The End of the Cold War 1985-1991 by Robert Service: A Book Review Essay

Robert Service’s The End of the Cold War 1985-1991 is foremost a retelling of the nuclear arms control negotiations between the US and the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era. Service, a long time British scholar at Oxford, is most comfortable and at his best in recounting the details of the rarefied nuclear arms reduction negotiations and does so in admirable English – without a non-specialist forced to consult a glossary of arms control terms. I, however, think that the Soviet Union fell apart as a result of its crumbling economic system brought to a head by the plummeting price of petroleum on the world market upon which the country was far too dependent. This combined with unsustainable military overreach based on decisions by a geriatric leadership that had been dying like flies in the proverbial pot full of honey prior to Gorbachev’s selection as Secretary General in 1985. Read more »

For Washington – Avoiding the Seventh Labor of Hercules

Americans across party lines are deeply dissatisfied with Washington. And well they might be, as government incompetence and corruption have become hallmarks of the daily news cycle. Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch is partisan and ineffective, with an Administration's party refusing to address problems within its agencies and the opposition party doing little else. Neither party is offering solutions.. . . Here are a few remedies. Read more »

The US and Southeast Asia: Then and Now

Yet before the fall of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh’s forces and the messy US evacuation from South Vietnam, came the US evacuation of its embassy in Cambodia, an event that has, for the most part, sunk into obscurity. In fact, the US government had already left Phnom Penh – evacuating its remaining embassy staff - and the killing fields of Cambodia 18 days before the Saigon departure began. Read more »

Time for Change: Restructuring the State Department for the 21st Century

The Department of State's organizational structure has not kept pace with a rapidly changing world. Issues, inventions and circumstances in the 21st century – globalization, terrorism, information technology and cyber threats, climate change, energy security and more – require an institution that can respond rapidly to unanticipated challenges through innovative, pragmatic policies. These new policies must be firmly rooted in a well-organized, well-run and nimble administrative bureaucracy. Ending the parade of scandals of the last several years and providing the underpinnings for the conduct of an effective 21st century foreign policy can only be achieved with full-scale reform of the Department's management structure. Such reform is imperative – not only to comply with modern organizational practices and controls -- but for the success of America's foreign relations worldwide. Read more »

Data-Driven Public Diplomacy: an Evaluation of an Evaluation of an Evaluation

The good news is that the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy has seemingly risen from the ashes – or more accurately been wrested from the clutches of a member of the US Congress who refused to vote for the pittance required to keep this small Commission afloat. The better news is that the resurrected Commission has begun to fulfill its mandate. . . .In short, "Data Driven Public Diplomacy" is a good report but future ones could be better. In the meantime, I hope that the renewed US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy is allowed to function as it should despite entrenched bureaucratic entities lined up against it and a polarized Congress. An independent authoritative voice on US public diplomacy is very much needed in these turbulent times. Read more »

Thoughts on Mike McFaul’s Op-ed on Ukraine, and the Putin apologists who follow him around

I don't agree with everything Ambassador McFaul says in his recent New York Times op-ed, but I do believe he is on the right track. . . .I also see that a lot of the featured commenters on his Op-ed are swallowing whole the Russian line that somehow Eastern Ukraine is naturally Russian because a majority there speaks Russian, and that Ukraine is not really one country but two. The fact is that while a minority of Eastern Ukrainians would like to move closer to Russia, a majority are for a united Ukraine, and favor closer connections with the West. Read more »

After thoughts on Memorial Day 2014

Why shouldn't America's diplomats also be honored by the US government in its official Memorial Day ceremonies - along with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines. Maybe if they were and the public had a chance to learn their stories Americans would come one small step forward towards understanding that its diplomats are every bit as important as its military in the making and implementing of US foreign policy by keeping and restoring the peace. Read more »

Promises, promises: the Kremlin and Ukraine

But taking a different tack, I wonder why no one seems to be asking the question as to who’s in charge in the Kremlin. Yes, I know Putin’s popularity ratings among Russians based on his playing the “uber-nationalist” card in Ukraine are at an all-time high. But why has he promised to remove the Russian troops from the border multiple times – yet those troops have not budged? Read more »

Fulbright, International Exchanges and the Annual Budget Wars

The problem is, however, that as much as I support the Fulbright program, one that I defended and administered in the US and overseas throughout my 27 plus year Foreign Service career – particularly since Fulbright is a real exchange (not just a one way program for foreigners to come to the US and spend a few weeks touring the country and meeting their counterparts) - there are other factors that need to be considered and questions that need to be asked and answered in the context of the international exchanges budget in the bureau as a whole. Read more »

Amateur Ambassadors: Think Again

if this president believes what he said in his most recent State of the Union address - that “America must move off a permanent war footing. . . . in a world of complex threats," and that "our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy" then it also behooves him to ensure that this country has the best qualified diplomats his administration can find. It’s can’t be all that hard. White House please give it a try. Read more »