A professional diplomat looks at the U.S. record

Charles Freeman

Charles Freeman

Ambassador Charles Freeman had a long and distinguished career in government service, including President Richard M. Nixon’s principal interpreter in his 1972 visit to China, service in India, China, Thailand and Saudi Arabia and policy-making positions in the State and Defense departments.

The following is from a speech he gave this month at a conference of the Middle East Policy Council in Washingon, D.C.

Our hammer blows in the Middle East were intended to showcase our power. Instead they convincingly demonstrated its limitations. These interventions worsened – not improved – the region’s stability, politics, and prospects.

Our unmatched military prowess has not enabled us to impose our will in West Asia, in Eastern Europe, or elsewhere.  The record of covert action at solving political problems in all of these regions has been no better.

The question then is: what alternatives to the military hammer and related kinetic instruments of statecraft does the U.S. presidency now have?

Normally, the answer would be the political screwdriver of diplomacy or other non-percussive means of influence, like subsidies and subventions.  But there is a reason the Department of State is the smallest and weakest executive department of our government.

The United States seldom resorts to diplomacy in resolving major differences with other states.  Gladiators trump diplomats anytime in terms of the spectacle they provide.  And, even if they don’t work, coercive measures like sanctions and bombing are much more immediately satisfying emotionally than the long slog of diplomacy.


Americans like to have a moral foundation for policy.  In the Middle East – and not just with respect to Israel – the geology has proven too complex to allow one.

Take our professed desire to promote democracy.

In practice, the United States has made a real effort at democratizing only countries it has invaded – like Iraq and Afghanistan – or those it despises – like Palestine, Iran, and Syria.  The rest we carp at but leave to their hereditary rulers, dictators, generals, and thugs.

When democratic elections yield governments to which we or our allies object – as in Algeria, Palestine, and Egypt – Washington contrives their overthrow and replacement by congenial despots. If democracy is the message, America is not now its prophet.

Click on Obama’s Foreign Policy and the Future of the Middle East to read Freeman’s whole speech.

One Response to “A professional diplomat looks at the U.S. record”

  1. whungerford Says:

    Thanks for this.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: