Bernard Aronson, Diplomat and Negotiator for the Americas

The notion of someone of an opposition party serving in the other administration once was common, says Bernard Aronson, who worked for Mondale, Carter, Reagan, and Bush Sr. “Bipartisanship wasn’t just some airy idea,” he added. “It was an effective policy that turned these divisive issues into win-wins.”

His latest contribution are coming on behalf of President Obama as he works to ensure progress in negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC rebels on the world’s “longest ongoing guerrilla war“. He used humor, fairness, and respect for the rebels.

“Bernie Aronson has an unparalleled understanding of how to be firm when you need to be, and at the same time how to develop the empathy that builds trust,” Sergio Jaramillo, one of Colombia’s lead negotiators, said in an email.As a Democrat who served as assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs under the first President George Bush, Mr. Aronson has made both peace and war.He was involved in carrying out Mr. Bush’s invasion of Panama in 1989, and he was a strong supporter of the contras in Nicaragua in their fight against that country’s leftist Sandinista government. While never holding a position in the Reagan administration, he did help write an important speech for Ronald Reagan praising the contras as freedom fighters in a worldwide battle against Soviet expansion.But Mr. Aronson also helped bring about the demobilization of the contras after the Sandinistas lost elections in 1990. And he played an important role in negotiating the 1992 peace accord that ended the civil war in El Salvador.

Source: A Democratic Diplomat, at Ease With Both Guerrillas and the G.O.P. – The New York Times


Brett H. McGurk, Iran Dealmaker

What are the necessary skills of a special envoy? How about one who helped to negotiate the historic Iran nuclear deal?  On close inspection, Brett H. McGurk worked for Republicans and Democrats, was educated as a lawyer, and had a bruising public failure when nominated to serve as ambassador to Baghdad:

“He’s a doer, who is nonideological, pragmatic, which very much meshes with the president’s approach,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser. “Over the years, the president has come to trust Brett’s judgment on things.” …

“He had that combination of knowledge and passion, and then a prodigious work ethic,” said Peter D. Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke University who worked with Mr. McGurk in the Bush administration. “This is also why an N.S.C. staffer tends to burn out.”“What is impressive about Brett is not just what he has done,” Mr. Feaver added, “but how long he has done it.”

Source: Iran Negotiations Add to Special Envoy’s Reputation as ‘a Doer’ – The New York Times

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Protesting Protest

Protest can be good (See Morocco, for starters). They can also be ridiculous–and college campuses seem to lead the pack–as we forget that college is a developmental time when most of us need some space to be stupid. But, as Thomas Friedman explains, there is a dark side:

That we are becoming more morally aroused “is generally a good thing,” argued Seidman. Institutionalized racism in police departments, or in college fraternities, is real and had been tolerated for way too long. That it’s being called out is a sign of a society’s health “and re-engagement.”But when moral arousal manifests as moral outrage, he added, “it can either inspire or repress a serious conversation or the truth.”

Source: The Age of Protest – The New York Times

Quoting Dov Sideman of LRN, protest and the subsequent outreach can lead to action–that may cause harm, “as opposed to a virtuous cycle of dialogue and the hard work of forging real understanding and enduring agreements.”

What is the relationship between protest and forging a real discussion versus shutting down conversations?

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Reading for Realism

And now this from (realist) thinker Stephen M. Walt, identifying a major gap in how we look at the world–the lack of a smart realist writing in the opinion pages of the three top U.S. newspapers. (Realism being a major field of international relations theory.)

At the New York Times, the list of columnists regularly writing on foreign affairs includes one neoconservative (David Brooks) and several well-known liberal internationalists (Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, and Roger Cohen). Ross Douthat is a more traditional conservative, but he rarely writes on foreign affairs and is certainly not a realist. Despite certain differences among them, all of these writers are eloquent defenders of U.S. interventionism all around the globe for all sorts of reasons. The Washington Post employs four hard-line neoconservatives—editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, Charles Krauthammer, Robert Kagan, and Jackson Diehl–and used to feature William Kristol as well. Its regular columnists also include former Bush administration speechwriters Marc Thiessen and Michael Gerson and far-right blogger Jennifer Rubin, along with the more centrist  David Ignatius and the increasingly bellicose Richard Cohen. Needless to say, none of these writers is a realist and all of them strongly support an activist U.S. foreign policy. As James Carden and Jacob Heilbrunn observed in The National Interest last year, Hiatt has in effect “turned the paper into a megaphone for unrepentant warrior intellectuals,” and now leads “the most reckless editorial page in America.”

Source: What Would a Realist World Have Looked Like? | Foreign Policy

So who should they hire? Walt helpfully provides human resources with this list (and I’d add him to the list, as well):

Paul Pillar, Chas Freeman Jr., Robert Blackwill, Steve Clemons, Michael Desch, Steve Chapman, John Mearsheimer, Barry Posen, Andrew Bacevich, or Daniel Larison

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Stephen W. Bosworth, Top Ambassador to Asia

The US loses a formidable diplomat, the Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Stephen Bosworth. “He was one of America’s most experienced and respected diplomats of Asia,” said Victor Cha, on the White House staff during the presidency of George W. Bush. “He knew Northeast and Southeast Asia well, and his name carried much weight in all capitols, universities and editorial rooms.”

Alarmed by rumblings that troops loyal to Mr. Marcos might resort to force rather than relinquish office amid competing inaugurations, the White House sent Mr. Bosworth to read the Philippine president a message dictated by President Reagan — that the White House looked forward to Mr. Marcos’s “working out a scenario for a transition government” and would welcome him and his family if they left to live in the United States.
Within hours, the Marcos family was taken from the grounds of Malacanang Palace on a United States Air Force helicopter and flown 40 miles northwest to Clark Air Force Base.
“We were trying to help restore democracy in the Philippines, and Stephen wound up playing a key role in that historic transition,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement on Thursday. “Steve’s unique brand of diplomacy blended the gravitas of a statesman and the timing of a comedian.”

Via NYT Obituary 

Bill Gates, Ambassador?

According to Will Oremus at Slate, “the good news is that once Gates tackles a problem in earnest, he doesn’t just throw money at it.” Bill Gates has always focused his foundation work on global policy and problems, but now climate change appears to be a concern–perhaps because it could put the undo button on his other concerns, namely global health and economic development.

His new role to help with one of the thorniest of all negotiations? Global diplomat in the Paris Climate Change process:

His role in sealing the deal offers a peek into how the inner circles of governments and industry intersect. It also underscores how a handful of the world’s wealthiest people can stand with heads of state to spotlight a social, economic and policy issue on the global stage. For Mr. Gates, the world’s richest person and co-chairman of the biggest private foundation, it is another sign of how his vast foreign aid operation and status as a technology icon have turned him into a uniquely influential global diplomat.

Source: Bill Gates Takes On Climate Change With Nudges and a Powerful Rolodex – The New York Times

Several months ago, Brandon Keim asked “how much can one man…really accomplish in the fight against climate change?” Taking a systems approach, Gates wants to change the network that is “structured by government policy,” but it will happen in “complex, piecemeal, tricky ways.”

In other words, there isn’t an app for global diplomacy.

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Booklist | Best Diplomacy Books of 2015

Add these 2105 books that focus on the history, practice, and key issues in diplomacy to your reading list:


Worldmaking: The Art and Science of American Diplomacy by David Milne – the most important rethinking of American foreign policy, dividing key thinkers between artistic and scientific approaches

Realpolitik: A History by John Bew – unraveling a German contribution and distinguishing it from the realist school of thought

The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire by Susan Pedersen – explores the first grand attempt at international governance and a failed attempt to outlaw war

The Deluge, by Adam Tooze – an original take on the interwar period as power gravitated from Europe to the US

ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger – the must-read book to understand the Middle East disruptor

King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant by Stephen Church – commemorating the 800th anniversary of a foundational doc

Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist by Niall Ferguson – making the case that he cannot be ignored as a major diplomatic strategist, an effort to “revise the revisionists

Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman by Greg Grandin – on his institutionalizing failures, using intuition over facts, and forming the foundation for neoconservative missteps

Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy by Micah Zenko – avoiding groupthink by thinking like the other side

The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft by Hal Brands (Editor), Jeremi Suri (Editor) – what can policymakers really learn from history?

Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century by Alistair Horne – a longtime writer of military history isolates a key factor

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turtle – how technology makes it harder for us to be together, diminishing empathy

The New York Review Abroad edited by Robert B Silvers with introductory updates by Ian Buruma – around the world in 27 essays


Global Economics

Inequality: What Can be Done? by Anthony Atkinson – to follow up on Piketty’s big idea last year, how about a solution?

The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa’s Wealth by Tom Burgis – revealing how Africa sits at the bottom on of the global industrial chain

Digital Gold: The Untold Story of Bitcoin by Nathaniel Popper – from a global joke to a movement and new currency

Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science by Dani Rodrik – taking on the dismal science in the form of a defense


Country Focus


Global Rules: America, Britain, and a Disordered World by James E. Cronin

Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel, by Dan Ephron – a murder that didn’t make peace inevitable or settle the big Israeli debate

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator by Oleg V. Khlevniuk, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov

Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean From Columbus to the Present Day by Carrie Gibson

How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People
by Sudhir Hazareesingh

The Invention of Russia: The Journey from Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War by Arkady Ostrovsky

The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq by Emma Sky

The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business by Alex de Waal


Finally, take a look and James Lindsay’s complication of ten American foreign policy influencers who died in 2015. Happy New Year!

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Making Political Sense of Star Wars

Yes, Star Wars doesn’t make a lot of sense when viewed through the lens of international relations, even if it is fun to see the political-geek-meets-nerd-world analysis by Seth Masket, a political science at the University of Denver.
Episode I featured a two-minute depiction of life in the Galactic Senate in an attempt to demonstrate the Old Republic’s dysfunction. That scene also revealed that Lucas doesn’t understand how legislatures function, what bureaucrats are, why legislative parties form, the function of the media, etc., but it still attempted to show institutional behavior.
Episode III contained a subplot in which the Emperor sowed discord in the government by appointing a plainly unqualified and inexperienced Jedi to the Council. This is all about institutional competition and the challenges of separation of powers.
Episode IV, of course, was all about the executive branch’s accretion of power at the expense of the legislature, which of course led to a violent rebellion headed by ousted senators. There were a farm boy and some robots, but that was a subplot
Note: Masket’s blog, Mischiefs of Faction, is now hosted by VOX.
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WSIS+10 Update


Why should you care about the next multilateral negotiation process? At one point in 2012 some called this process an Internet “takeover”–but former lead negotiator Ambassador David Gross, now repressing an industry association, sees modest progress.

Here’s what’s at stake. Will the Internet remain a free and open global platform that drives economic opportunity and helps people exercise human rights, including the freedom of expression and assembly? Or will it splinter under the control of various governments, serving as a tool that repressive regimes use to deny citizens these very rights?

via Charles H. Rivkin in HuffPo

Take a look at this background on the Ten-Year Review of the World Summit on the Information Society, that led up to the December 2015 meetings. And you can see more from the dipolomatic trenches via these hashtags: #WSIS10 #digitaldivide #netgov #WSIS

How did the December 2015 meetings end up?

The final document almost completely rejects the multilateral model, which is mentioned once. Instead it repeatedly endorses the more inclusive “multistakeholder” approach to Internet governance proposed by the United States, the European Union and developing nations like Brazil and India. This model promotes a management system based on the consensus of civil society, businesses, academic institutions, engineers and governments.

“To their credit, negotiators fought off the worst proposals, and recognized that our human rights to privacy and expression, and access to information and digital security tools, remain under threat,” Mr. Micek said.

Still, China appears satisfied that the document recognized “a leading role” for governments in cybersecurity matters relating to national security — one of China’s top objectives — and that it refers to the United Nations Charter, which enshrines principles of state sovereignty and nonintervention by the United Nations in domestic affairs.

via Dan Levin, “At U.N., China Tries to Influence Fight Over Internet Contro” NYT


The Ethics of Lying

Is Plato right? Is there such thing as the “noble lie“? The philosopher Sissela Bok created a “test of publicity” to determine if its ok to lie: would it survive the appeal for justification to reasonable persons?

Gerald Dworkin, emeritus professor at UC Davis argues that “there ought to be a strong presumption in favor of honesty” but that it can be overridden more frequently than we anticipate.

He cites the following as permissible lies–and asks for feedback as to why we might disagree. Try it:

1. A man lies to his wife about where they are going in order to get her to a place where a surprise birthday party has been organized.

2. A young child is rescued from a plane crash in a very weakened state. His parents have been killed in the crash but he is unaware of this. He asks about his parents and the attending physician says they are O.K. He intends to tell the truth once the child is stronger.

3. Your father suffers from severe dementia and is in a nursing home. When it is time for you to leave he becomes extremely agitated and often has to be restrained. On the occasions when you have said you would be back tomorrow he was quite peaceful about your leaving. You tell him now every time you leave that you will be back tomorrow knowing that in a very short time after you leave he will have forgotten what you said.

4. A woman’s husband drowned in a car accident when the car plunged off a bridge into a body of water. It was clear from the physical evidence that he desperately tried to get out of the car and died a dreadful death. At the hospital where his body was brought his wife asked the physician in attendance what kind of death her husband suffered. He replied, “He died immediately from the impact of the crash. He did not suffer.”

5. In an effort to enforce rules against racial discrimination “testers” were sent out to rent a house. First, an African-American couple claiming to be married with two children and an income that was sufficient to pay the rent would try to rent a house. If they were told that the house was not available, a white tester couple with the same family and economic profile would be sent. If they were offered the rental there would be persuasive evidence of racial discrimination.

6. In November of 1962, during the Cuban Missile crisis, President Kennedy gave a conference. When asked whether he had discussed any matters other than Cuban missiles with the Soviets he absolutely denied it. In fact, he had promised that the United States would remove missiles from Turkey.

7. A woman interviewing for a job in a small philosophy department is asked if she intends to have children. Believing that if she says (politely) it’s none of their business she will not get the job, she lies and says she does not intend to have a family.

8. In order to test whether arthroscopic surgery improved the conditions of patients’ knees a study was done in which half the patients were told the procedure was being done but it was not. Little cuts were made in the knees, the doctors talked as if it were being done, sounds were produced as if the operation were being done. The patients were under light anesthesia. It turned out that the same percentage of patients reported pain relief and increased mobility in the real and sham operations. The patients were informed in advance that they either would receive a real or a sham operation.

9. I am negotiating for a car with a salesperson. He asks me what the maximum I am prepared to pay is. I say $15,000. It is actually $20,000.

10. We heap exaggerated praise on our children all the time about their earliest attempts to sing or dance or paint or write poems. For some children this encouragement leads to future practice, which in turn promotes the development–in some — of genuine achievement.

Source: Are These 10 Lies Justified? – The New York Times


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