Review: “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy And The Decline of American Influence” Ronan Farrow
“War On Peace” isn’t just a great title, it’s a great book – a very readable combination of telling smaller stories with excellent research and insightful interviews with experienced diplomats. It follows the undermining of diplomacy through successive governments from Bush to Obama to Trump, which by default has led the United States closer to total reliance on military intelligence and military solutions for international conflicts.
Even the conservative New York Times praised the book, noting “when the Trump administration has called for gutting the State Department’s budget and filled foreign-policy jobs with military officers, Farrow draws on both government experience and fresh reporting to offer a lament for the plight of America’s diplomats — and an argument for why it matters.”
To give just one particularly telling story about the risks of military solutions, he describes the case of two young backpackers who were picked up by south American paramilitaries in the “war on drugs” and narrowly escaped being murdered. Local units got incentivises to produce evidence of captured drug runners, so they had taken to random killings (usually locals; these two were just unlucky), presenting the bodies alongside planted drugs and guns to feed the news media and justify continuing military aid.
The diplomat’s job, as described by Farrow from direct experience as a staffer, is often difficult, tedious and infuriating: “Hammering out deals between governments… can sometimes give the job the feel of Thanksgiving dinner with your most difficult relatives, only lasting a lifetime and taking place in the most dangerous locations on earth.”
He emphasises though that while diplomacy is imperfect and negotiated solutions often have a negative impact on the government’s popularity, they are essential.
“The point,” concludes Farrow, “is not that the old institutions of traditional diplomacy can solve today’s crises. The point is that we are witnessing the destruction of these institutions, with little thought to engineering modern replacements.”