In This Review

Talking to Strangers: Improving American Diplomacy At Home and Abroad
Talking to Strangers: Improving American Diplomacy At Home and Abroad
By Monteagle Stearns
Princeton University Press, 1996, 201 pp
Purchase

An engaging and delightfully written plea for restoring the role of the professional diplomat in American foreign policy. Stearns, a career diplomat who served in the 1980s as ambassador to Greece, contends that the qualities professional diplomats bring to foreign policy -- knowledge of the history and dynamics of other cultures, ‘intelligent skepticism,’ and negotiating finesse -- are increasingly discounted in Washington. Stearns criticizes the micromanagement of foreign missions by an increasingly centralized State Department, rotation policies that curb ‘localitis’ at the expense of needed expertise, and political appointments that deny opportunities to more qualified career officers. Occasionally he deploys his wit at the expense of his plausibility -- ‘The United States may be the only remaining military superpower, but in its approach to diplomacy it too often looks like the only remaining banana republic.’ His focus on process conveys the impression, perhaps inadvertently, that professionalism in the diplomatic corps is not only a necessary but a sufficient condition for a balanced and effective foreign policy.