Peace Works: America’s Unifying Role in a Turbulent World
By Frederick D. Barton
Rowman & Littlefield, 2018, 312 pp.
Part memoir and part scholarly study, this book provides one of the most thoughtful reflections yet on U.S. interventionism and peacemaking since the end of the Cold War. Drawing on his years as a diplomat, Barton argues that although the United States has stumbled badly in humanitarian interventions, it should not abandon the task but rather go about it in new ways, working with local groups and staying in the background. Barton draws specific lessons from several recent U.S. interventions. In Bosnia, the United States created incentives for people to collaborate by supporting local institutions that cut across ethnic divides. In Rwanda, after the genocide, aid to women in the countryside encouraged small steps toward peace. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the lesson was to direct economic assistance to local civic leaders who had the trust of the wider public. In the future, states will continue to fail or collapse into civil war, and ethnic violence will continue to sprawl across poor regions of the world. Barton’s message to American decision-makers is to be humble and patient and to stay as close as possible to the people at the bottom of society.