War On Peace: The End Of Diplomacy And The Decline Of American Influence, by Ronan Farrow
In reading this book, I have to appreciate the general fairness of the author’s approach when it comes to dealing with the issue of American diplomacy even if I must candidly admit to having a very different view of international affairs than the author does. The author appears to be a sincere proponent of the one-world international diplomatic approach of Wilson and FDR and their cronies, which once had at least some bipartisan support. I tend to be far less interested in such matters and far less in approval of the mandarins of the State Department that the author clearly was once a part of and is clearly willing and interested in supporting. Yet despite disagreeing with the author about the purpose of American diplomacy, it is easy to see that the author is sincere in lamenting the decline of American diplomacy as the internationalist approach has gotten less support within presidencies as different as Obama and Trump, and where the whole mindset of having diplomatic State Department employees who handle delicate international affairs while being at least officially bipartisan has tended to fall by the wayside in our divisive times.
This book is about 300 pages long and 24 chapters long and is divided into three sections. The author begins with the firing of a great many diplomats by Trump because they had politically opposed him, which is completely understandable. The first half of the book or so is taken up by the first part of the book, which explores the author’s look at the “last diplomats” to carry a great deal of prestige within the United States (I), including a discussion of American myths (1), a Pakistan supporter dubbed Lady Taliban (2), The author discusses his experiences with Richard Holbroke (3, 10) as well as the growing frustration by the author that the United States government appeared far more interested in fighting than talking (11, 13). The second part of the book discusses the author’s experiences in Afghanistan where he had to meet with a war criminal (17, 18) and try to wrestle with America’s changing diplomatic approach. Finally, the author closes with a few chapters that show him as being present at the destruction of the diplomatic order he most appreciated (III), including a discussion of the state of the Secretary of State (22), as well as the meltdowns that happened in the early Trump administration (24), after which the author argues that diplomacy should be the tool of first resort in an epilogue before the usual acknowledgements, notes, and index.
I can only see one way that the author’s hope could be realized, and that is a slim one. In our age of intense partisan differences, those who wish to rise above being viewed as partisan need to be more or less apolitical. I believe that any president would be willing to accept a foreign service elite that had committed itself to avoiding political favoritism in any fashion, but that few presidents were willing to support those who had supported their opponents in either the primary or general elections, as the author details, much to his disappointment. I am not sure that a would-be foreign service elite would be willing to have the power to enact a diplomatic approach while serving in the State Department while giving up their freedom to openly participate in the political process. That’s what it would take for me to trust them, at any rate. The author details a very real problem, but it’s unclear what should be done about it, as even those who might lament the extreme militarization of our foreign policy would be hard pressed to find people we could trust who would adopt other ways of dealing with other countries, which has proven to be the case for presidents of both parties for the past couple of decades or so.