The Foreign Service Journal - April 2017
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APRIL 2017



it is accurate to argue that U.S. inepti-

tude has made everything more difficult,

with or without the United States it was

going to be a long, difficult transition

into the modern world for the countries

of the Middle East. For it is a transition

destined to be uneven, unsteady and

fraught with violence and deprivation.

It is also important to note that the

results of whatever mistakes we have

made in the past will be compounded

if we don’t stay involved in the Middle

East on a corrected course.

Freeman also makes the case for

strengthening the instruments of U.S.

diplomacy, some of which are out of our

hands given the “constant turnover of

inexperienced amateur civilian policy-

makers, placed in office by the spoils

system in a highly militarized civilian

political culture.”

But surely, as Freeman argues,

some improvements could be made,

even within the existing system and

resources, such as correcting the fact

that American diplomacy is “missing

in action when it is most needed—as

the fighting ends.” The ups and downs

of our reconstruction and stabilization

capacity point to a persistent avoidance

of truly taking on this mission.

Freeman cites a failure to profes-

sionalize diplomacy as one reason we

contribute so little to the task, contrast-

ing our profession with the “superbly

professional leadership of the U.S.

Armed Forces.” Again he gives few

specifics, but judging from the number

of times we jump over the entire Service

and bring a retired diplomat in to lead a

critical mission—something that would

be unthinkable in the military—it is hard

to argue that there isn’t room for taking

a more systematic approach to develop-

ing leaders, rather than the wholly ad

hoc system we currently have.

In the end,

America’s Continuing Mis-

adventures in the Middle East

is a very

good and thought-provoking read, not to

be missed by any who are serious about

considering the full range of views and

opinions on this critical region.

FSO Keith W. Mines is currently an Inter-

agency Professional in Residence at the U.S.

Institute of Peace, working on Middle East

peace and federalism in failed and fragile

states. He has served in Europe, the Western

Hemisphere and the Middle East in a vari-

ety of military and Foreign Service assign-

ments. He may be the last true believer in

the imperative of nation-building as a key

undertaking in facing today’s challenges.

Exploring the History-

Policy Nexus

The Power of the Past: History

and Statecraft

Hal Brands and Jeremi Suri, eds., Brook-

ings Institution Press, 2016, $32/paper-

back, $17.27/Kindle, 326 pages.

Reviewed By Todd Kushner

Policymakers instinctually search for

historical lessons that they can use to

guide their statecraft.

Secretary of State Alexander Haig, for

example, once remarked that “inter-

national conflicts attract historical

analogies the way honey attracts bears.”

President Barack Obama famously

absorbed the lessons of Doris Kearns


Team of Rivals

before choos-

ing his Cabinet. And President George

W. Bush tackled an extensive reading

list of histories and biographies.

Similarly, Foreign Service employ-

ees prepare themselves for a new post

by steeping themselves in the history