The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2018 53 FOCUS ON U.S. GLOBAL LEADERSHIP Thomas A. Shannon Jr., a Career Ambassador, is the under secretary of State for political affairs. Prior to this assignment, he was counselor of the State Department. During 30 years in the Foreign Service, he has also served as ambassador to Brazil and assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, in addition to assignments in Caracas, Johannesburg and Guatemala City. While acknowledging our strength and past achievements, American leadership today will be defined by our grasp of the future. BY THOMAS A . SHANNON J R . N ostalgia is not a virtue in diplo- macy. This is especially true in times, like today, of high-veloc- ity, high-impact change. Jules Cambon, a great French diplomat of the early 20th cen- tury, wrote of the melancholy that overtook European diplo- mats in the aftermath of World War I. He said that an age of publicity, democracy and nationalism had taken the charm out of diplomatic life, and had reduced the ability of diplomats to display “character and initiative.” Yet he recognized the changed nature of the world, and wrote: “We may regret it as Roland regretted the loss of his mare, but it is idle to try to revive the past.” Cambon urged his colleagues to adapt them- selves to changing circumstances, and assured them that while the appearance of diplomacy might change, its substance would remain. His confidence was based on two enduring truths: first, Reimagining the Future of American Leadership human nature does not change; and second, “Foreign policy is not a matter of sentiment; its object is to shape events in conformity with the laws which govern national destiny.” Cambon’s words are worth keeping in mind as we engage in a national debate on our purpose in the world and the content of our foreign policy and diplomacy. Currently, that debate tends to harken back to earlier times in the history of our great republic during which bipartisanship, strategic consensus, concerted action with reliable allies, well-defined adversaries and enduring accords protected and advanced our national security interests independent of any domestic discord. Quite apart from the possibility that this past is more imagined than real, it seems evident that the American people want a foreign policy vision that captures and defines the future, and not one that parses the past. This is not to diminish what we have achieved. Across more than two centuries of national life, our elected leaders and diplomats have carried us successfully through many thresholds of profound national and global change. The genius of American diplomacy has been its ability to see clearly, think grandly and act accordingly. The Purpose of American Diplomacy For instance, Dean Acheson, in his magisterial Present at the Creation , describes how the United States built “order out of chaos” in the aftermath of World War II. He describes the effort in terms reminiscent of Genesis. But as Acheson told this story of