of Diplomacy in America

by Chas W. Freeman, Jr.

The late Arthur Goldberg, who served on our Supreme Court and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, once said that “diplomats approach every question with an open . . . mouth.”  No doubt that’s often true at the U.N., where parliamentary posturing and its evil twin, declaratory diplomacy, rule.  But the essence of diplomacy is not talking but seeking common ground by listening carefully and with an open mind to what others don’t say as well as what they do, and then acting accordingly.

Diplomacy is how a nation advances its interests and resolves problems with foreigners with minimal violence.  It is the nonbelligerent champion of domestic tranquility and prosperity.  It promotes mutually acceptable varieties of modus vivendi between differing perspectives and cultures.

Diplomacy is the translation of national strategy into tactics to gain political, economic, and military advantages without the use of force.  It is the outermost sentry and guardian of national defense.  Its lapse or failure can bring war and all its pains to a nation.

But diplomacy is not just an alternative to war.  It does not end when war begins.  And when war proves necessary to adjust relations with other states or peoples, it is diplomacy that must translate the outcome of the fighting into agreed adjustments in relationships, crafting a better peace that reconciles the vanquished to their defeat and stabilizes a new status quo.  By any measure, therefore, excellence in diplomacy is vitally important to the power, wealth, and well-being of the nation.

At its deepest level, diplomacy is a subtle strategic activity.  It is about rearranging circumstances, perceptions, and the parameters of international problems so as to realign the self-interest of other nations with one’s own in ways that cause them to see that it is in their interest to do what one wants them to do, and that it’s possible for them to do it without appearing to capitulate to any foreign power or interest.  Diplomacy is about getting others to play our game.

Judging by results in the complex post-Cold War environment, diplomacy is something the United States does not now understand or know how to do.  I want to speak with you today about some of the beliefs and practices that account for America’s bungling of foreign policy in recent years.  I will end by offering a few thoughts about how we might do better.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union liberated Americans from our fear of nuclear Armageddon, the foreign policy of the United States has come to rely almost exclusively on economic sanctions, military deterrence, and the use of force.  Such measures are far from the only arrows in the traditional quiver of statecraft.  Yet Americans no longer aim at leadership by example or polite persuasion backed by national prestige, patronage, institution building, or incentives for desirable behavior.  In Washington, the threat to use force has become the first rather than the last resort in foreign policy. We Americans have embraced coercive measures as our default means of influencing other nations, whether they be allies, friends, adversaries, or enemies.

For most in our political elite, the overwhelming military and economic leverage of the United States justifies abandoning the effort to persuade rather than muscle recalcitrant foreigners into line.  We habitually respond to challenges of every kind with military posturing rather than with diplomatic initiatives directed at solving the problems that generate these challenges.  This approach has made us less – not more – secure, while burdening future generations of Americans with ruinous debt.  It has unsettled our allies without deterring our adversaries.  It has destabilized entire regions, multiplied our enemies, and estranged us from our friends.

South America no longer defers to us.  Russia is again hostile.  Europe questions our judgment, is audibly disturbed by our belligerence, and is distancing itself from our leadership.  A disintegrating Middle East seethes with vengeful contempt for the United States.  Africa ignores us.  Our lust for India remains unrequited.  China has come to see us as implacably hostile to its rise and is focused on countering our perceived efforts to hem it in.  Japan is reviewing its inner samurai.  Some say all these adversities are upon us because we are not sufficiently brutal in our approach to foreign affairs and that, to be taken seriously or to be effective, we must bomb, strafe, or use drones to assassinate those with whom we disagree and let the collateral damage fall where it may.  But what we have actually proved is that, if you are sufficiently indifferent to the interests of others and throw your weight around enough, you can turn off practically everybody.

Outside our own country, American military prowess and willingness to administer shock and awe to foreign societies are nowhere in doubt.  In Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other places, Americans have provided ample evidence of our politico-military obduracy and willingness to inflict huge casualties on foreigners we judge oppose us.  As a nation, we nonetheless seem to doubt our own prowess and to be obsessed with proving it to ourselves and others.  But there is no credibility gap about American toughness to be remedied.  That is not the issue.  The issue is whether our policies are wise and whether military campaign plans dressed up in domestically appealing rhetoric equate to strategies that can yield a world more congruent with our interests and values.

In recent years, the United States has killed untold multitudes in wars and counterterrorist drone warfare in West Asia and North Africa.  Our campaigns have spilled the blood, broken the bodies, and taken or blighted the lives of many in our armed forces, while weakening our economy by diverting necessary investment from it.  These demonstrations of American power and determination have inflicted vast amounts of pain and suffering on foreign peoples.  They have not bent our opponents to our will.  Far from yielding greater security for us or our allies, our interventions – whether on the ground or from the air — have multiplied our enemies, intensified their hatred for us, and escalated the threat to both our homeland and our citizens and friends abroad.

It is a measure of the extent to which we now see the world through military eyes that the response of much of America’s political elite to the repeated failure of the use of force to yield desired results has been to assert that we would have succeeded if only we had been more gung ho and to argue for the use of even greater force.  But what we have been doing with our armed forces has not halted dynamic change in the global and regional distribution of economic, military, and political power.  There is no reason to believe that greater belligerence could yield a better result.  Most Americans sense this and are skeptical both about the neoconservative agendas the military-industrial-congressional complex seeks to impose on our nation and the wisdom of staking our future on the preservation of a rapidly crumbling post-Cold War status quo.

Every nation’s political culture is a product of its historical experience.  The American way in national security policy, like that of other countries, is steered by unexamined preconceptions drawn from the peculiarities of our history.  In the aggregate, these convictions constitute a subliminal doctrine with the authority of dogma.  Legions of academics now make a living by exploring applications of this dogma for the United States Department of Defense.  They have produced an intellectual superstructure for the military-industrial complex in the form of an almost infinite variety of ruminations on coercion.  (No one looks to the Department of State for support for research on less overbearing approaches to international relations.  It has neither money nor a desire to vindicate its core functions by sponsoring the development of diplomatic doctrine.)

Americans are right to consider our nation exceptional.  Among other things, our experience with armed conflict and our appreciation of the relationship between the use of force and diplomacy are unique – some might say “anomalous.”  So, therefore, are our approaches to war, peace, and foreign relations.

War is the ultimate argument in relations between states and peoples.  Its purpose is sometimes the conquest and subjugation of populations.  More commonly, however, war is a means to remove perceived threats, repel aggression, restore a balance of power, compel acquiescence in a shift in borders, or alter the bad behavior of an adversary. Since war is not over until the defeated accept defeat and accommodate their new circumstances, other people’s wars usually end  in negotiations directed at translating military outcomes into mutually agreed political arrangements that will establish a  stable new order of affairs.  Not so the wars of the United States.

In our civil war, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, the U.S. objective was not adjustments in relations with the enemy but “unconditional surrender,” that is a peace imposed on the defeated nation without its assent and entailing its subsequent moral, political, and economic reconstruction.  The smaller wars of the 20th century did not replace this idiosyncratic American rejection of models of warfare linked to limited objectives.  We fought to a draw in Korea, where to this day we have not translated the 1953 armistice into peace.  We were bested in Vietnam.  In Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, and Iraq in 2003, we imposed regime change on the defeated, not terms for war termination and peace.

So Americans have no recent experience of ending wars through negotiation with those we have vanquished, as has been the norm throughout human history.  Our national narrative inclines us to equate success in war with smashing up enemies enough to ensure that we can safely deny them the dignity of taking them seriously or enlisting them in building a peace.   Our wars are typically planned as military campaigns with purely military objectives, with little, if any, thought to what adjustments in foreign relations the end of the fighting might facilitate or how to exploit the political opportunities our use of force can provide.  As a rule, we do not specify war aims or plan for negotiations to obtain a defeated enemy’s acceptance of our terms for ending the fighting.

The absence of clearly stated war aims for U.S. combat operations makes it easy for our politicians to move the goal posts.  Our wars therefore almost invariably entail mission creep.  Our armed forces find themselves in pursuit of a fluid set of objectives that never solidifies. With victory undefined, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines cannot say when they have accomplished their missions enough to stand down.

Our habit of failing to define specific political objectives for our military also means that, in our case, war is less “an extension of politics by other means” (as Clausewitz prescribed) than a brutally direct way of punishing our foes linked to no clear conception of how they might take aboard the lessons we imagine they should draw from the drubbing we give them.  Our chronic inattention to the terms of war termination means that U.S. triumphs on the battlefield are seldom, if ever, translated into terms that reward military victory with a stable peace.

The U.S. armed forces are highly professional and admirably effective at demolishing our enemies’ power.  But their expectation that civilian policymakers will then make something of the political vulnerabilities they create is almost always disappointed.  The relevant civilian policymakers are almost all inexperienced amateurs placed in office by the spoils system.  Their inexperience, the theories of coercive diplomacy they studied at university, the traditional disengagement of American diplomats from military operations, and our now heavily militarized political culture converge to assure that American diplomacy is missing in action when it is most needed – as the fighting ends.

Thus, our military triumph in the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait was never translated into terms to which Saddam Hussein or his regime were asked to pledge their honor.  Instead, we looked to the United Nations one-sidedly to pass an omnibus resolution imposing onerous restrictions on Iraqi sovereignty, including inspections, reparations, and the demilitarization of portions of Iraq’s territory.  Saddam assumed no explicit obligation to comply with these dictates.  To the extent he could get away with ignoring them, he did.  The war never really ended.  In our 2003 re-invasion of Iraq, U.S. planners assumed apolitically that military victory would automatically bring peace. No competent Iraqi authority was left in place to accept terms and maintain stability.  Subliminal doctrine instead prevailed.  The U.S. government devised no mechanism to translate its success on the battlefield into a legitimate new order and peace in Iraq.

In Iraq, we were guided by the historically induced, peculiarly American presumption that war naturally culminates in the unconditional surrender and moral reconstruction of the enemy.  The Department of State was excluded from all planning.  The notion that a political process might be required for war termination on terms that could reconcile the enemy to its defeat never occurred to the White House or DOD.  Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya offer different but analogous examples of Washington’s blindness or indifference to the utility of diplomacy in translating battlefield results into political results.  As a result, our military interventions have nowhere produced a better peace.  We Americans do not know how to conclude our wars.

American confusion about the relationship between the use of force and political order-setting extends to our approach to situations that have the potential to explode in war but have not yet done so.  Our country learned how to behave as a world power during the four-decade-long bipolar stalemate of the Cold War.  The Cold War’s strategy of containment made holding the line against our Soviet rivals the central task of U.S. diplomacy.  Americans came to view negotiated adjustments in relations as part of a great zero-sum game and as therefore, for the most part, infeasible or undesirable, or both.  After all, a misstep could trigger a nuclear war fatal to both sides.

The Cold War reduced diplomacy to the political equivalent of trench warfare, in which the absence of adjustments in position rather than advantageous maneuvering constituted success.  It taught Americans to deter conflict by threatening escalation that might lead to a mutually fatal nuclear exchange.  It conditioned us to believe that it is often wiser to stonewall – to freeze a situation so as to contain potential conflict –  than to waste time and effort exploring ways of mitigating or eliminating it.

We Americans have yet to unlearn the now largely irrelevant lessons of the Cold War.  We still respond to adverse developments with threats of escalating pressure calculated to immobilize the other side rather than with diplomatic efforts to resolve the issues that motivate it.  We impose sanctions to symbolize our displeasure and to enable our politicians to appear to be doing something tough, even if it is inherently feckless.  Sometimes we decline to speak with our adversary on the issue in question until it has agreed to end the behavior to which we object.  But, almost invariably, the core of our response is the issuance of deterrent military threats.

The ostensible purpose of sanctions is to coerce the targeted country into submission.  But, once imposed, sanctions invariably become ends in themselves.  Their success is then measured not by how they modify or fail to modify the behavior of their targets but by the degree of pain and deprivation they are seen to inflict.  There is no recorded instance in which the threat or actual imposition of sanctions not linked to negotiations about a “yes-able” proposition has induced cooperation.  Sanctions do not build bridges or foster attitudes that facilitate concessions.  They harden and entrench differences.

And, in many ways, sanctions backfire.  They impose the equivalent of a protectionist wall against imports on the target nation.  This often stimulates a drive for self-sufficiency and induces artificial prosperity in some sectors of its economy.  Sanctions hurt some U.S. domestic interest groups and benefit others.  Those who benefit develop a vested interest in perpetuating sanctions, making them hard to use as a bargaining chip.

Perversely, sanctions also tend to boost the political authority of the leaders of the countries they target.  They place decisions about the distribution of rationed goods and services in these leaders’ hands.  To the extent that sanctions immiserate populations, they unite nationalist opposition to the foreigners imposing them.  As the examples of north Korea, Mao’s China, and Cuba attest, sanctions prolong the half-life of regimes that might otherwise fall from power as a result of patriotic resistance to their misrule.  Eventually, as we now see with Cuba (and China before it), sanctions have the ironic effect of transforming the places we have walled off into exotic tourist destinations for Americans.

The pernicious effects of sanctions are magnified by the American habit of combining them with diplomatic ostracism.  Refusal to talk is a tactic that can gain time for active improvement of one’s bargaining position.  But meeting with another party is not a favor to it.  Insisting on substantive concessions as the price for a meeting is self-defeating.  Diplomatic contact is not a concession to an adversary but a means of gaining intelligence about its thinking and intentions, understanding and seeking to reshape how it sees its interests, looking for openings in its policy positions that can be exploited, conveying accurate messages and explanations of one’s own reasoning, manipulating its appreciation of its circumstances, and facilitating concessions by it.

Efforts at deterrence invite counterescalation by their target.  Controlling this risk necessitates reassuring one’s adversary about the limits of one’s objectives.  Reassurance requires accurate messaging.  That cannot be assured without direct communication with the other side.  This underscores the importance of the diplomatic relations and contacts we sometimes unwisely suspend.  It is a sound rule that one should never lose contact with an enemy on either the battlefield or in the diplomatic arena.

Our frequent violation of this rule is a special problem for our practice of deterrence, now virtually the only technique of statecraft in our kit other than sanctions and military assault.  To avert perceived challenges to our interests or those of the nations we have undertaken to protect, we declare that attempts by another country to seek unilateral advantage will invoke retaliation to  impose unacceptable levels of loss.  The penalties we promise can be political and economic.  But, in the case of the contemporary United States, they are almost invariably military.

Deterrence substitutes military confrontation designed to freeze risk for diplomacy directed at eliminating its underlying causes.  It sets off a test of will between the two sides’ armed forces as each considers how best to demonstrate its resolve while causing the other to back down.  Deterrence can, of course, be the starting point for a diplomatic effort to resolve conflicts of interest.  But, if deterrence is not paired with diplomacy, such conflicts are likely to fester or intensify.  Then, too, with the end of the Cold War, the danger of escalation to the nuclear level has lessened.  The threats of escalation inherent in deterrence are now less intimidating and more likely to face challenge.

In our attempts to limit uncertainty through deterrence alone, without diplomatic efforts to resolve the underlying crises that generate the uncertainty, Americans preserve the status quo, even when it is disadvantageous or evolving to our disadvantage.  But by assuming that the immensity of our power makes deterrence in itself an adequate response to threats to our interests as we see them, we inadvertently perpetuate the danger of armed conflict, store up trouble for the future, and give potential adversaries time to increase their power relative to ours.  This is the approach we are currently applying to China in the East and South China Seas and to Russia on its western borders.  It is no more likely to succeed now than on the multiple occasions in the past in which it failed.  The same is true of our latest attempt to apply military technical solutions to the political problems of a disintegrated Iraq.

This brings me to the question of whether and how we can learn from our mistakes.  George Santayana famously warned that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  He was right.

But what if every four or so years, you administered a frontal lobotomy to yourself, excising your memories and making it impossible to learn from experience?  What if most aspects of your job were always new to you?  What if you didn’t know whether something you propose to do has been tried before and, if so, whether it succeeded or failed?  To one degree or another, this is what is entailed in staffing the national security functions of our government (other than those assigned to our military) with short-term political appointees selected to reward not their knowledge, experience, or skill but campaign contributions, political sycophancy, affiliation with domestic interest groups, academic achievements, success in fields unrelated to diplomacy, or social prominence.

Alone among major powers, the United States has not professionalized its diplomacy.  Professions are composed of individuals who profess a unique combination of specialized knowledge, experience, and technique.  Their expertise reflects the distillation into doctrine – constantly refreshed – of what can be learned from experience.  Their skills are inculcated through case studies, periodic training, and on-the-job mentoring.  They are constantly improved by the critical introspection inherent in after-action reviews.

By contrast, Americans appear to believe that the formulation and conduct of foreign relations are best entrusted to self-promoting amateurs, ideologues, and dilettantes unburdened by apprenticeship, training, or prior experience.  The lower ranks of our diplomatic service are highly regarded abroad for their intellectual competence and cross-cultural communication skills.  With some notable exceptions, our ambassadors and the senior officials atop the Washington foreign affairs bureaucracies are not similarly admired.  The contrast with the superbly professional leadership of the U.S. armed forces could not be greater.  It should surprise no one that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines often wait in vain for guidance and support from the civilian side of the U.S. government’s national security establishment.  Current trends suggest they may have to wait a long time for their civilian counterparts to shape up.

The post-Cold War period has seen major expansion in the numbers of political appointees and their placement in ever lower foreign policy positions along with huge bloat in the National Security Council staff.  This has progressively deprofessionalized U.S. diplomacy from the top down in both Washington and the field, while thinning out the American diplomatic bench.  Increasingly, the U.S. military is being thrust into diplomatic roles it is not trained or equipped to handle, further militarizing U.S. foreign relations.

In the absence of major curtailment of the spoils system, the prospects for improved U.S. diplomatic performance are poor.  Amateur ambassadors and senior officials cannot provide professional mentoring, yet the United States invests little in training its career personnel in either the lore or core skills of diplomacy.  No case studies of diplomatic advocacy, negotiation, reporting and analysis, or protection of overseas Americans have been compiled.  There is no professional framework for after-action reviews in American diplomacy and they seldom occur.  (To the extent examining what went right or wrong and why might reflect adversely on ambitious political appointees or the administration itself, it is actually discouraged.)  This ensures that nothing is learned from experience even if there were career diplomats in senior positions to learn it.

Diplomacy, as such, is not part of civic education in the United States.  A large percentage of our political elite has no idea what diplomats do, can do, or ought to do.  Not for nothing is it said that if you speak three or more languages, you are multilingual.  If you speak two languages, you are bilingual.  If you speak only one language, you are American.  And if you speak only one language, have never studied geography, and do not have a passport, you are probably a member of Congress.

It is also said that, if we can’t get our act together at home, there is little reason to hope that we will get it together abroad.  But we cannot afford not to.  We are entering an era of strategic fluidity in which there are no fixed lines for Cold War-style diplomacy to defend, there is declining deference to our leadership, and there are ever more challenges that cannot be solved by military means.  We need to raise the level of our international game.

It is time to rediscover the deep diplomacy that creates circumstances in which others become inclined out of self-interest to make choices and do things that serve our interests and that advance those interests without war.  It is time to rediscover non-coercive instruments of statecraft that can persuade others that they can benefit by working with us rather than against us.  It is time to exempt the foreign affairs elements of our national security policy apparatus from the venality and incompetence that the spoils system has come to exemplify.  It is time to staff our diplomacy, as we have staffed our military, with well-trained professionals and to demand from them the best they can give to their country.   Our country.

The original material is located at http://chasfreeman.net/too-quick-on-the-draw-militarism-and-the-malpractice-of-diplomacy-in-america/. Republished here with Ambassador Freeman’s permission.

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