Foreign Policy Blogs

US Diplomacy: "Fixing It"

Last week the online magazine Slate published a series called “Fixing It“‚ ten articles offering detailed policy prescriptions for the next US president on how to undo what they identify as damage caused by the Bush administration.

Slate asked their international affairs columnist, Fred Kaplan, a former Congressional foreign policy adviser, to give the next president advice on how to fix the US’ current credibility gap.

US Diplomacy: "Fixing It"

Kaplan explains that President Bush's main fault was that he didn't fully comprehend the realities of the post-Cold War world. He didn't realize that the absence of two superpowers balancing the international system made allies more important than ever.

Kaplan offers 7 broad steps the next President can take to ameliorate the damage wrought by Bush's misunderstandings of global power dynamics. As he sees it the next US President must:

First: Travel to all the Middle East countries and leave behind a full-time envoy to the region. Kaplan waxed nostalgic Dennis Ross‘ contributions toward Middle East peace negotiations, a Middle East envoy who served under both Bush Senior and Bill Clinton. In fact, Kaplan's essay echoes some of the main points of a book himself Ross penned.

Steps two through four deal with the war in Iraq: Withdraw troops from Iraq as quickly as possible while trying to keep the country from “going up in flames;” Keep the violence in Iraq from spreading throughout the region; Engage Iraq's neighbors (namely Syria) in more direct diplomatic talks.

Five: Talk to Iran, with an “eye toward negotiating a grand bargain.” Although he warns: “This effort may not go anywhere. But Bush's hostile rhetoric has only bolstered Ahmadinejad's domestic support. Diplomatic overtures, if made openly and (by all appearances) sincerely, may undermine his resistance to reform.”

Six: Work toward new Pakistani alliances, although he concedes: “In Pakistan, the situation is so fluid and uncertain, it's hard to know at this point what policies ought to be pursued 10 months from now.”

Seven: (Last but not least!) Pursue Public Diplomacy. Kaplan explains: “What we do sends a more potent signal to the world than the cleverest PR campaign. But once we start doing smarter things, we should also be smart about promoting our efforts.” He suggests resurrecting the US Information Agency (which was merged into the State Department under the Clinton administration), expanding the Foreign Service, training consular officials to treat foreign visitors more courteously at embassies and airports.

Kaplan outlines no small task for the next US president. As a starting point, perhaps it's worth testing the Presidential candidates on their understanding of the current character of the international system. If, as Kaplan claims, Bush's misunderstandings fundamentally threw Bush's foreign policy off the mark, perhaps now might be the right time to ask each candidate to flesh out their choice theory of contemporary international relations.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.