“In a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy. . .” – President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, January 28, 2014.
Since 9/11, the Pentagon, the CIA and the NSA have held near total rein over US foreign policy. But to what avail? Hugely expensive military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced neither peace nor tranquility: those wars (one of which we precipitated) continue. Moreover, civil wars – the most common ones in the world today – are notoriously difficult to stop through foreign military intervention alone. Electronic eavesdropping and cyber warfare present other challenging and disturbing dimensions: but how much cell-phone snooping is counter-productive? Isolationism – especially in a globalized, high-tech world with porous borders and interrelated economies and serious environmental problems – has also proven bankrupt.
What’s left? For centuries, diplomacy – with all its facets – has been the normal way countries have dealt with each another. The US included. And America’s international interests have always exceeded those that could be secured through force alone.
Diplomacy is calculus – not plane geometry. Trade, economics, image building, policy discussions in private and public, explorations of different and similar interests among national governments, treaty negotiations and compliance verification, information gathering on enemy intentions and capabilities, understanding and communicating with friends and foes, and helping those in most need, are all parts of a country’s diplomatic tool kit – as well as retention of a strong military capacity maintained as a last resort.