My vision of U.S. diplomacy

I believe the answers to most problems that confront us around the world can and should be approached by engaging both friend and foe in dialogue. No, I don’t naively think that dialogue always works, but I believe we should avoid the rigidity of saying that dialogue never works. I believe we should approach diplomacy from the notion that dialogue is nearly always preferable to war but that potential enemies should never mistake, as Reagan put it, our reluctance for war, with a lack of resolve.

Our response to 9/11 should disabuse any potential enemies of the belief that America is to be trifled with. In the end, to me, diplomacy is similar to a market transaction. Market transactions are never equal. I may give you $2 for a loaf of bread, but only because I value the loaf of bread more than the $2, and you value the $2 more than the loaf of bread. So exchange occurs when each party believes that they have gotten the better of the bargain. This may be no great insight to a group of diplomats and foreign-policy experts, but to me it is the beginning of understanding problem resolution and to me it is the first principle of diplomacy: understanding that diplomacy only is successful when both parties feel that they have won. In order for both parties to perceive victory, I think both parties must save face, or at the very least not lose face. Saving face is even more important if one party to the transaction is a superpower and the other party is a second- or third-tier country. The Chinese have finessed the concept to such a degree that they have three different words for saving face. To me, saving face is similar to what Sun Tzu wrote about leaving your enemy an escape. He wrote: “To a surrounded enemy, you must leave a way of escape.” I would add that to a surrounded enemy you must leave a way of saving face. If you insist on unconditional surrender as a prerequisite to diplomacy, there will be very little diplomacy.

William Ury describes leaving an exit as an integral facet of wielding power, “Superior power is useless,” he writes, “if it drives your opponent into a corner and makes him resist you with all his might. Leaving him a way out is a time-honored precept.” Short of unconditional defeat of the enemy, both sides must recognize that problem resolution requires both sides to perceive victory and both sides to save face. The technological ease of war though, dulls our ability to be statesmen.