Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"War on Peace" Ronan Farrow

When I first came across the book "War on Peace" by Ronan Farrow I was drawn by its subtitle, "The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence"  which suggest it is the type of book that I look for --  political, on foreign policy, and presumably smart.  But I have a general rule, I don't buy political books by people not, or haven't been in government.  It's my way of avoiding people like me,  opinionated but removed.

Well,  after just a little research I came to understand that the author,  Ronan Farrow, had indeed been a part of government, and that he served in the State Department under Richard Holbrooke.  Which satisfied my vetting process.   ( The only deviations to this rule of avoiding outsider's opinion/rants in recent memory was when I bought two books partial to Donald Trump, as  he just came into office, I thought it would be fair to read what was expected of him, and how he operates from people who new him better than me.)

The title, "War on Peace", established a cynical tone to the book, perhaps his views were similar to mine as it pertains to all the previous political "wars," such as on poverty,  drugs, Christmas, or men.  So why not have a war on peace as well?  I knew I felt the bond when I saw that the last section was labeled  "Present at the Destruction."  The same play on words, but this time an echo of Dean Acheson's legendary book, "Present at the Creation"  which is a personal account of the dawn of the post WWII era from one of the architects of a peace that has lasted in the Western and First World for 70 years.

A quick run down of its sections and chapters suggested it was going to be a really valuable book, chalk full of particulars that would support Farrow's argument,  and it did not disappoint.   Afghanistan, Africa, the Middle East, Latin and South America all set locations of specific cause and effects due to America's own meddling in foreign affairs and subsequently our waning meddling in foreign affairs.

As diplomacy would have it, we've made with many a strange bed fellows, including a war lord in Afghanistan whose high ranking government palace now includes real grass so that his pets can graze on it indoors, and unfortunately both sides of a few civil wars.

Yes, sometimes we found ourselves fighting our own selves, if millions and billions in aid serve to represent our interest in diverse and remote conflicts throughout the world.

But evidently all that is going away,  according to the text, due to State Department budget cuts and a general devaluing of the role of diplomacy and state craft in the United States.  But if you think this book is a Trojan horse to merely slam Donald Trump, you would be mistaken.   While you don't expect much praise thrown toward our current President in an account like this,  you may not of expected the history that previous Presidents have done to undermine our achievements, institutions, and abilities to date either.

The Generals that serve the Trump Administration today may be an amplification of the usual representation of military in  previous administrations, but the trend toward deferring to the military in matters of peace has been gaining momentum for about 20 years, and so it may not be so shocking after all. 

Except that it is.

According to the account,  the U.S. diplomatic corp has been sliding backward for so long, and by so much, that we are playing second and third stringers against the world,  and that our position will and has suffered.

This is an area of great interest to me on a personal level,  I read on matters of state on a regular basis.  I have autobiographies written by many former Secretaries of State including more than a handful by Kissinger,  Acheson, and James Baker.   Farrow sprinkles advice and wisdom from Rice, Kerry, Christopher, and more -- he claims to have spoken to every living former Secretary of State, and I believe they all have been quoted here.  That's why I know I can accept this book as an honest attempt to expose the scene behind the curtain of international relations as they exist today.  Its not good, but keep your eye on the military, because the State Department has been in decline and nature abhors a vacuum.

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