America: let's exchange gifts.
Take your blueprints for model penitentiaries
and give us village homes.
Take the books of your missionaries
and give us paper for poems to defame you.
Take what you do not have
and give us what we have.
We are not hostages, America
and your soldiers are not God's soldiers
from America, America, a poem by Saadi Youssef
Statecraft and How to Restore America's Standing in the World (Dennis Ross) is a book which argues for the restoration of diplomacy to the business of executing statehood in the world today. However, in our current "Shoot first, ask questions later" gunslinger model of statecraft, the term itself has almost become a quaint notion. Something you apply as a goodwill gesture, after you start a war.
One doesn't hear much in the mass media about her these days, but we do have a Secretary of State for just such a function, and an entire bureaucracy under her, which unfortunately has been relegated to the sideshow.
The New York Times' Jacob Heilbrunn reviewed the book this past weekend. The review opens:
"One of the unintended consequences of George W. Bush's war on terror has been the resurrection of 'soft power.' The term, which came into vogue in the early 1990s and was embraced by the Clinton administration, is based on the notion that America’s attractiveness abroad is as significant a measure of its influence as hard military might."
Of course, our Power Ranger administration has lost its grip on soft power, as the concept of soft simply doesn't square with home invasions and knock-down entries.
As Ross notes, Bush 41's effort to bring all members of the UN Security Council on board for the first Gulf War was,
"a marked contrast to the lackadaisical and slipshod effort the current Bush administration made in 2003 to gain international support, including its ignominious failure to win a second Security Council resolution condemning Iraq."
Like him or not, Bush 41 followed the rules of statecraft. His Gulf War was not open-ended; it had a goal, and a withdrawal plan. And legitimacy was established through the actual interplay of a legitimate coalition won via diplomacy, vs. strong-arm tactics. "Ultimately, statecraft done well never guarantees success but certainly creates the best chance for it. . .”
Sadly, the U.S. has marginalized the Department of State because the only skill needed in a cowboy world is a fast draw. But a fast draw is meaningless if the opponent shoots straight.
America has forgotten that in a gunfight, it is the person who shoots last that is the winner. Shooting first is a symptom of GWB's pathology, which America is paying dearly for. He is quick on the draw, shoots from the hip, and is overcome by his lip.
Were he not invested with so much power, irrational behavior like this in the ordinary civilian world gains you a trip to lockup in the psych ward. Heilbrunn calls it "reckless aloofness." Sadly, when GWB performs in this manner, we call it "policy."
While Ross's book offers a good faith effort to reinstate diplomacy and the art of negotiation into America's state policy, Heilbrunn poses the question Ross does not, namely, "whether America’s influence has already passed its meridian."
Ranger's take: Forget Afghanistan and Iraq and concentrate on the place of America in a peaceful global arena. Let the U.N. apply force and embargoes to the world's trouble spots. America is not the world's policeman, even if that leaves much of the world lawless, per our standards.
And surely GWB is not even a mediocre police chief.