Retired Army General John P. Abizaid to be U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

 

On November 13, the White House announced the president’s intent to nominate retired U.S. Army four-star General John P. Abizaid to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The WH released the following brief bio:

John P. Abizaid of Nevada, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
General Abizaid currently serves as the first Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and works as a private consultant at JPA Associates. Previously, he held the Distinguished Chair of the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point.  He has worked with the Preventative Defense Project at Stanford University and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  General Abizaid began his career in the U.S. Army as an infantry platoon leader and rose to become a four-star general and the longest serving commander of United States Central Command.  He served as the Director of Strategic Plans and Policy on the Joint Staff and then Director of the Joint Staff among other leadership positions.  General Abizaid was a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and earned his M.A. in Middle Eastern Area Studies from Harvard University.  He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.  General Abizaid is a recipient of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star.

If confirmed, General Abizaid would succeed Joseph William Westphal (1948–) who was Ambassador to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh from March 28, 2014–January 9, 2017.  Ambassador appointments to Saudi Arabia going back to the mid-1990’s have all been noncareer political appointees. The last career diplomat appointed as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia was Charles W. Freeman Jr. who served from 1990-1992 under George H. W. Bush.

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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

We have been a reader-supported blog since 2014. We want to keep this blog as open as possible and that’s the reason we don’t have a subscription fee. You know best whether our work is of value to you or not. If it is, and if your circumstances allow it, we could use your help to carry on for another year: Help Diplopundit Get to Year 10 ⚡️
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.
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[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?

Posted: 3:11 pm PT
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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 …”

Posted: 1:13 am ET
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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