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Lessons Learned—

Or Well-Taught, at Least

Foreign Policy Breakthroughs:

Cases in Successful Diplomacy

Robert Hutchings and Jeremi Suri, editors,

Oxford University Press, 2015, $29.95/

paperback, $12.99/Kindle, 304 pages.

Reviewed By Barbara K. Bodine

In the popular mind, shaped by the media

and reflected in Congress, diplomacy is

what a state does to bide its time between

wars—a view not that far off from the

definition of an ice-hockey game. It is

the absence of sufficient power or will to

bend the world to your chosen vision, a

synonym for duplicity in the guise of good

manners…and it generally fails.

Not only is this the conventional wis-

dom, but too often it informs the teaching

of diplomacy (or international relations

or whatever one chooses to call it). The

Department of State, home tomost of

America’s diplomats, worries that insuf-

ficient attention is paid, in the training and

education of our own diplomats, to “les-

sons learned”—generally understood to be

the anatomy of failures—a skill assumed to

be an art formwithin the military.

Robert Hutchings, former dean of the

Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs

at the University of Texas at Austin and

a former chairman of the U.S. National

Intelligence Council, and his colleague at

the LBJ School, Jeremi Suri, have com-

bined their backgrounds as scholars and

practitioners to edit a volume that pushes

back against this diplomatic defeatism.

Their book,

Foreign Policy Breakthroughs


has the unambiguous subtitle “Cases in

Successful Diplomacy.”

These nine case studies are not all

American successes or conventional

geopolitical victories, and only one—on

development and humanitarianism in

Taliban-era Afghanistan—covers

events in this century. Arranged

chronologically, they begin in

the immediate aftermath of

WorldWar II, working through

the rise of diplomacy in the developing

world, the Nuclear Nonproliferation

Treaty, normalization of American

relations with China and the Camp David

Accords before ending with the emergence

of the European Union andMexico’s role

in crafting the North American Free Trade


One hopes that the next edition will

capture two latter-day cases: the Iranian

nuclear agreement and normalization of

relations with Cuba.

Hutchings and Suri are not cheer-

leaders for diplomacy, but scholars who

recognized a gap in the literature on how

diplomacy is conducted and to what end—

beyond what they refer to as “synthetic

treatments” of the varied aspects of diplo-

macy and statecraft.

They note that the rich body of

memoirs rarely provides deep analysis of

specific events or issues, while those works

focused on theory and logical exposition

lack the drama, disorder and confusion

of diplomacy as it is practiced in the real


I would add that, approached through

the prismof public policy scholarship,

“diplomacy” is too often reduced to

mechanics and tactics subject to quantita-

tive analysis, stripping out the fundamen-

tal variable: the human factor.

Curiously, Hutchings and Suri critique

previous multi-author volumes as too

broad and potentially uneven. They dis-

tinguish their own example of the genre as

part of the lost art of case studies.

But more importantly, they choose

to explore the lessons of what worked, to

discern patterns and practices that can be

applied going forward—rather than the

forensics of what failed, which

tend to be idiosyncratic.

With its wise selection of both

cases and authors,

Foreign Policy


makes a strong argu-

ment for the value of the case study

method in diplomacy and provides the

tools any scholar or practitioner-turned-

academic would need to craft a course

on the art and the science of diplomacy.

(Full disclosure: I head the institute that

inherited the Pew Case Studies program

and have focused on the very need for

replenishment and update that Hutchings

and Suri call for.)

As a bonus, the authors’ introduction

and conclusions can stand alone as a

primer for any student, new diplomat or

concerned citizen who wishes to under-

stand what makes diplomacy unique:

the convergence of vision with detail, of

patience and perseverance, of leadership

and delegation, and of the value of realism.

Each of the case studies in this superb

book illuminates each of these lessons.

Whether they are of equal quality and

value may dependmore on the perspec-

tive and pedagogical needs of the reader

than inherent scholarship.

Taken together, they do demonstrate

that diplomacy properly understood and

practiced can continue tomake the break-

throughs we all aspire to and the world

needs so badly.

Foreign Policy Breakthroughs

is already

onmy syllabus.


Barbara K. Bodine, a retired Senior Foreign

Service officer, served as ambassador to

Yemen from 1997 through 2001, among

many other assignments. Ambassador

Bodine is currently Distinguished Professor

in the Practice of Diplomacy and director of

the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at

Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh

School of Foreign Service.