Chester A. Crocker is James R. Schlesinger Professor
of Strategic Studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown
University. He was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1981 to
Everything was so much clearer during the Cold War. The United States used its diplomatic, economic, and military might to contain and outmaneuver the Soviet Union. Then, as the Cold War was winding down, the United States engaged Mikhail Gorbachev's rapidly declining regime as a source of leverage to manage and resolve conflicts across the globe.
Through sustained diplomatic negotiations, Washington took advantage of the shifting geopolitical landscape to negotiate settlements and aid transitions in Afghanistan, Central America, Southeast Asia, and southern Africa while laying the foundations for Europe's post-Cold War security architecture. This approach helped the United States defeat Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, launch the Madrid phase of the Middle East peace process, and facilitate the unification of Germany. Thanks in large part to the United States' vision and diplomatic skill, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the emergence of over a dozen states in its wake was a remarkably peaceful affair.
The collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s broke this pattern. The West was confused at first, and it took several years of strategic drift before U.S. officials reasserted leadership and managed to contain the violence in 1995 -- showing again how much can be accomplished by harnessing effective diplomacy to a realistic strategy.
But these accomplishments stand in sharp contrast to most of the United States' foreign policy record since. The decline of U.S. diplomacy began during the Clinton administration and reached its low point during the first term of George W. Bush. Since the mid-1990s, U.S. officials have generally shunned broad strategic undertakings and been wary of mounting sustained diplomatic campaigns or mediation initiatives. In other words, they have shied away from statecraft, the subject of an important new book by the veteran Middle East peacemaker Dennis Ross.
Statecraft is the art of developing an effective geopolitical strategy and executing it through the intelligent use of all appropriate instruments of power. Like a general on the battlefield,
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