NEW YORK – The wicked 19th century American cynic Ambrose Bierce defined diplomacy in his “Devil’s Dictionary” as “the patriotic art of lying for one’s country.”
True enough. But diplomacy is also the fine art of getting one’s way without war, and convincing people that it’s in their interest to do what you want them to do.
I have high regard for the arts of diplomacy. They are a hallmark of civilized behavior. Four decades ago, I almost joined the US diplomatic service but decided against it, fearing my big mouth would land me in hot water.
As an almost diplomat and veteran foreign affairs commentator, I’ve been watching Republicans go after the Obama administration’s UN ambassador, Susan Rice. They are trying to somehow pin the death of the US ambassador to Libya last September on Rice, who had originally claimed the attack that killed him was caused by mob violence over an anti-Muslim hate video rather than a “terrorist” attack.
Now that Rice is rumored to be in line to replace Hillary Clinton as US Secretary of State, this ugly spat has become even more important. It throws a spotlight on America’s stunning lack of diplomacy.
Rice is no diplomat. She has served as an attack dog at the UN Security Council for the Obama administration, showing particular vitriol for Arabs and Muslims. Rice is a neoconservative. If she’s a diplomat, I’m Kublai Khan.
During this week’s UN General Assembly session that finally granted 6 million Palestinians observer status, Rice was scathing and sneering at the Palestinians. She was joined by Canada, whose new right wing government is having a love affairs with Israel’s Likud Party.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been a poor Secretary of State, a traveling enforcer for the White House rather than a diplomat. She got the job as a consolation prize for losing the presidential nomination. Her tenure in office has done nothing to advance America’s cause.
Now, the White House wants to replace her with the even less competent Rice.
Since 2001, the most important part of America’s relations with other nations has been run by the Pentagon, not the State Department. The White House and CIA have taken away other responsibilities from State.
America’s foreign policy has become over-militarized. In fact, the US military establishment has assumed the primary role in many parts of the world – notably the Mideast, South Asia, and, increasingly, Africa and the north Pacific.
The globe is divided into six US military commands. The US Central Command – CENTCOM – watches over the entire Mideast and South Asia and runs wars in Afghanistan and Yemen. The oldest command, PACOM, watches over the entire Pacific region and mainland South Asia. SOUTHCOM over Latin America, EUCOM over Europe and Russia, and Northcom over North America.
These commands liase with senior military officers of nations in their various regions. But since the military dominates many nations of Africa and Asia, the US general in charge of the regional command is almost always more important locally than the US ambassador.
Washington’s most important relations with most Latin American, Mideast, and African regimes are operated through military channels. For example, until recently, South Korea’s powerful armed forces were actually under command of a US general. The armed forces of Turkey and Egypt were joined at the hip to the Pentagon. Japan often behaves like a country under foreign military occupation.
The advent of the so-called “War on Terror” in 2001 caused US military and intelligence budgets to double. The US found itself at war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya. Diplomacy was sidelined as brawn replaced brain in foreign affairs.
Democrats are pushing for former presidential candidate Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a widely respected veteran legislator and former soldier, to replace Mrs Clinton. Kerry has the experience, gravitas, dignity and strength appropriate to a US Secretary of State – one of the very highest offices in the land.
Kerry is a Clinton Democrat: highly educated, sophisticated and worldly, a man who would command respect and attention.
Most important, Kerry could lead a sound US foreign policy that is not dominated by domestic lobbies and narrow interests.