The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2014 - page 51

A Noble Attempt
American Statecraft: The Story of the
U.S. Foreign Service
J. Robert Moskin, Thomas Dunne Books/
St. Martin’s Press, 2013, $40, hardcover,
932 pages.
Reviewed by Steven Alan Honley
If ever a book could be described as a
labor of love, it would be this one. J. Rob-
ert Moskin, a historian, journalist and the
author of nine previous books, clearly has
great respect and affection for the U.S.
Foreign Service as an institution and for
its members. Nevertheless, despite the 15
years of research, interviews and travel
Mr. Moskin has devoted to it,
Statecraft: The Story of the U.S. Foreign
is—to put it diplomatically—
extremely uneven.
Take his first chapter, which sets out to
tell “the stories of two modern Ameri-
can diplomats who made a difference”:
William A. Eddy and J. Hall Paxton. Both
men did just that, but Eddy’s contribu-
tion dates from 1945, and J. Hall Paxton’s
from 1949. Moreover, Eddy was a Marine,
naval attaché and undercover agent with
the Office of Strategic Services (the CIA’s
precursor), never a career member of the
Foreign Service.
Moskin does some things very well,
to be sure. Most admirably, he traces
the evolution and growth of the Foreign
Service over the past 240 years with just
the right mix of attention to detail and
insight. In particular, Chapter 28, “A
Single Unified Service,” contains the most
lucid account of the 1924 Rogers Act that
I’ve seen anywhere.
And speaking as a former FSO (1985-
1997), I applaud the fact that Moskin
doesn’t just talk about the Service in
theoretical or academic
terms. He strives to bring
it to life for the lay reader,
primarily by letting diplo-
mats and family members
speak for themselves.
In that sense, it really is
“The Story of the Foreign
Service.” But I would add
that AFSA’s own book,
Inside a U.S. Embassy
already accomplishes
that task in a much
more readable way—
and at less than half the cost.
In principle, I admire prodigious
research, but my initial appreciation
for Moskin’s industriousness wore off
quickly. In the first two-thirds of the
book, covering U.S. diplomatic history
through World War II, it’s understand-
able that he draws heavily on secondary
and tertiary sources, which tend to be
less engaging than primary ones. But his
penchant for telling us the height (!) and
physical features of so many historical
figures gets old quickly.
Moskin’s overall approach is, appro-
priately, chronological. But once he
reaches the 20th century, most of the
timespans indicated in each chapter
heading bear only the most tenuous
relationship to the period the content
actually covers. (Some listings seem
completely random, in fact.) Those who
already know their U.S. history will not
be thrown off by such
inconsistencies, but any-
one coming to
without a firm
grounding in our country’s
past will likely be confused.
Nor does it help that
Moskin frequently refer-
ences events and individuals
as though he had already
discussed their roles (or
existence, for that matter),
when he has not. Less often,
he commits the related error
of citing someone by their
last name many pages after the initial
mention, as though one just had to look
a few lines up the page to be reminded of
whom he’s talking about. (Thankfully, the
book’s indexing is thorough enough that
a quick check there usually resolves the
temporary confusion.)
Considering how much territory
Moskin covers, he gets most of the history
right. But he has a real weakness for gra-
tuitous comments that are non sequiturs,
or contradict what he’s just told us. His
analysis of how slavery shaped early U.S.
foreign policy is a prime example of this,
but far from the only one. He also seems
to have only the most superficial under-
standing of what AFSA is, though he does
applaud its dissent awards program.
On balance, I cannot really recom-
American Statecraft
to Foreign
Service members, though Moskin is a
vivid stylist, and I did learn some things
along the way. But lay readers may find
its pluses outweigh the minuses. And if
nothing else, the mere existence of the
book has value.
Steven Alan Honley is the editor of
The For-
eign Service Journal.
Throughout, Moskin strives
to tell “The Story of the
Foreign Service.”
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