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

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

by Dennis Ross

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How did it come to pass that, not so long after 9/11 brought the free world to our side, U.S. foreign policy is in a shambles? In this thought-provoking book, the renowned peace negotiator Dennis Ross argues that the Bush administration's problems stem from its inability to use the tools of statecraft—diplomatic, economic, and military—to advance our

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How did it come to pass that, not so long after 9/11 brought the free world to our side, U.S. foreign policy is in a shambles? In this thought-provoking book, the renowned peace negotiator Dennis Ross argues that the Bush administration's problems stem from its inability to use the tools of statecraft—diplomatic, economic, and military—to advance our interests.

Statecraft is as old as politics: Plato wrote about it, Machiavelli practiced it. After the demise of Communism, some predicted that statecraft would wither away. But Ross explains that in the globalized world—with its fluid borders, terrorist networks, and violent unrest—statecraft is necessary simply to keep the peace.

In illuminating chapters, he outlines how statecraft helped shape a new world order after 1989. He shows how the failure of statecraft in Iraq and the Middle East has undercut the United States internationally, and makes clear that only statecraft can check the rise of China and the danger of a nuclear Iran. He draws on his expertise to reveal the art of successful negotiation. And he shows how the next president could resolve today's problems and define a realistic, ambitious foreign policy.

Statecraft is essential reading for anyone interested in foreign policy—or concerned about America's place in the world.

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Editorial Reviews

For Dennis Ross, statecraft is not an abstract subject. First appointed to foreign policy duties during the Reagan administration, he labored for 12 years as the central figure of American Middle East peace negotiations. His service under both Republican and Democratic presidents lends a special authority to his insights about how diplomacy works and how the Bush administration has bungled post-9/11 statecraft both near and far. An insider's account of how diplomacy really works and a major statement about foreign policy in our time.

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And How to Restore America's Standing in the World

By Dennis Ross

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2007 Dennis Ross
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-70832-0



Even more than his actual conduct of our foreign affairs, George W. Bush's rhetorical approach to foreign policy has been criticized and caricatured. That he speaks in slogans and general principles hardly makes him unique. Every president tries to put his policies in a clear and understandable framework, and few succeed. It is not easy to find a slogan that encapsulates the U.S. role and interests in the world and, at the same time, offers a sense of direction about our foreign policy.

During the cold war, "containment" met all these tests. It provided an easy handle to describe U.S. foreign policy. It served as a guiding principle; it told us how to organize ourselves, our priorities, and our resources to deal with a global Soviet threat. It provided the logic for alliances, and the commonly perceived threat forged bonds that held those alliances together. With containment, wherever the Soviet Union was expanding directly or through proxy, we would meet and counter that expansion. It seemed logical, even compelling—until, of course, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations saw Vietnam as part of the global strategy of limiting Soviet or Soviet-backed advances. The cost of such a deterministic approach became all too clear. The reality of local nationalism unconnected to a global template was slowly and painfully understood.

Even though the Nixon, Carter, and Reagan administrations refined the practice of containment, it would take the collapse of the Soviet Union to prompt American policy makers to formulate a new approach to our role in the world. In the George H. W. Bush administration (in which I worked under Secretary of State James Baker) we sought to create a "new world order" developing new organizations in Europe to promote security and guide emerging states from the former Soviet Union, while also employing force collectively to undo the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait and demonstrate that the law of the jungle would not be permitted in this new era. In the Clinton administration (in which I was chief Middle East envoy), "democratic enlargement" became the new catchphrase, describing not only NATO's embrace of those in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union who would adopt democratic institutions and civil society but also others around the globe who would embrace democratic values and free markets. To be sure, force would be employed where rogue actors threatened regional stability and engaged in ethnic cleansing.

Of course, the guiding principles were observed generally and not always with great consistency. The Bush administration chose not to get involved as Yugoslavia disintegrated and Slobodan Milogevic began to seize parts of Bosnia and Croatia, practice "ethnic cleansing," and expel the non-Serb populations to create a Greater Serbia. Similarly, during the Clinton administration, Hutu genocide of the rival Tutsi population took place in Rwanda without a significant American or international response.

In the two terms of George W. Bush, U.S. policy and national security interests have been governed by the war on terrorism. Defeating terrorism has been the preoccupation. But "promoting freedom" and "ending tyranny" have become the administration's rhetorical guideposts. President Bush has declared the promotion of freedom as the best way to ensure that terrorists such as Osama Bin Laden do not have fertile ground to exploit. Insofar as terrorism, which after all is an instrument not a philosophy or a belief system, depends on frustration and alienation to attract recruits, the president is right to focus on changing or removing oppressive regimes that generate so much anger and hopelessness among their people.

Here, again, we should not expect perfect consistency between rhetorical goals and foreign policy behavior. While it might be desirable to see greater consistency between our stated purpose and goals and our behavior, it is not easy for any administration always to meet this standard. After all, the world situation and our interests are not black and white, and hard choices, not so susceptible to a simple slogan or principle, have to be made. President Bush, much like his father and President Clinton, has decided that maintaining stability in oil-rich Saudi Arabia is more important than pushing the royal family to democratize. He has made much the same judgment about Pakistan and its president, General Pervez Musharraf. In this case, Pakistan's importance to the war on terrorism, and the dangers of a fundamentalist coup in a nuclear-armed state, have trumped the administration's concerns about Musharraf's authoritarian rule and his protection of the Taliban and of A. Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program.

When it comes to the gap between rhetorical slogans and actual policies, the Bush administration is not materially different from or worse than its predecessors. Similarly—caricatures notwithstanding—the Bush administration has not departed radically from its predecessors when it comes to unilateral versus multilateral behavior.

The conventional wisdom that the Bush policy is unilateralist is simply wrong. No administration is ever entirely unilateralist or multilateralist. No American president has ever been prepared to allow others to veto a pathway that he considered to be vital to U.S. interests. Nor has any American president, including George W. Bush, been unwilling to join with other states in responding to potential challenges and threats. Indeed, when it comes to the Iranian and the North Korean nuclear programs, the administration has been only multilateralist—answering charges during the 2004 presidential campaign about the growth of North Korean and Iranian nuclear capabilities during Bush's first term by pointing to its efforts with allies to address the problems.

The issue has never been unilateralist versus multilateralist. Rather it is effectiveness. The Bush administration's failing has not been its instinct for unilateralism and its disdain for multilateralism. Its failing too often has been how poorly it has practiced multilateralism. On Iraq, it tried and failed to persuade the UN Security Council to pass a second resolution endorsing the war in Iraq. It tried and failed to gain Turkey's permission for U.S. forces to operate from Turkey's territory and send U.S. ground troops across the Turkish-Iraqi border—a failing that allowed large parts of the Ba'ath regime and the Republican Guard forces to melt away, avoid destruction, and regroup as an anti-American insurgency. Even after Saddam Hussein was captured, the administration tried and failed to persuade our NATO allies to help deal with the Iraqi insurgency, reconstruct Iraq, and train indigenous security forces.

Whether on Iraq or on its efforts to blunt North Korean and Iranian nuclear development, the Bush administration has adopted a multilateral approach, but failed to achieve our national security objectives as it did so. If the administration has not eschewed multilateralism, why is it perceived as unilateralist?

Is it because of its style? Is it because of its ideology? Or is it because it has been weak in its use of diplomacy and the tools of statecraft? All three factors help explain both the perception and the costs internationally of that perception.


Style matters in foreign policy. It is easy to dismiss style, and focus only on the substance of what we do. But the "how" of foreign policy—meaning how we act—also matters. While the how of our foreign policy involves many different tools—all relating to implementation of policies once we've settled on them—the way in which we carry out our steps and apply the various instruments available to us is particularly important. In this sense, our "style," or our public positioning and packaging, creates the context in which we deal with others and they respond to us.

At times, different administrations might adopt similar approaches to a given situation but package their approaches very differently. Compare, for example, the style of the George H. W. Bush administration in advance of the first Gulf War and the style of the George W. Bush administration in the run-up to the second Gulf War. There was no difference in the readiness of each administration to go it alone if necessary, but the two Bushes' styles were very different—and got very different results.

George H. W. Bush said unequivocally that the Iraqi aggression would not stand, and then proceeded to put together an international coalition and gain passage of UN Security Council resolutions that imposed sanctions and then authorized the use of force against Iraq—resolutions that his son would use to justify military intervention against Saddam Hussein twelve years later.

How did the elder Bush build his coalition and gain UN support? Through statecraft—in this case, through intensive and extensive efforts to persuade other leaders, often in face-to-face discussions. At one point, in November 1990, his secretary of state, James Baker, met with the leader or foreign minister of every country on the Security Council in order to formulate and win support for the crucial UNSC Resolution 678, which authorized the use of "all necessary means" to end Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.

In public, Baker explained that he was consulting other national leaders on the best ways to respond to the Iraqi aggression. In private, his message was very different: he told the leaders that President Bush had said the aggression would not stand and we would do what was necessary to undo it; the resolution that was being drafted would authorize the use of military means to expel Iraq from Kuwait; we hoped this particular country and its leaders would support the resolution, and if there was something we could do to make it easier for them to do so, they should let us know what that might be. However, at the end of the day, we would act collectively as we desired or on our own if we had to.

The "style" of the approach was consultative, even if the "substance" was not. But in this case, style was substantial. By sending its top foreign policy official to many other countries, the United States demonstrated that the views of others mattered. America was signaling its respect for the positions and attitudes of foreign leaders enough to go to them and solicit their input, to give them an explanation for their publics as to what they were doing, and to enable those foreign leaders to show that they were part of an international consensus they had helped to shape. The U.S. public posture did not make the leaders defensive or put them in a political corner. On the contrary, by going to them, the administration was giving them an incentive to respond favorably.

Contrast this with the behavior of the younger Bush's administration in 2002. From the president's speech at the UN in September, in which he challenged the body to be relevant, to his failure to travel to other capitals to make his case or solicit views, to his challenging others on the Security Council to "show their cards" as the president proposed a second resolution—and then declaring such a resolution unnecessary when it was clear the votes weren't there to adopt it—the administration's public posture was "give us the cover for what we plan to do anyway, or get out of the way."

My point here is not to address the issue of whether going to war in Iraq in 2003 was right or wrong. Rather, it is to show that two administrations that were equally committed to using force if necessary went about gaining support for their goals in two very different ways. One understood that how it went about positioning itself and framing its goals was very important; indeed, that the "style" of what it did would have an impact on whether others would join it in carrying out the "substance" of its goals. The other showed very little interest in the effect its style might have on others.

Did the younger President Bush not want others to join us? No, he has spoken often and with obvious sincerity about the international response to terrorism, and he has referred to the countries who joined us in Iraq as the "coalition of the willing." The issue was not whether he wanted partners for the war in Iraq, but what he was willing to do to get them—and here the impact of 9/11 on the political psychology of President Bush must be understood.


With the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a president who seemed to lack his footing in the first eight months of his administration found his mission, his confidence, and his voice. He would combat the evil of terrorism and its emergence as the leading threat to the United States and our values. There was no alternative to fighting this war that had been imposed on us, and there could be no compromise with the terrorists or those who supported them. His blunt, no-nonsense manner of speaking seemed to fit the moment. This was not a time for nuance.

Striking a strong, determined pose was necessary to reassure the American public. It was also the right policy, particularly because Osama Bin Laden and his supporters had to understand that the United States would not shrink from this conflict. Bin Laden had fully expected that we would. In his eyes, an America that had fled Lebanon after losing 241 marines to a suicide bombing; withdrawn from Somalia after losing 18 soldiers during the Black Hawk Down incident; and failed to respond in any meaningful way to the bombings in Saudi Arabia in 1996, of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, despite the numbers of Americans killed, appeared weak and irresolute. In Bush's mind, Bin Laden and his adherents had to see that there would be a tough, sustained response and that they would know no peace and find no refuge.

This was not just the right approach to policy; it was also good politics at home. President Bush adopted a style that fit the moment but also reflected who he was. His speaking plainly and bluntly struck a chord with the American public. It gave the public confidence when that confidence had been badly shaken. It responded to our collective need to be defiant in the face of such an outrage, and to show support for a leader who would not surrender to such an evil but would confront it. It helped the president forge a bond with the American public at a time when one was crucially needed.

When any president finds his voice—and it is authentic—he is unlikely to depart from it. Moreover, in an age of instant communication, a president cannot have one voice for America and another for the world. Certainly Bill Clinton spoke in the same voice regardless of where he was. His capacity to feel pain, empathize, and connect with people was employed, as I witnessed, not only in this country, but also in Moscow, Budapest, Tel Aviv, and Gaza—and it worked everywhere. George W. Bush's blunt style would look cynically political if he used it in this country but not elsewhere.

Inevitably, then, Bush's blunt rhetorical style after 9/11 began to have consequences for his foreign policy. For him it was simply not a big leap to go from finding Osama Bin Laden "dead or alive" to challenging Iraqi insurgents to "bring it on"—to badgering prospective allies to get with the program. Was the tone going to be different with potential partners? Was he going to try to cajole others into dealing with the "evil" of Saddam Hussein or simply declare that others should not shirk their duty.?

Of course, one might ask whether Secretary of State Colin Powell could have complemented the president by pursuing a James Baker-type solicitation and consultation mission—at once both providing others with reasons to join the coalition and softening the effect of President Bush's style. Clearly, Secretary Powell should have tried to follow the Baker example and did not. However, to be fair to him, no one in the administration was eager for him to do so; some actively discouraged him and others undermined his legitimacy as secretary, questioning whether he was authoritative and actually spoke for the president. To be sure, the reason he did not speak for the administration was that the president, Secretary Rumsfeld, and other key officials came to translate Bush's style (the bluster) into substance. They believed what they said and did not think that the United States had to depend on anyone else—indeed, to do so, they felt, would signal weakness.

Once President Bush won reelection, however, he began to temper this style and see the value of reaching out to others. Iraq had already created a sobering reality. The United States was tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan and had few forces available for other contingencies. The costs of almost reflexive opposition of others in the international community, including from many of America's European allies, had also become increasingly apparent, and argued for a new stylistic approach. According to one report, President Bush "began signaling foreign leaders visiting him in the Oval Office that he knew much had gone wrong in his first term, and that he had empowered Ms. Rice to put a new emphasis on consultation and teamwork with allies." New secretary of state Condoleezza Rice embarked almost immediately on fence-mending trips to Europe and Asia. In Europe, she went out of her way to emphasize a common approach on the question of Iran's nuclear program. And President Bush, in his February 2005 trip to Europe, echoed the theme of consulting European leaders and listening to European attitudes on how best to stop the Iranians from going nuclear. After the trip, he authorized a change in the U.S. approach; previously the administration had kept its distance from the British, French, and German negotiations with the Iranians (even if it claimed otherwise in the 2004 presidential campaign), but following the president's European trip, the United States began to coordinate with the European trio, and permitted them to offer limited incentives to the Iranians on the United States' behalf.


Excerpted from Statecraft by Dennis Ross. Copyright © 2007 Dennis Ross. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Dennis Ross, Middle East envoy for George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Foreign Affairs called his first book, The Missing Peace, "a major contribution to the diplomatic history of the twentieth century."

Dennis Ross, Middle East envoy for George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Foreign Affairs called his first book, The Missing Peace, “a major contribution to the diplomatic history of the twentieth century.”

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