Remember Statecraft? What Diplomacy Can Do and Why We Need It More Than Ever
With strategic setbacks dwarfing successes and America’s standing in the world diminished, it is no surprise that the Bush foreign policy receives withering criticism. But too often the critiques are as simple-minded and misplaced as the policy itself. We face problems not because the Bush administration is too unilateral, for example. The Bush approach has been more multilateral than most critics admit. Nor do our problems stem excessively from the president’s penchant to think big or to have bold ideas. Nothing is wrong with being ambitious in foreign policy. Every American president since the end of World War II has defined our international purposes in grandiose terms. (Certainly the Marshall Plan was an ambitious effort to rebuild Europe and save democracy there.) Such grand purposes fit our self-image and the belief that we are, in the words of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the “indispensable nation.”
But there is something profoundly wrong when our objectives (for instance, promoting democracy through regime change) are disconnected from the means we possess or can mobilize; when our understanding of the world is askew (as in Iraq) because our assessments are driven by ideology and not by reality; when our purposes are questioned because too often we are seen by others, including allies, as creating more insecurity than security (an example is the Middle East); when we are missing in action in cases where sustained U.S. mediation might ameliorate regional conflicts (Israeli-Palestinian) and improve the perception of America’s intentions in the process; or when our word or our threats count for little with friends and adversaries alike. It is in these areas that the Bush administration so often fails. Statecraft depends on seeing the world as it is, not as one wishes it might be. Good statecraft takes an unacceptable reality and transforms it; identifies the things that are important and frames objectives and purposes in a way that others can accept; employs extensive communication channels to build understanding and to reduce the possibility for misperceptions; and uses all available assets to promote national interests and to counter real and potential threats. Tangible or intangible, our own assets flow from the nation’s economic vitality and wealth, military power, diplomatic wherewithal, advanced technology, informational advantages, organizational talents, the appeal of our culture, and our potential for leverage.