February 18, 2007

A Diplomacy Lesson

by John Brady Kiesling

In college, I ran a D&D campaign. D&D was very new — you had to send off to Lake Geneva for the books, you basically had to know Gary Gygax to get them — and Swarthmore was a terrific place for it: lots of intensity and tons of scholarly talent looking for an outlet.

One of the better warriors was Brady Kiesling, who became the diplomat who famously resigned over the Bushites fervent pursuit of war.

Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offence and defence since the days of Woodrow Wilson.

His new book, Diplomacy Lessons: lessons for an unloved superpower , seems to be doing very nicely. It’s a memoir of Brady's foreign service career, which seems entirely wrong because I'm way too young to know people who are ready to write memoirs. Stuff happens.

Kiesling is at pains to disabuse us of what you might call the heroic vision of negotiation, of the shuttle diplomat who finds the formula for Peace. There isn’t a solution to negotiations among nations over intractable disputes: that’s why they call them nations. And the disputes themselves are often unglamorous.

My second tour in Athens coincided with the successful completion of two decadelong negotiations. The more satisfactory concerned the embassy parking lot.