Sane people will choose politics over war, and sane (that is, competently governed) nations will choose diplomacy over belligerence and confrontation. An exception is those nations that cannot hope to ever win the game of diplomacy due to an acute shortage of competent diplomats.
By Dmitry Orlov and cross-posted from Paul Craig Roberts’ blog
There is the famous aphorism by Karl von Clausewitz: “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” This may be true, in many cases, but it is rarely a happy outcome. Not everybody likes politics, but when given a choice between politics and war, most sane people will readily choose politics, which, even when brimming with vitriol and riddled with corruption, normally remains sublethal. In relations between countries, politics is known as diplomacy, and it is a formal art that relies on a specific set of instruments to keep countries out of war. These include maintaining channels of communication to build trust and respect, exercises to seek common ground, and efforts to define win-win scenarios to which all sides would eagerly agree, including instruments for enforcing agreements.
Diplomacy is a professional endeavor, much like medicine, engineering and law, and requires a similarly high level of specialized education. Unlike these other professions, the successful exercise of diplomacy demands much greater attention to questions of demeanor: a diplomat must be affable, personable, approachable, decorous, scrupulous, levelheaded… in a word, diplomatic. Of course, in order to maintain good, healthy relations with a country, it is also essential that a diplomat fluently speak its language, understand its culture and know its history. Especially important is a very detailed knowledge of the history of a country’s diplomatic relations with one’s own country, for the sake of maintaining continuity, which in turn makes it possible to build on what has been achieved previously. Complete knowledge of all treaties, conventions and agreements previously entered into is, obviously, a must.
Sane people will choose politics over war, and sane (that is, competently governed) nations will choose diplomacy over belligerence and confrontation. An exception is those nations that cannot hope to ever win the game of diplomacy due to an acute shortage of competent diplomats. They are likely to strike out in frustration, undermining the very international institutions that are designed to keep them out of trouble. It then falls upon their more competent counterparts in other nations to talk them off the ledge. This may not always be possible, especially if the incompetents in question can’t be made to appreciate the risks they are taking in blindly striking out against their diplomatic counterparts.
If we look around in search of such incompetently governed nations, two examples readily present themselves: the United States and the United Kingdom. It is rather challenging to identify the last moment in history when the US had a Secretary of State that was truly competent. To be safe, let’s set it as January 20, 1977, the day Henry Kissinger stepped down from his post.
Since then, US diplomatic history has been, to one extent or another, a history of fantastic blunders. For example, as far back as 1990 US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie told Saddam Hussein, “[W]e have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait,” in effect giving the green light to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and setting off the cascade of events that has led to the current sad state of affairs in the region. Another highlight was Hillary Clinton, whose only credentials had to do with a sort of fake noblesse, stemming from her marriage to a former president, and who used her position as Secretary of State to enrich herself using a variety of corrupt schemes…