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War on Peace

June 1, 2019

Video Length 1:57

Who Should Read It

Every American citizen, and anyone with a passing or vested interest in American foreign policy.

 

Why Should We Read It

The United States increasingly relies on its military to conduct its foreign affairs. We should all understand what the long-term implications of this strategy might be. 

 

What Will We Learn

We will begin to appreciate how difficult it is to be, and how essential it is to have, a vibrate State Department that is supported by all of our elected leaders.

 

Book Reflections

"...a highly effective tool for conflict resolution...  systematically sidelined for decades: old-fashioned diplomacy." 

 

In early 2003, my twelfth grade history teacher devoted an entire period for my class to debate among ourselves an urgent national question: should we invade Iraq? Since the September 11 attacks in 2001, my classmates and I had closely followed the headlines, which by then had introduced us to new locales like Kandahar and Tora Bora in Afghanistan. My class, like the rest of the United States, could not agree whether our war on terror should expand to Iraq. Two years of intense military action had made me weary of war, but what other options did we have if Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction? That second option eluded me for fifteen years until I read Ronan Farrow's War on Peace. Here, he highlights a highly effective tool for conflict resolution, one that both Republican and Democratic Presidents have systematically sidelined for decades: old-fashioned diplomacy.

 

"...the only quick fixes available were always short-term military solutions that inevitably beget new political problems."

 

The first half of War on Peace details the efforts of the US State Department in the early 2000's to promote US interests in Pakistan and Afghanistan, primarily from the perspective of the indefatigable veteran diplomat Mr. Richard Holbrooke. He had successfully brokered peace in Bosnia in the 1990's, and his ego and ambition convinced himself that he could replicate the same results in South Asia. To that end, Mr. Holbrooke recruited a multi-disciplinary group of government and non-government experts into the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), which also included author Ronan Farrow himself. The average American citizen like myself would read news articles about the difficulties in dealing with Pakistani military leaders or Afghani warlords; by virtue of his job, Mr. Farrow was professionally acquainted with them all by name.

 

"...the State Department increasingly found itself gasping for air in a vacuum dominated by military generals."

 

Sadly for the Mr. Holbrooke and the world, SRAP did not achieve its ultimate goal of peace, and barely produced any meaningful policy for the region. Part of the challenge lay in politics and personality. Precious few officials on Capitol Hill fully appreciated SRAP, and even fewer would tolerate Mr. Holbrooke's flair and penchant for media attention. But deeper trends were afoot- every US President from 1989 through 2018 increasingly relied on our military to solve world conflicts because the only quick fixes available were always short-term military solutions that inevitably beget new political problems. As the second half of War on Peace attests, Mr. Holbrooke and SRAP did not suffer irrelevance purely due to petty political infighting; in nearly every global hotspot in the last twenty years, the State Department increasingly found itself gasping for air in a vacuum dominated by military generals.

 

"'...a timely and urgent exploration of...the tireless work these diplomats do to keep Americans safe."

 

Mr. Farrow's War on Peace offers a timely and urgent exploration of the United States' Foreign Service, and the tireless work these diplomats do to keep Americans safe. He bears witness not just to actual, unfiltered diplomacy at play, but also to the unrelenting energy needed to convince someone to give diplomacy a chance at all. Time and time again, the State Department has endured repeated rounds of budget cuts while approved military spending has soared. It leaves every President with an impossible foreign policy choice for each new conflict: rely on our military strength for short-sighted tactical gain, or lean on our enfeebled State Department for uncertain long-term strategy. It is a vicious cycle, and I am reminded again of my high school's Iraq debate. Should we have invaded Iraq in 2003? The answer: we should have engaged in robust diplomacy ten years before that in 1993.

 

 

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