State­craft: And How to Restore Amer­i­ca’s Stand­ing in the World

  • Review
By – March 23, 2012

Den­nis Ross, the for­mer Mid­dle East envoy and the chief peace nego­tia­tor in the admin­is­tra­tions of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clin­ton, as well as the author of The Miss­ing Peace, the author’s inside account of the events that led to the break­down in the Camp David sum­mit between Israel and the Pales­tini­ans in 2000, has writ­ten an impor­tant book about how the absence of state­craft in Iraq and in the Mid­dle East has led to the present dete­ri­o­ra­tion in America’s inter­na­tion­al image through­out most of the world.

Ross defines state­craft” as the use of the nation’s eco­nom­ic, mil­i­tary, intel­li­gence, media, and states­man­ship, to effec­tive­ly pur­sue its inter­ests inter­na­tion­al­ly, and affect the behav­ior of its adver­saries. In sev­er­al well-craft­ed chap­ters, Ross details how the Bush 41 admin­is­tra­tion used state­craft to over­come Sovi­et resis­tance to a uni­fied Ger­many, and to cre­ate a coali­tion that was able to con­front Sad­dam Hussein’s inva­sion of Kuwait in 1990, with­out the dis­as­trous results that embody the cur­rent deba­cle in Iraq. Ross specif­i­cal­ly cred­its then-Sec­re­tary of State Bak­er for work­ing the phones” and relent­less­ly pur­su­ing every aspect of states­man­ship to build the coali­tion that defeat­ed Iraq with­out the type of crit­i­cism that fol­lowed America’s inva­sion of Iraq under Bush 43.

Osten­si­bly a brief for the use of greater diplo­ma­cy and polit­i­cal real­ism as the Unit­ed Sates faces its cur­rent prob­lems, such as resolv­ing the dete­ri­o­rat­ing Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict, con­fronting Iran as that nation moves toward build­ing nuclear weapons, and deal­ing with the poten­tial of con­flict as Chi­na steadi­ly emerges as a pos­si­ble rival of the Unit­ed States for access to the world’s ener­gy resources, Ross’s tome is as much a plea for rea­soned state­craft as it is a con­dem­na­tion of the neo-con­ser­v­a­tives who pushed for the inva­sion of Iraq, with­out much fore­thought as to the war’s after­math, and the Bush admin­is­tra­tion which, states the author, wants no lim­its on the exer­cise of Amer­i­can pow­er or sov­er­eign­ty — not from the Unit­ed Nations, not from the Inter­na­tion­al Court, and, as we have seen, not even from some­thing like the Gene­va Con­ven­tion on the rules gov­ern­ing tor­ture of those we seize as we com­bat ter­ror­ism.” In the case of Ger­man uni­fi­ca­tion, the Gulf War, and Bosnia from August 1995, when the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion decid­ed to take action against Serbia’s pol­i­cy of eth­nic cleans­ing,” both the Bush 41 and Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion left noth­ing to chance. As Ross notes, both admin­is­tra­tions pulled togeth­er the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to build a con­sen­sus for action. The present Bush admin­is­tra­tion, how­ev­er, as dis­played in Iraq, opt­ed for a pol­i­cy of wish­ful think­ing, and the con­fu­sion of objec­tives there leads to a con­fu­sion of means. The divi­sions with­in the admin­is­tra­tion,” states Ross, are so poi­so­nous that they make real­i­ty-based assess­ments impos­si­ble.” Ross observes that because the admin­is­tra­tion was so blind­ed by its own arro­gance that those who knew the most about the real­i­ties on the ground in Iraq were rel­e­gat­ed to irrel­e­vance because of their per­ceived oppo­si­tion to the war and its pur­pos­es.” The author notes that the plan­ning for post­war recon­struc­tion was not tak­en seri­ous­ly by those giv­en the respon­si­bil­i­ty for imple­ment­ing it. That, states Ross, unfor­tu­nate­ly, has been a hall­mark of the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion. Iraq in for­eign pol­i­cy and Kat­ri­na in domes­tic pol­i­cy are the poster chil­dren of an admin­is­tra­tion that too often fails when it comes to plan­ning and fol­low-through.” This time­ly and instruc­tive book makes it clear that if there is to be a res­o­lu­tion of the many con­flicts faced by the Unit­ed Sates in the near future, state­craft must no longer be a lost art, but as Ross con­cludes, it is time to redis­cov­er it.”

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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