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amples of this attitude include Guinea
and Cote d’Ivoire, where the interna-
tional community, led by the African
Union, the United States and France,
did a remarkable job of bringing po-
tentially catastrophic crises to a swift
conclusion using principally diplomatic
means. But except for a few token in-
dividuals, those who committed crimes
during these crises remain free to do
so again.
Having a credible foreign policy
means not just prevention and resolu-
tion of conflict, but prevention of a re-
currence. The hard work shouldn’t
stop when a catastrophe has been
averted; that’s when it should really
begin. Hope that things will turn out
well is never an effective basis for strat-
egy or policy.
Doing the Right Thing
My own conversion to the cause of
long-term policymaking began in 1999
when I was head of the Foreign Of-
fice’s Maghreb Section. No one in a
senior diplomatic role really cared
about the Maghreb then. It was pre-
9/11, the Israel-Palestine peace talks
were all that mattered, and I was left
to play around with policy, like a kid
with a new toy.
One day, an Algerian contact based
in London (who is now a prominent
regional commentator), suggested I
meet Rached Ghannouchi, the Lon-
don-based leader of the Tunisian Is-
lamist movement, Ennahda (Renaiss-
ance). I was new to the region, still rel-
atively inexperienced and not really sure
what an Islamist was. But since I
thought it was my job to listen to differ-
ent opinions, and I knew that meeting
Ghannouchi would annoy the Tunisian
ambassador to London, I readily
agreed. There began a great conversa-
tion that taught me (again) not to judge
books by other people’s covers.
Over time, I saw how Tunisian
President Ben Ali’s regime had lied
about Ghannouchi to suit its own
agenda. But diplomats don’t have to
take lies seriously. They can take the
time to understand those they might
otherwise label as enemies, or unreli-
able, when they are simply different.
So we see now that Ghannouchi’s
party was already the “legitimate” rep-
resentative of the Tunisian people long
before Ben Ali ran away. Yet while it is
now the leading moderate Islamist
movement in the world, it is also a frag-
ile coalition—one we cannot afford to
let fail.
Happily, we can see cases where
U.S. foreign policy has begun a slow
but welcome shift to long-term per-
spectives and a focus on legitimacy.
Some are not entirely new; despite in-
consistencies and wobbles over the
years, Washington’s policy toward
Sudan and Zimbabwe has had a long-
term focus and a generally positive im-
Without it, we would not have had
the North-South Comprehensive
Peace Agreement in Sudan, ending a
war that killed millions. And in Zim-
babwe, we may finally be witnessing
the last months of one of the conti-
nent’s genuinely malevolent regimes,
in part due to sustained international
Similarly, American policy on Nige-
ria is at last being driven by efforts to
fix the long-term governance failure
that led to oil bunkering and Islamist
terrorism, rather than just treating
these symptoms. And in Rwanda, guilt
over the West’s failure to stop the 1994
genocide has been replaced by a more
nuanced U.S. understanding of the re-
pressive Rwandan Popular Front and
the threat it poses to peace, human
rights and stability throughout the re-
I live in hope of seeing more exam-
ples of enlightened U.S. policy toward
other African dictatorships, as well as
regimes in the Middle East and Cen-
tral Asia. As in Hosni Mubarak’s
Egypt, the de facto dictatorships of An-
gola, Uganda and Ethiopia — with
their occasional “election-like events,”
as one U.S. diplomat elegantly put it —
are living on borrowed time.
Pursuing a more enlightened for-
eign policy, focused on bolstering le-
gitimacy and minimizing the long-term
risks posed by repressive autocracies,
can help prevent more failed states and
tackle the roots of extremism. And,
even better, it is the right thing to do.
J U LY - A U G U S T 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
In some cases,
U.S. foreign policy has
begun a welcome shift to
long-term perspectives
and a focus on legitimacy.
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