Archive for Friday, June 20, 2003

U.S. diplomacy needs some work

June 20, 2003


— President Bush demonstrated in Iraq and Afghanistan that he has the audacity and military power to bend the international system to America's will. That gets him halfway home. He must now develop a larger strategy that integrates battlefield success with strong diplomatic engagement to convert change into durable progress.

Classical diplomacy and meaningful international negotiation have virtually disappeared as agents of global change and leadership. The Bush administration's war on terrorism has led to a significant militarization of American foreign policy that has become the dominant force in world affairs.

A cliche that once described this capital preparing for crisis abroad -- "the lights are burning late tonight at the State Department" -- has become an anachronism in George W. Bush's Washington. Foggy Bottom is a somnolent, darkened nighttime quarter, while working weekends and cots for sleeping over at the office verge on being standard issue in Don Rumsfeld's Pentagon.

Some see this as proof that the defense secretary has diabolically elbowed aside Secretary of State Colin Powell in a race for President Bush's affections. But that greatly oversimplifies the broader phenomena at work. Rumsfeld, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

There is to be sure animosity between the two Cabinet members and their staffs. Rumsfeld's fast-flowing stream of "snowflakes," as his concise and acerbic policy memos are known, infuriate Powell and his top aides. The two departments are currently butting heads over Rumsfeld's view that the United States, which devised the Middle East "road map" with the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, should rule out a prominent role for those three powers in the negotiations to come.

Powell's people are flabbergasted that the Pentagon dares to opine on diplomatic matters. But Bush seeks out Rumsfeld's views -- so much so that Powell has been on occasion reduced to enlisting foreign powers to try to get his points across to Bush.

The faltering start of the road map process actually illustrates how ineffective has become U.S. diplomacy, which is after all the art of persuading, influencing or coercing other nations to advance American interests. The political limbos in Afghanistan and Iraq make the same point.

Change today flows from the barrel of a gun: Asked about the escalating Israeli-Palestinian war of attrition, even U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed for a new military force: "I would like to see an armed peacekeeping force act as a buffer between the Israelis and Palestinians" as an urgent interim step, Annan told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last week.

Two quick wars have made U.S. soldiers the main guarantors of national integrity in Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come. The expansion, reorganization and recentering of NATO on new missions and new members is the clearest and most advanced U.S. foreign policy aim in Europe for Bush, as it was for Bill Clinton.

Russia and, to some extent, China count primarily in Bushist Washington as partners in the war on terror and the related campaign against nuclear-weapons proliferation. U.S. troop redeployments, confronting North Korea's nuclear blackmail and providing security help to Southeast Asia to fight terrorism, are the only big arrows in Washington's Asia-policy quiver.

This militarization of policy became inevitable in the wake of 9-11 as Americans understood that foreign terrorists were targeting them with ever more horrible weapons. Bush reached for the only tools available that would provide immediate protection.

But Bush is optimistic enough, and ambitious enough, to seize the moment -- to extend a defensive war against terrorists into a campaign to produce structural change in world affairs. He probably at least toys with the idea.

Armed force, however, is not a self-fulfilling policy. It must be accompanied, guided and eventually tempered by effective diplomacy. American strength alone cannot impose a durable international imbalance-of-power system.

This is no appeal for multilateralism or the more aggressive French variant, multipolarity. These have become code words for systematically restraining American power, a goal that will not bring global stability or spread freedom and prosperity. Such options are no more meaningful than are dreams of empire at the other end of the political spectrum.

Ultimately, massive military power must be coupled to a set of values, precepts and understandings to which other democratic nations can plausibly subscribe -- even if they do not uphold every one of those values every day or join every campaign.

A great power may legitimately refuse to be bound by the ambitions or needs of its friends. But it will almost always be wise for that power to make it possible for those friends and for others to claim plausibly that they too count, even as they lose the argument. That is the essence of diplomacy.

Jim Hoagland is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

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