After 9/11 anniversary: the return of US diplomacy
The US has relied on the military to hit back when attacked or even threatened; to place first priority on building up defenses; to sometimes shoot first, ask questions later. But the most difficult challenges ahead will require greater reliance on diplomacy and traditional statecraft.
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During these last 10 years, the US has fought two major land wars simultaneously. It has conducted an aggressive, controversial, and dangerous military campaign against terrorist groups from Iraq to the Afghan/Pakistan border to Somalia and Yemen. And America has transformed the way it defends itself from the terrorist threat at home and overseas.
The US has relied on the military to hit back when attacked or even threatened, to place first priority on building up defenses, and to sometimes shoot first and ask questions later. Much of this made sense in the months immediately following the shocking new threat that appeared with such sudden and terrible force in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.
Different challenges require different policies
But, the years ahead look to present far different challenges for America’s global leadership role, requiring both a vastly changed mindset and dramatically different policies in Washington.
To be sure, we will sometimes turn to our extraordinarily impressive military to defend against threats new and old. But, unlike the years following 9/11, the most difficult challenges ahead will require greater reliance on a combination of diplomacy and traditional statecraft and all that comes with it. That includes negotiating with odious regimes, threatening and cajoling them – but more often overcoming them through the strength of our political alliances – to get our way in the world.
This return of diplomacy to center stage in American foreign policy will take many different forms.
First, diplomacy is ascendant in the costly, ill-defined, and inconclusive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that will end not on the battlefield but at the negotiating table. President Obama’s decision to remove combat forces in Iraq and ask the State Department to lead at the end of this year is sensible and long overdue. The US will also need to negotiate its way out of Afghanistan in the next few years as a conventional military victory there is unattainable.