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Diplomacy may be one of the world’s oldest professions, but it’s also one of the most misunderstood. It’s mostly a quiet endeavor, less swaggering than unrelenting, oftentimes operating in back channels, out of sight and out of mind. U.S. President Donald Trump’s disdain for professional diplomacy and its practitioners—along with his penchant for improvisational flirtations with authoritarian leaders such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un—has put an unaccustomed spotlight on the profession. It has also underscored the significance of its renewal.
The neglect and distortion of American diplomacy is not a purely Trumpian invention. It has been an episodic feature of the United States’ approach to the world since the end of the Cold War. The Trump administration, however, has made the problem infinitely worse. There is never a good time for diplomatic malpractice, but the administration’s unilateral diplomatic disarmament is