- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 17, 2007


By Dennis Ross

Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, $26, 370 pages

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Dennis Ross has achieved a rare eminence in the diplomatic world. He is liked and respected not only by both Republicans and Democrats but also by Arabs and Israelis. He has achieved this prominence because of a basic honesty in dealing with all issues, and it is that honesty that inspires trust. In his latest book, “Statecraft and How to Restore America’s Standing in the World,” relying on his experience in both Republican and Democratic administrations, he describes how the United States conducts its foreign policy and what he thinks statecraft should be.

He makes some obvious points, but they are well worth repeating. Negotiations are the lifeblood of diplomacy. Through them we end wars, forge treaties and create economic alliances. They are not, however, an end in themselves. They are simply a means by which we attain our policy objectives. Further, the question is not, “should we be unilateralist or multilaterist?” We all want and need allies. The world is too large and complex for us to handle everything by ourselves. The question should be, “how effective are we in securing allies?”

The ability to define clear goals and focus all resources on obtaining them is what he calls statecraft, and the United States has on occasion done this very well.

Helmet Kohl, the West German leader in October, 1988, in responding to a question about German unity, said, “I do not write futuristic novels … what you ask now, that is in the realm of fantasy.” Yet despite his doubts, Germany soon did unite. President George H.W. Bush and Secretary James Baker wanted to see a Europeanized Germany as part of NATO. France, Britain and a good part of the State Department did not think it possible.

Russia was, of course, aghast at the thought, but by explaining clearly to all the world the advantages of a Germany locked into a European confederation, as opposed to a neutral, independent Germany that might in time want its own nuclear arms, we were able to turn both world and Russian opinion in favor of it. President Bush and Secretary Baker were incredibly active. They held dozens of meetings with foreign heads of state, made innumerable telephone calls and were polite and persistent. By fully understanding the fears of the opposition they were able to allay them.

Shortly after this major accomplishment Iraq invaded Kuwait. Again, through what the author calls statecraft, and through an understanding of its allies’ hopes and fears, the Bush administration was able — with UN authorization — to form a large coalition (even Syria made a military contribution) to rectify the situation. Two extraordinary diplomatic triumphs were achieved because a united administration with clear-cut goals acted with focus and energy.

On the current war in Iraq, he writes that the administration was split into two camps, State and CIA against Defense and the vice president, meaning that certain subjects could not be explored in depth because rivalry prevented constructive exchanges of opinion. Forward planning was minimal beyond the ouster of Saddam Hussein with little knowledge of current Iraqi thought and attitude.

Although Colin Powell worked hard to get a second UN resolution authorizing invasion, which Tony Blair, for one, thought essential, he did not have the face-to-face interviews James Baker had during the first Kuwait crisis while George W. Bush, in contrast to his father, played a relatively passive role. In this case American diplomacy failed because of a lack of concentrated drive. The same might be said of our relations with Turkey. Statecraft was missing.

In later chapters he discusses foreign policy problems we must inevitably deal with, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rich recruiting ground for Jihadists of the estranged Muslim minorities in Europe with their limited economic opportunity. He writes that militant Islam should be countered sociologically as well as by police action.

On Iran, he points out the country’s economic vulnerabilities. Aside from oil, the economy is a shambles and requires constant subvention from the government. The oil fields themselves are in need of reinvestment and rejuvenation, meaning economic sanctions, both formal and informal, would become serious issues for Iran. Learning that there are consequences for violating international agreements would also be salutary.

In short, the judicious use of sanctions could prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, but it would require an international effort. He also feels that sanctions would engender at least as much resentment in Iran against the ruling mullahs as against the West. In this action, as in all actions that affect U.S. foreign policy, he feels the United States must play a major role.

Dennis Ross, after years in the White House, has returned to academia and now reflects on what he has learned working as a negotiator. He is worth listening to.

Sol Schindler is a retired Foreign Service Officer who writes on international affairs.

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