Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower

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John Brady Kiesling, a twenty-year veteran of the foreign service, publicly resigned his position as political counselor of the U.S. Embassy in Athens in February 2003 to protest the Bush administration’s impending invasion of Iraq. He believed that the security, economic, and moral costs of this war, including the blackening of America’s image abroad, would far outweigh any benefit to the American people. In Diplomacy Lessons, Kiesling reminds readers that U.S. power does not rest on military might alone and that anger at America has real consequences for U.S. national interests. The security and prosperity of the American people depend on efficient cooperation with foreigners on a range of issues, not only terrorism and nuclear nonproliferation but also trade policy, environmental protection, and even public health. The policy decisions of America’s foreign partners are driven by domestic politics, just as they are in the United States, and effective U.S. diplomacy requires understanding these political realities. An unloved superpower faces significant costs, both economic and strategic, in the pursuit of its interests. Kiesling calls for a return to realist policy making that recognizes the limits of U.S. power and uses thoughtful diplomacy to legitimize our security requirements in the eyes of our international partners. This book is, at heart, an argument for how to best achieve America’s goals abroad. Kiesling’s passionate critique of current U.S. foreign policy and his prescriptions for restoring American influence and legitimacy will interest anyone concerned about the future of U.S. and world affairs.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This nuts-and-bolts account of what foreign service officers do on a daily basis will be of particular interest to historians and political scientists, and should be required reading for all who serve in the Obama administration’s State Department and for students interested in careers in international relations. . . . An engaging writer. . . . Kiesling’s experiences in embassies on the periphery of American consciousness . . . provide a perspective that is often lacking in discussions of U.S. foreign policy.”

"Kiesling's broad scope and incisive wit are reminiscent of some of Sir Harold Nicolson's best essays on diplomacy."

"This powerfully written analysis of the U.S. role as the only superpower left on the planet will keep an intelligent seeker of political reality awake and alert long after bedtime. . . . Diplomacy Lessons is angry without being cynical; it shows passionate commitment to the common good and to those who work for understanding. It provides constructive remedies as well as critique of an 'unloved superpower,' and so demonstrates that idealism and realism are not incompatible but essential partners in a healthy world. At the end of the day it is most an act of hopeful citizenship, one that will inspire readers to understand their world in a new way."

"Diplomacy Lessons is a riveting account of American diplomacy at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century. John Brady Kiesling’s stimulating and inspirational observations are an important contribution to the history of our times."

"A tour de force! John Brady Kiesling believes deeply in diplomacy but exposes all the bureaucratic warts that hobble its effectiveness. His resignation from the Foreign Service due to his conviction that the impending war with Iraq would prove disastrous for our nation has liberated him to write this catalog of wise lessons for both our political leaders and our diplomats."

"Diplomacy Lessons is at once a compelling insider’s account of life as an American diplomat and a trenchant analysis of how and why U.S. foreign policy has veered so seriously off course."

"When the prospect of an American invasion of Iraq loomed, John Brady Kiesling chose to resign from his post at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, and this brilliant work on contemporary diplomacy explains why this action was the only answer for him. I am sure this thoughtful, articulate, and clearly competent diplomat would have risen to diplomacy’s highest levels, and I mourn his loss, one of the many costs of this unnecessary and faultily justified war. In Kiesling, we may have a new George Kennan."

"This book, written by an exceptionally courageous foreign service officer who resigned in protest against the war in Iraq, should be required reading by all students and practitioners of foreign policy. With a wealth of examples, in a clear and pungent style, Kiesling not only shows the damage done to America's standing in the world by George W. Bush's administration,
but suggests sound and enlightened policies that would blend American idealism with what has been so grievously missing in recent years: lucid awareness of the realities and obstacles in the rest of the world."

"[Kiesling's] book provides the invaluable perspective of someone who has seen American foreign policy from the inside. What we learn from his lively, often witty, and incisive report is invaluable. . . . He writes in the tradition of George Kennan when he argues that while Americans may argue that their security depends on the spread of morality and justice abroad, they should first practice both at home."

"A must read for young men and women aspiring to enter the American Foreign Service. It will also enlighten and challenge the thinking of active-duty diplomats, intelligence and military officers, members of Congress, journalists, lobbyists, and business people in America and abroad."

"Any who would understand modern world issues and interactions must have Diplomacy Lessons."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597971102
  • Publisher: Potomac Books
  • Publication date: 10/31/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.62 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

John Brady Kiesling was a U.S. Foreign Service officer for twenty years, serving in Israel, Morocco, Armenia, Washington, and Greece. His 2003 resignation letter was published widely, including by the New York Times and the Washington Post. Since resigning, he has been a visiting lecturer at Princeton University and a columnist and speaker on U.S. foreign policy. He lives in Greece.
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Table of Contents

1 A diplomat's rebellion 5
2 Understanding foreign nationalism 35
3 The sources of U.S. legitimacy 47
4 Some rules of the game 67
5 Diplomatic character and the art of curiosity 87
6 Bureaucratic fantasy and the duty of dissent 101
7 The cost of U.S. unpopularity 123
8 Public diplomacy and the limits of persuasiveness 135
9 Diplomats and journalists 155
10 Democratizing an oligarchic planet 167
11 Counterterrorism lessons from revolutionary organization 17 November 191
12 The domestic politics of nuclear weapons 217
13 The diplomatic cost of clandestine intelligence 239
14 Diplomatic skepticism and the lessons of Iraq 253
15 A look toward the future 271
App. A My letter of resignation 279
App. B The state department responds 283
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