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yielded a better result. Given that NATO

achieved all its original goals and suf-

fered not a single casualty… I regarded

the Kosovo campaign as an unqualified

success and an unexcelled model of

coalition warfare.”

In 2002, as the Taliban were driven

from Kabul, Secretary of State Colin

Powell sent Dobbins as an envoy to the

Afghan opposition, to produce from

its “various strands” agreement on a

new Afghan government. This he did,

extracting for a time coherence not

only from Pashtun and non-Pashtun

elements but from the United Nations,

NATO, the CIA, the Pentagon and the

White House, as well.

The United States did not sustain its

effort, and drew down its forces. The

National Security Council considered

peacekeeping a failed concept, a belief

as unshakable as it was uninformed.

“The preceding decade,” Dobbins writes,

“had seen successful peacekeeping

operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra

Leone, East Timor, Mozambique, Libe-

ria, El Salvador, Namibia, Cambodia,

Albania and Macedonia.”

But the George W. Bush admin-

istration had lost interest. When the

president called for “a Marshall Plan for

Afghanistan,” there was “no follow-up,

no increase in U.S. assistance, and no

effort to galvanize a broader interna-

tional effort.” Only in his second term,

after terrible reversals in Afghani-

stan and Iraq, did the administration

approve a surge in troop levels and

embrace nation-building “with all the

zeal of a convert.”

Dobbins retired in April 2002 and

joined the RAND Corporation. After the

death of his wife, however, he returned

to State as special representative for

Afghanistan and Pakistan. At State in

2013, “I found everyone much younger

except the few people I knew, who

seemed much older.”

He also found everything much

bigger; a staff meeting with Secretary

of State John Kerry had more than 100

participants, and his own staff was of

similar size. Despite the resources, his

job was frustrating and unrewarding. He

left, apparently for good, in 2014.

Critics of the State Department

often cite an inability to learn from

mistakes. Dobbins, reflecting on his

career, laments a refusal to learn from

success—in nation-building, coalition

warfare, democracy promotion and

other lately unpopular ideas.

A lack of persistence, he suggests,

is fatal to American efforts: “Insanity

[is] doing the same thing repeatedly

and expecting different results; but in

diplomacy, if one does not keep trying

to solve intractable problems, there is

zero chance of success.” That is a lesson

worth learning.


Harry Kopp, a former FSO, was deputy

assistant secretary of State for international

trade policy in the Carter and Reagan

administrations; his foreign assignments

included Warsaw and Brasilia. He is the

author of

Commercial Diplomacy and the

National Interest

(Academy of Diplomacy,

2004) and

The Voice of the Foreign Service:

A History of the American Foreign Service


(FS Books, 2015), and the co-

author of

Career Diplomacy: Life and Work

in the U.S. Foreign Service


University Press, 2008, 2011 and 2017).