Observations of a Well-Rounded Diplomat

Observations of a Well-Rounded Diplomat

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IN REVIEW, Robert B. Zoellick, America in the World: A History of U.S. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy (New York: Hachette, 2020), 548 pp.

Diplomacy in the twenty-first century generally has taken a back seat to the military. Especially in both Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. Department of Defense has been the default option before and after conflict as well as in wartime itself. Moreover, four-star generals and admirals who serve as regional “combatant commanders” have more frequent access to government leaders in what is termed their “area of responsibility” or AOR, than do ambassadors, sub-cabinet officers, and at times even Cabinet-level officials. As Robert Zoellick demonstrates in his masterful history of American diplomacy from the birth of the Republic through George H.W. Bush’s presidency, this was not always so.

Zoellick illustrates this reality in America in the World: A History of U.S. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, a book that is as well rounded as it is well written. Zoellick has been around the government block, indeed more so than many others. With a resume that includes service as Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, Deputy Secretary of State, U.S. Trade Representative, Deputy Chief of the White House staff, and President of the World Bank, he blends the various perspectives he has gleaned over the years into his analysis of the diplomacy that underpinned America’s development into a world power. Zoellick’s view of what diplomacy entails, like his own career, embodies what is called “whole of government,” the contribution of multiple agencies to what should be a coherent approach to American foreign policy.

“Whole of government” does not necessarily connote “soft power,” even if only the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security—under which the Coast Guard operates—and the National Security Council can mandate “kinetic” operations. There is nothing particularly soft about the Department of the Treasury’s ability to choke off an adversary’s banking operations, as it has done to those of Iran. Nor does the Trade Representative merely exercise soft power, as President Donald Trump’s penchant for trade wars has made abundantly clear.

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