PDF: P02 Diplomacy
Sooner or later, the US will be forced to resolve a contradiction – how can it be “Leader of the Free World” and “World’s Greatest Democracy” but undemocratically deny a “vote” in the agenda to those it is leading. Iraq, more than any event since 1945, has put unilateralism back into everyday debate. But the United Nations was formed to be an alternative to unilateralism.
Britain, had foreign policy mechanisms well in place by the 14th century, but arguably the isolationist US did not start doing serious foreign policy until 1940. This, and other factors, is responsible for the several serious foreign policy mistakes in the last 60 years – backing the “wrong side” for short term political motive to have that decision blow back with a vengeance. Iraq has been a watershed for US diplomacy, causing US credibility in many places to wear very thin, and in some places to add credibility to the anti-US challenge from global Islamic militantism. Can the US be the only one in step?
Diplomacy need not be the zero-sum game. All states act in their own national interest, and often ruthlessly, but the point of diplomacy is to achieve national ends while making as few long-term enemies as possible. It is arguable that the US has not got this highly nuanced game right yet. But it needs to if it is not to find itself in a world less and less able to share its vision — to be not only the tolerated “fat kid in the canoe”* but suddenly to be friendless. Diplomacy nurtures and furthers national interests which are so important that they should transcend administrations. Politics is about tomorrow and the next election; Diplomacy is about the nation’s place in the world a generation from now. *[attributed to Dean Rusk]
Doubtless the US Diplomatic Corps has talents equal to the best in the world but there is a sense in many places that the US is new to “the great game”, and it shows. The negotiations alleged this week between the UK Foreign Office and the Muslim Brotherhood is instructive. As the spiritual parent of most radical Islamic movements in the world today, the Muslim Brotherhood seems an unlikely partner. But, thinking deeply about the roots of Islamic militantism throughout history and today, it is obvious that the only way to a lasting solution is to beard the lion (or one of the lions) in the den and establish a win-win position. Far-sightedness is everything.