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Book Review of Brady Kiesling's "Diplomacy lessons"

it should be required reading for students of international
politics and American foreign policy as well as on the list of any
American concerned about the direction of our national security policies.

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  Friday, 13 October 2006


    Kiesling's Diplomacy Lessons: A Book Review Essay

*By PHK*

Brady Kiesling’s _Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower
_(Potomac, 2006) is a book which, as Harvard University’s veteran
international relations professor Stanley Hoffman wrote in the August
10, 2006 /New York Review of Books/,
<http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19217>should be required reading for
anyone contemplating a career as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer.

I also think it should be required reading for students of international
politics and American foreign policy as well as on the list of any
American concerned about the direction of our national security policies.

Why? Because this readable, 277 page book demonstrates - through myriads
of examples drawn from Kiesling’s own experiences to illustrate his
points - the Byzantine complexities of U.S. foreign policy making, its
too often tortured implementation and the short and long term
repercussions when mistakes are made.

In so doing, _Diplomacy Lessons _demonstrates the dilemmas and
limitations of a career professional service and its talented members
when run over and beaten down by an arrogant administration with no
respect for their expertise – preferring instead to take the ill-founded
“advice” of a coterie of idealistic political ideologues lacking real
world experience and self-serving Iraqi con men. Together they led an
inexperienced and unqualified president down the path to nowhere and
caused - among other things - Kiesling to resign in protest years before
his time.

When I taught international politics several years ago, I described the
U.S. foreign policy making process to incredulous university students
who had no idea how “the sausage was made.” Eyes grew wide. Yet, none of
the international relations texts I had reviewed in preparation for the
class – including the one I used – provided even a hint at what really
happens in Foggy Bottom, at the National Security Council or behind
Embassy walls.

It seems to me, therefore, that those of us who have experienced the
real world of US diplomacy owe such explanations to the American public
if we want our citizens to understand how the U.S. operates overseas and
why it is perceived abroad the way it is. Kiesling’s new book does just
that – and more because he also debunks – but sometimes supports – the
underpinnings of international relations theories through real world
experiences of U.S. diplomats including his own.

Kiesling also characterizes the operation of the State Department and
its relations with other foreign affairs agencies very well indeed. He
tells of a professional service that fails to value the area and
linguistic expertise of its officer corps in favor of Washington
bureaucratic operatives. Exactly so. That’s the reason we have so few
Arabists and Arabic linguists capable of handling this difficult
language and culture at a professional level. State’s assignments and
promotion policies work against both. The “end of history” foreign
affairs agencies downsizing in the 1990s forced a vast majority to
retire prematurely. It takes years to replace their expertise and we’re
paying for it now. This is true for virtually every other difficult to
learn language as well. Ambassador Monteagle Stearns documented the
problem clearly in his landmark book on the U.S. Foreign Service
_Talking to Strangers _in the1990s.

Further, this administration’s empty gestures to change these
ill-founded policies through vastly under-funded, vastly over-publicized
initiatives are a drop in the ocean.

*Democacy-building ain’t easy*

Kiesling’s firsthand recollections of the problems of democracy-building
in post-Soviet Armenia and Romania after Ceaucescu should make anyone
who believes waving a magic wand and holding elections will metamorphose
a dictatorship into a democracy think more than twice. It just doesn’t
work that way and Kiesling tells us why.

*US-Greek Relations: a case study in the long term effects of bad policies*

I also have other reasons for liking Kiesling’s book. Kiesling is a
Greek specialist who spent several years at different times assigned to
the U.S. Embassy in Athens. I too devoted chunks of my own Foreign
Service career to Greece. I know Brady Kiesling and it turns out that we
have several friends and acquaintances in common - although our paths
did not cross until October 2004 and months after his resignation.

Like Kiesling, I had worked in Greece before entering the Foreign
Service. Kiesling began his Greek odyssey as a classics major. He still
lives in Athens. And he is still involved in archeological digs. He
draws upon these experiences for his book. Fresh out of college, I
worked as a Teaching Fellow at Anatolia College in Thessaloniki from
1965-66 where I delved only minimally into the classics – although I did
visit numerous archeological sites. Instead, I immersed myself in the
history and politics of the Balkans – Macedonia and Greece in particular
- which I ultimately drew upon for my MA and PhD theses and which began
my life long fascination with this complex multi-ethnic checkerboard in
Europe's southeast.

This is also where and when I witnessed the increasing political
instability that resulted in the April 1967 Greek military colonels’
coup which Kiesling correctly points to as the first of three
cataclysmic events which Greeks blamed on the US and that soured
US-Greek relations for years thereafter.

The second problem was the close relations between the hated junta and
the U.S. government between 1969 and 1974 when the junta collapsed due
to its own ineptitude over Cyprus. I am not convinced that the US was
behind the 1967 coup for a variety of reasons. Kiesling supports my
convictions.

I worked at the Embassy (actually at USIS) as a first tour officer
during 1970-71. I know, therefore, that after Nixon became president in
1969, the relationships between his political appointee ambassador Henry
Tasca and the junta were so cordial we felt the seismic reactions to
this ill-begotten policy for decades thereafter. Not only was the Greek
public outraged at our fawning support for the hated military rulers,
but also our mistaken policies provided a rationale for a small,
homegrown, scraggly, ideologically bizarre Greek terrorist group called
November 17(N-17) to murder American officials stationed in Athens from
1975 until June 29, 2002 when they were arrested.

*America’s public diplomacy debacle*

Kiesling sees the relevance of robust public diplomacy, but realizes –
unlike our current Secretary of State – that not everyone in an Embassy
is cut out to engage in or has the time to do public diplomacy and as
importantly that even the best public diplomacy and public diplomacy
diplomats cannot sell bad policy. In addition, he accurately describes
the disappearance of the U.S. government’s public diplomacy specialists
after the destruction of the U.S. Information Agency in 1999. What this
will portend for the future is an excellent question – but I am
convinced that nothing will begin to change until at least January 2009.

There are a few places where I disagree with Kiesling’s analyses or
recommendations. But here is the major one: a suggestion near the book's
conclusion that the CIA be integrated into the Foreign Service and that
State and CIA's research and analysis arms be combined. On the one hand,
I think Kiesling is right that we should be thinking now about
rearranging the foreign affairs deck chairs after the current
administration, but I question this proposal's efficacy. Why?

It seems to me that built-in redundancy in the analytical capabilities
of our civilian intelligence services is a safeguard we can well afford
even in a post-Iraq belt-tightening. Further, from what I've observed,
the personality traits, training, career patterns and expertise needed
to make successful spies versus successful diplomats are not the same.

I still think, however, that _Diplomacy Lessons _is well worth the time,
effort and money invested in reading it, and if possible, meeting and
hearing from its author if you have the chance.

/As CKR indicated yesterday, Kiesling is on a book tour of the U.S. He
will speak and sign copies of _Diplomacy Lessions_ at Garcia Street
Books in Santa Fe, New Mexico at 5 pm Monday October 16 and at the
University of New Mexico at Mitchell Hall, Room 101 at 12:30 on Tuesday,
October 17/.

/For Santa Fe listeners, he will be interviewed live by KSFR’s
Mary-Charlotte Domandi on her morning radio show on October 16. It
begins at 8:06 am Mountain Time on KSFR 90.7 FM Santa Fe Public Radio,
and streaming live on the web at http://ksfr.org The dates and locations
of his events elsewhere are on Brady Kiesling's website:
<http://www.bradykiesling.com/speaking_engagements.htm>Check them out –
and bring your friends. These are events not to be missed./

Posted by Patricia Kushlis on Friday, 13 October 2006 at 11:53 AM |
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