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Review by Amb. (ret.) Edward Marks

The Demilitarization of American Democracy: Two Cheers for Striped Pants by Lawrence Pope, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014, ISBN-13: 978-1137298546 (print), 978-113298553 (e-book), 90 pp., $45 (Hardcover), $16.95 (Amazon Kindle), free of charge (.pdf version)

Actually, I am almost really sorry to have read this book. First of all, in only 77 pages, Ambassador Pope confirms in detail what many of us know to be true. That American diplomacy and American foreign policy are both in dire straits, dying on the vine. Pope focuses mainly on the state of affairs of the State Department and especially of the Foreign Service. There was a time, not that long ago, when the two were essentially the same, but American politics have increasingly led towards a divorce — not yet finalized but close enough to a separation to cause serious worry among the children. That many of us were aware of this situation does not in any way diminish the urgency of Ambassador Pope’s stark and explicit description.

In the first of five short chapters, the author points out the fundamental misunderstanding which dominates the American view of diplomacy: that “American exceptionalism as embodied on the ‘Shining City on the Hill’ trope co-exists uneasily with the diplomacy which requires a world of sovereign and juridically equal states.” We who have worked in the profession know that, but how many American politicians do? How many American politicians understand the difference between foreign policy and diplomacy?

The second and third chapters detail the decline of the State Department and the Foreign Service as the foreign policy and even operations have increasingly migrated to the White House, the National Security Staff. Possibly as a direct result, the State Department’s internal organization has become “a management consultant’s nightmare”, concerned with often irrelevant concerns and turf fighting with other agencies and increasingly obsessed with the internal machinations of its “management” staff. The third chapter is a devastating review of the QDDR — the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review — neatly described and dismissed as “Hillary Clinton’s Power Outage”.

Chapter 4 is a succinct tour d’horizon of the militarization of American foreign policy as a demoralized State Department (and other serious foreign policy thinkers) are increasingly replaced by a confident military/intelligence complex. Again, there is nothing new here for many observers but the facts are succinctly and cogently described.

Finally chapter 5 makes an eloquent and valiant attempt to justify the virtues of diplomacy and a civilian run foreign policy, one that could help avoid the dangers we are presently running. As Ambassador Pope is neither naive nor a pacifist, he does not dismiss the important, and often constructive, roles the military and the intelligence communities have played in international affairs. But he argues that their roles while necessary are insufficient. “The weakness of the State Department and the decline of the Foreign Service have left a void in the national security structure which no other institutions are in a position to fill, although the military-intelligence complex is trying to do just that.”

But the other reason I was somewhat sorry I ready this book was sheer envy. The art of writing — or drafting as we used to call it — has apparently declined in recent years. (If I am out of date; please correct me.) Ambassador Pope reminds us what good writing is all about. How can you not be dazzled by an author who describes the fuss and criticism of the State’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan as: “They all tended to treat the State Department as if it were a colonial ministry manqué rather than a foreign ministry, based on the premise that its proper role was to be a handmaiden to the military in its nation-building.” Or in reference to Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, “Traveling the world with a retinue of loyal aides she slipped in an out of problems without bringing sustained attention to any of them.”  And all these lapidary remarks are imbedded in a coherent, logical, flowing exposition.

It should also be noted that even his most acerbic remarks are balanced by sensible and wise comments and recommendations. So, for those of you who would like confirmation in your dark view of the condition of the profession of diplomacy; for those of you would like some guidelines about how to improve things (albeit not very optimistic guidelines); for those who would like a very good read and possibly most important, for those of you with relatives, friends, acquaintances, and even enemies who might be open to learning something about diplomacy in America in the 21st century, run to Google and get your copy of this book — electronic or hard copy.End.


American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.

image Ed Marks is a retired Foreign Senior Service officer. He serves on the board of the American Foreign Service Association.

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