What is it that makes a nation powerful? Its army? Its economy? Its technology?
All these are important, but Hans J. Morgenthau, one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers on the subject of international relations, put none of these at the top of his list.
“Of all the factors that make for the power of a nation, the most important, however unstable, is the quality of diplomacy,” he wrote in his seminal book, Politics Among Nations.
“All of the other factors that determine national power are, as it were, the raw material out of which the power of a nation is fashioned,” he continued. “The quality of a nation’s diplomacy combines those different factors into an integrated whole, gives them direction and weight, and awakens their slumbering potentialities by giving them the breath of actual power.”
How important does Morgenthau think diplomats are? “The conduct of a nation’s foreign affairs by its diplomats is for national power in peace what military strategy and tactics by its military leaders are for national power in war,” he wrote.
What does America’s current administration think? It views diplomatic posts as candy, to be handed out to major donors as a reward for their service, as we shall see.
Morgenthau warns of the folly of this approach:
[A] competent diplomacy can increase the power of a nation beyond what one would expect it to be in view of all the factors combined. Often in history the Goliath without brains or soul has been smitten and slain by the David who had both. … By giving direction to the national effort, [diplomacy] will tap the hidden sources of national strength and transform them fully and securely into political realities.
These statements illuminate a fundamental flaw in Britain and America that is weakening them just as much as their economic problems and military cuts.
Take, for example, America’s latest batch of diplomatic appointments, confirmed by the Senate on August 1. Here’s a sample of their qualifications:
Morrell John Berry, appointed U.S. ambassador to Australia, has worked in government pretty much all of his life. But he has never worked for the State Department and has not had anything to do with international relations. He’s also a homosexual.
James Costos is an executive at tv conglomerate hbo, has donated money to U.S. President Barack Obama and the Democrats and is openly homosexual. Apparently this qualifies him to be America’s ambassador to Spain.
John B. Emerson is a lawyer who has raised $500,000 for Mr. Obama. He’s now America’s ambassador to Germany.
Matthew Barzun raised $2.3 million for Mr. Obama. He’s now America’s ambassador to Britain. This same Internet businessman was made ambassador to Sweden after Mr. Obama’s first presidential victory, also evidently as a reward for his fundraising.
This list could go on. The Senate confirmed the appointment of 25 ambassadors to different countries on August 1. Only 14 of the appointments went to actual diplomats.
The career diplomats were sent, in general, to less developed countries, with the political appointments going to Europe and other richer nations. The United States absolutely needs to have experienced and trained diplomats in places like Ethiopia, Chad and Ukraine—and it’s right that experienced diplomats have been stationed there. It’s vital for America’s national interest to get good information, and to be represented well. But, with all due respect to the nations involved, if America’s embassies in Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of the Congo need to be led by a qualified and experienced professional diplomat, surely the same is true for Britain and Germany.
Instead, diplomatic posts in some of the world’s most powerful nations appear to be merely ways for the president to reward his supporters and boost his pro-homosexuality credentials.
But this practice of rewarding donors with diplomatic appointments is not an invention of Mr. Obama’s. It’s been hurting America’s power and prestige in the world for decades.
“In many Western countries, this kind of appointment would be viewed as an unacceptable form of corruption, a dangerous linkage between political patronage and political fundraising,” writes the Telegraph’s man in Washington, Nile Gardiner. He points out that if Britain was caught doing it, it would bring down the government.
“The appointment of Matthew Barzun and other major fundraisers to key diplomatic posts is an insult to the American people, as well as an insult to the countries to which they are being sent,” he writes. That’s true. But it’s more than an insult—it’s dangerous.
However, Britain, too, has been damaging its diplomatic service. Britain’s previous Labor government scrapped the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (fco) Library to cut costs, while borrowing huge amounts for social spending.
“The library embodied 500 years of British and world history; of our experiences of exploration, diplomacy, war, peacekeeping and the forging of treaties; of our role in the abolition of the slave trade and the creation of the Commonwealth,” said Britain’s Conservative Foreign Minister William Hague in September 2011. He warned that “the fate of the fco Library is emblematic of a gradual hollowing out of the qualities that made the fco one of our great institutions.”
Morgenthau pointed to Britain’s tradition of strong diplomacy as one of its greatest assets. But today that legacy is little valued. It would take years of work to repair the damage already done.
Ultimately, it’s political leaders, not officials, who make decisions. America’s most powerful diplomat is its president. But even with the best intentions in the world, how can he make wise decisions if he’s not being supported by a global team of competent professionals, accurately describing the facts on the ground and giving him solid advice?
Put any of the great statesmen of history into Mr. Obama’s shoes and you can guarantee that even they would make mistakes because of the poor quality of the support team they would have.
Of course that doesn’t mean that all America’s foreign-policy failings are totally the fault of its diplomats. But the borderline corrupt way they are being appointed has been hurting this most important aspect of America’s power for decades.
A nation will “invite war if its diplomacy wrongly assesses the objectives of other nations and the power at their disposal,” wrote Morgenthau. “A nation that mistakes a policy of imperialism for a policy of the status quo will be unprepared to meet the threat to its own existence which the other nation’s policy entails.”
History alone warns us that a nation needs to be ever watchful for challenges to its power. Yet America’s diplomatic postings show that it is like a youth walking around the bad part of town, at night, with his headphones in his ears and his eyes glued to his smartphone. He’s oblivious to the dangers around him. Keep doing that, night after night, and you’re guaranteed to get mugged.
Morgenthau said diplomacy represents the brain of the nation. But it is also the nation’s eyes and ears. America’s diplomats are its watchman. Today, it seems, they’re not even being asked to pay attention. An ambassadorship is not a responsibility. It’s a perk, an easy job—an opportunity to party.
In 1945, Herbert Armstrong warned that America would lose “the battle of the peace.”
“Yes, I said battle of the peace,” he said in an address to World Tomorrow listeners. “That’s a kind of battle we Americans don’t know. We know only one kind of war. We have never lost a war—that is, a military war; but we have never won a conference, where leaders of other nations outfox us in the battle for the peace.” This is not surprising—after all, how well would the army do if its generals were selected purely because of the amount of money they’d donated to the current president?
“Diplomacy is the best means of preserving peace which a society of sovereign nations has to offer,” wrote Morgenthau. That’s why America’s diplomatic failings should cause huge concern. Its weakness here will lead to war.
But Morgenthau also saw the limits of the power of diplomacy. He continued, saying that “especially under the conditions of contemporary world politics and of contemporary war, it is not good enough.”
“It is only when nations have surrendered to a higher authority the means of destruction which modern technology has put in their hands—when they have given up their sovereignty—that international peace can be made as secure as domestic peace,” he wrote.
Again, he is right. America’s poor diplomacy is inviting war. But that war will in fact lead to the intervention of the only “higher authority” that can and will secure international peace. For more information on the dangers America faces today—the dangers its diplomats are all too ignorant of—and how world peace finally will come, read our free booklet We Have Had Our Last Chance. ▪