(Kind of long-winded on this one.)
I just ordered the new book by Ronan Farrow called The War on Peace. Farrow recently received the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for his investigative work on Harvey Weinstein. Farrow worked with Richard Holbrook, Assistant Secretary of State under Presidents Bush and Obama for a time, and since then has been an investigative journalist. The older I get and the more carefully I read, the more I see the incredible interplay between money and power and politics. It is a world we “poor people” can never hope to inhabit. We can only watch from afar as these power brokers play their games with our hopes and dreams.
But, it is a fascinating world. As he left the presidency, George Washington warned the new country to beware of entangling alliances with foreign powers and encouraged a policy to keep us isolated from the problems of Europe. Eisenhower, also a military general, warned against the military-industrial complex. Diplomacy is that art of walking a tightrope and making decisions, often contentious at home, that hopefully work for the good of the nation. The United Nations was the diplomatic move at the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, to keep the Communists at the peace table. As the nuclear threat became more dangerous it was conceived as the only way to attempt to keep the peace. Today as well as throughout history, it takes men and women of rare insight to be able to see the bigger picture, a view of the world beyond our limited vision.
In a recent interview, Farrow said the decimation of the office of Secretary of State was begun as early as the 9/11 tragedy. As diplomacy lost some of its luster, ISIS was able to work its way into center stage. And diplomacy is always a balance between when to come to the peace table and when to rattle sabers threatening military action. According to Farrow we seem to be moving into a period when military action is more the norm than the art of diplomacy. Since the end of the Cold War, America has backed away from its historic role as one of the leading powers in the world. Some observers see the shadow of Chinese influence moving in to fill those vacuums.
History is never black and white. The tragedy of Viet Nam was a military solution to attempt to contain the growth of communism. John Foster Dulles, a controversial Secretary of State under Eisenhower, was a proponent of containment. Diplomacy and military action both lost out in Viet Nam.
When studying world history we see examples of the art of diplomacy stretching back as far as nations interacting with nations. Daughters of kings were a priceless commodity because they could be married off to an enemy in the hopes that family ties would bring nations together. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ended the Thirty Years
religious wars as well as numerous other wars between feuding kingdoms. In 1814, the Congress of Vienna was an attempt to restore Europe to the boundaries and ruling families that were uprooted during the French Revolution and the Napleonic Wars. The power brokers of that day were conservatives who were not comfortable with revolution or a sense of the new nationalism that was arising. The Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I was to make this the war to end all wars and Woodrow Wilson, serving almost as his own Secretary of State, worked himself into a stroke
attempting to promote the League of Nations which eventually led to the United Nations following World War II. In its own time the League was defeated by American isolationists led by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. Lodge’s grandson is a good example of the workings of diplomacy that led into our modern era.
One source notes concerning the younger Lodge: “Believing that the Republican party needed to shed the isolationism that had long guided its views on foreign policy, Lodge helped Eisenhower win his battle for the Republican nomination against the isolationist Senator Robert Taft of Ohio. . .As a liberal internationalist, Lodge worked to foster a healthy American relationship with the United Nations and the Third World but, as an ardent cold warrior, he also advocated a tough line of opposition against the Soviet Union. . .As ambassador to South Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, Lodge supported President Johnson's decision to escalate American involvement in the Vietnam War, believing strongly that a communist takeover in the South would be disastrous for U.S. foreign policy goals.”
This snippet from the history of foreign diplomacy only underscores how complicated a path it is. As long as we have power struggles we will always have the decision before us. Do we choose a military action or a diplomatic one? Currently the Department of State is decimated and diplomacy, while apparent, is not the direction we are heading. In his book, Farrow interviews every living secretary of state and also men and women who are lifelong civil servants in the pursuit of diplomatic solutions.
The decisions made are way beyond our ‘pay grade’, but they influence our lives in profound ways. Diplomacy is an art, much more than the simple decision of “war or peace’. We can only hope there will be intelligent, courageous, and strong men and women to walk that path for us as a nation as we come to new and critical crossroads in our contacts with other nations.