Diplomats Have Been Dropping Their Pens and Waving Guns – Room for Debate – NYTimes.com

In this discussion, “Foggy Bottom and the Fog of War” several observers explore what is gained or lost when the secretary of defense takes a back seat to the secretary of state in pursuing military interventions.

  • Should we follow Samantha Power’s lead and “weaponize human rights?”
  • Do career incentives for the use of force skew Washington policy for the worse?
  • Did Presidential dysfunction, resulting in the marginalization of Sec State Colin Powell undermine the Powell Doctrine–limiting the use of force except for in extraordinary circumstances–as Christopher O’Sullivan notes?
  • Is the State Department as an institution incapable of designing, owning, and implementing strategic? Should we have a stronger, better developed diplomatic core, as Kori Schake suggests?
  • Do you agree that Vietnam is the “anti-diplomacy” example, where DOD tried (and failed) to be diplomats, under Robert S. McNamara’s leadership.  (This notion is illustrated in the brilliant doc, The Fog of War.)
  • via Diplomats Have Been Dropping Their Pens and Waving Guns – Room for Debate – NYTimes.com.
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5 thoughts on “Diplomats Have Been Dropping Their Pens and Waving Guns – Room for Debate – NYTimes.com

  1. jackdavis says:

    This is an extremely interesting article, and it raises serious questions about the United States’ foreign policy drift toward military action over the last century. Unfortunately, unlike the author of this piece, I do not see the issue of military intervention in black and white. Each and every situation we are faced with is different, and applying an overarching doctrine – whatever that doctrine may be – is a dangerous idea.

    There is no doubt that we have made mistakes in intervention – at times our action has cost thousands of lives. What’s worse, is that many of these interventions and military strikes were not motivated by what is right, but by what is popular, vote-getting, or career advancing. In this respect, I agree with the author entirely. People’s careers (and partisan politics) have no business in foreign policy decisions, and the sooner that can become a reality the better.

    On the other hand, I believe that there are certain situations were we, as a global superpower, have no choice but to intervene. In cases of genocide and indiscriminate violence, do we have any other choice but to act? Diplomacy should always be the first response, but what happens if that fails? Do we simply stand idly by?

  2. sarahlakee says:

    This thought provoking piece caused me to reevaluate my thoughts on the virtue of Washington. While every international affair is sensitive and unique, every international affair is dealt with in a way that will glorify the politician handling the situation. A politician weighs both what will be best for the situation with what will be best for his political agenda and his career. We just hope it will benefit him most to act on the needs of the American people.

  3. araujophm says:

    One of my favorite phrases is: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” I consider this to be a very true statement, but there are situations where a nation must make their voice be heard by using force. The issue here is the involvement of secretaries of state in the use of force. I think the job of a diplomat is to know how to make difficult decisions that can influence millions of people while trying to match the wants of your country with the ones of the others that you have ties with. As far as I am concerned, diplomats should be the ones deciding whether the use of force is necessary or not, but they are not the ones that plan military strategies. There are differences between the job descriptions of a secretary of state and a secretary of defense.

  4. Taylor Shippen says:

    Should it be surprising that the diplomatic corps of our country is short-sighted? Not at all. The Foreign Service has instituitionalized short-sighted thinking by the very nature of how the promotion system works. Foreign Service Officers have a 3 year term of service in a particular country regardless of how effective of ineffective they are at that post.

    This means that promotions require quick action: you need to get noticed quickly and take the lead on projects that have definitive results within a three year time frame. The use of the military to accentuate diplomacy is quick; it provides State Department employees the opportunity to make a bigger impact in their temporary positions.

    In contrast; lasting diplomatic agreements take time and leadership continuity; it took 6 years and three U.S. Presidencies for China to normalize diplomatic relations with the US in 1979, even with the threat of a Soviet invasion into Tibet. Had Henry Kissenger been dismissed following Nixon’s fall from grace, it’s possible that diplomatic progress could’ve become more protracted, as the relationships required to set the terms of the Sino-American alliance would have to have been rebuilt.

    Thus, while the three year system brings fresh blood and new perspectives to old problems, it also fails to provide incentive for longer-term thinking. For this reason, I do not give carte blanche approval to the state department’s advocacy for the use of force, as military interventions do not usually lead to long term solutions.

  5. jakedayton says:

    The notion of “weaponizing human rights” seems self-contradictory. Although engaging in war is not necessarily a violation of basic rights, the events and situations which stem from it invariably are. To think that any one country (the US) has enough of the right answers to be able to outweigh the negative consequences of forcing those right answers is ridiculous. Russia’s move to place itself in the middle of the Syria negotiations was not only a brilliant maneuver for their country, but also a brilliant move for the US. If we had engaged in action (probably going against Congress’ approval), we would find ourselves entrenched in an extremely unpopular conflict, met with disapproval from not only the world (and significantly 2 permanent members of the security council) but from our own country. By placing themselves in the middle, Russia ensured, at least for now, that the US would be forced to negotiate peacefully with Syria, going along with popular and reasonable opinion. Bombing Assad might solve the problem temporarily, but it only sets the precedent that if one violates human rights, the US will attack you. This is obviously not a very strong deterrent to would-be violators, as they keep violating human rights. However, by taking diplomatic action, it sets a precedent that if one violates rights, then there could be international action taken against you that involves serious repercussions (sanctions, possible military action), a much greater deterrent because not being liked by the US is one thing, but having the whole world against you is another. This is just one example of the futility of “weaponizing human rights”. The others are pretty much the last 50 years of US foreign policy.

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