Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Diplomacy Isn't Dead

This post is cross-listed on DC Exile and From Corn Fields to the Capitol, Jason's new wider ranging blog.

Writing in the New York Times, Roger Cohen has a column up claiming flatly "[d]iplomacy is dead." He feels the U.S. will never achieve a diplomatic accomplishment to rival Nixon's trip to China or the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union.  While, I'm inclined to agree on the latter example, I think Mr. Cohen doth protest too much declaring diplomacy dead.

He rightfully criticizes our current age of, "impatience, changeableness, palaver, small-mindedness and an unwillingness to talk to bad guys." He notes the role of professional diplomats has been squeezed in this country because of our post-9/11 focus on non-state actors, which have more visibly involved the armed forces and the CIA, then the State Department. Again, I agree.

But I think he goes too far when he laments the end of realpolitik, but cites Syria as an example of diplomacy failing. I'd tend to think many a realist would size up Syria, even back two years ago, and say there is an not imminent national interest there. Indeed realpolitik isn't for the squeamish, but it seems like that's the cold-hearted analysis driving the lack of U.S. engagement in the country today.

He goes a bit too far when he cites three long standing thorns in the paw of U.S. foreign policy: Cuba, Iran, and Israel-Palestine. These thorns have been lodged for 52, 34, and 65 years respectfully.  And while I'd agree sometimes these three issues are used to scare up domestic constituencies  I think to cite them as diplomatic failures is to ignore the facts.

In Cuba, we had a dictator that was uninterested in seeking a change in relations with us for nearly all the 52 years of the dispute. But now with a new leader there has been some thawing out of relations with revised travel permissions and a continentially slow creep of capitalism into the country. You must have a willing partner to make a diplomatic break through and I'd dare say slow and steady still wins this race.

In Iran, much like Cuba, we find a ruling authority quite disinterested in making peace with us. And yet, diplomacy has happened around the edges. Have we normalized relations? No. Have we convinced Iran to give up any supposed nuclear ambitions? No. But you can't call the ballgame in the third quarter.

With respect to Israel and Palestine, you're dealing with two parties whose own political machinations have made a lasting peace agreement fall in and out of vogue. This is an old conflict and America isn't quite seen as an honest broker. It's hard to fix something so entrenched, which is why so many past efforts have failed  To declare diplomacy dead because the U.S. hasn't facilitated a peace agreement in the Middle East is to raise the bar to dizzying heights and tell the competitor to jump flat footed from the floor.

Mr. Cohen also dismisses two big diplomatic successes, namely Burma and Libya. He mentions Burma but glosses over how the U.S. diplomatically engineered the opening up of the country with carrot extended only in reward for desirable behavior. It was peaceful, it was orderly, and it appears to be genuine. If that's not diplomacy in action, I don't know what is.

With regard to Libya, I'm talking Libya 2003 when Gaddafi voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons without a shot fired. Again, this is a success story for diplomacy, even more so given what would follow eight years later. Imagine a nuclear armed Libya disintegrating into revolution. Surely that we avoided such a scenario should prove diplomacy isn't dead.

Indeed, diplomacy isn't dead. It's alive and well and working all over the world.  As we look to continue to manage the Arab Spring, as we look to manage a rising China, and as we face all manner of international challenges, we know there are diplomats around the world engaging in diplomacy. It's not often flashy, it's unlikely to be trending on Twitter, but it's happening nonetheless and we'll see it from time to time when the moment is right.

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