The Art of Peace

Veteran negotiator Dennis Ross charts the rocky road to America's redemption

| Utne Reader July / August 2007


Four years into the war in Iraq, lambasting the Bush administration has become a sport for the left and, as it becomes politically expedient to jump ship, a necessity on the right. It's all great fodder for our favorite comics and talking heads, of course, but what comes after we finally get tired of the finger-wagging? What's the way forward?

Dennis Ross, the chief Middle East envoy under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, has abandoned heated, partisan rhetoric in favor of refreshingly pragmatic advice in Statecraft: And How to Restore America's Standing in the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007).

A fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Ross relies on his insider's view to analyze instances of successful foreign policy: from the international effort to drive Saddam from Kuwait during father Bush's presidency to the Dayton Accords that helped bring peace to the former Yugoslavia. When analyzing our current foreign-policy adventures, the author resists the temptation to blame or gloat and instead treats each misfire as a teachable moment--hoping to provide guidance to an America in desperate need of an image makeover.

'We can redeem our foreign policy and our place in the world,' Ross writes. 'But if we are to do so, statecraft must no longer be a lost art.' In the following interview with Utne Reader, Ross defines statecraft, explains its nuances, and offers examples of how it can and must be deployed moving forward.



What is statecraft?
The essence of statecraft is the combination of the what and the how of foreign policy. Oftentimes, when people think of statecraft, they think it just refers to the tools--to diplomatic, military, economic, intelligence, and information resources. But if you used them all brilliantly, and knew how to negotiate effectively, it wouldn't count for much if it was in the service of objectives that make no sense, that are disconnected from reality.

The idea that you should base foreign policy on reality seems obvious.
Well, a lot of it does seem elementary. And yet, look at Iraq. There was a complete mismatch between objectives and means. The Bush administration chose to look at what it wanted to see as opposed to what actually existed. I don't think that you have to be completely limited by reality, but you have to be informed by it. First things first--if you want to change reality, you'd better understand it.