You’re preaching to the choir here, because I run a project on diplomacy at Harvard Kennedy School, and I believe very much in diplomacy.
But you’re right. 9/11 was a terrible day and presented a real threat, and we responded with force. We invaded Afghanistan and invaded Iraq a year-and-a-half later. We occupied both those countries for the better part of the last decade.
The proper way to think about our foreign policy is that you talk, negotiate, look for weaknesses, look for agreements—first. Only when you’ve exhausted those options do you think about force. And after 9/11, we reversed that. We led with the military. We had the diplomats, people like myself (I was ambassador to NATO at the time) in reserve. And I think what President Obama has been able to do quite artfully is to reverse it once again to its proper sequencing.
I heard Secretary James Baker on Charlie Rose recently, and we’re going to be honoring him at Harvard tomorrow. I heard him say, “You have to negotiate with countries you don’t like. You have to be willing to talk to governments you might not like very much.”
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was a pretty hard-nosed person, said this before he died: “You don’t negotiate peace with your friends. You negotiate with very unsavory enemies.”
It is not unpatriotic or unwise to sit down with Iranian diplomats. It’s smart, because we might be able to outfox them and outwit them and get our way without war. It’s not unpatriotic to talk to the Cuban leadership, because we’re going to try to weaken them through negotiations. Some people in our political leadership have designated a whole bunch of countries we can’t talk to anymore.
The world just isn’t made like that, and the United States is not powerful enough to fight everybody. Diplomacy is actually a great strength of our country. We’re really good at it, by the way, and we’ve got a first-class Foreign Service. And we’ve done very well for how small we are. I was a member of the career Foreign Service until 2008. We’re about 6,500 people. That’s not much bigger than two armed heavy brigades in the U.S. military. Someone told me there were more lawyers in the Pentagon than there are American diplomats.
But we’re forward-deployed for the United States. We’re in all the embassies and consulates around the world. We’re the eyes and ears of the America, and should use our diplomats to try to advance our interests around the world. Nearly all the military officers I know agree with this, and they only want to be called upon when there’s no hope left for a diplomatic solution. And I trust these people in uniform who’ve done such a great job for us over the last ten years.