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.
Second, diplomacy is also the most likely way for the US to blunt the nuclear ambitions of both North Korea and Iran. After the searing experience of invading and occupying both Afghanistan and Iraq, there is no appetite in Washington or in allied capitals for another land war in the vital regions of the Middle East and Asia. Instead, America will need to contain and eventually defeat the aims of the gangster regimes in Pyongyang and Tehran by leading international coalitions to sanction and weaken them over time.