By Dr. Elise Carlson-Rainer*
With the departure of U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson, and the continual upheaval of the U.S. Department of State, American diplomatic relations and U.S. national interests are jeopardized. The world watches with trepidation as the U.S. Department of State once again processes new leadership.The implications for numerous bilateral and multilateral agreements remain unknown. The Trump Administration, thus far, has failed to recognize that diplomacy is not like running a business. There is no profit model or clear revenue determination of success. While in the private sector, at times, it may be effective management to cut leadership at the top, and start with fresh new ideas, diplomacy does not work in the same way. Diplomats are not selling a product,they are promoting an idea. They give voice to what the U.S. stands for, its values, and ideals. While Secretary of State Tillerson and President Trump are often praised by their supporters as being successful businessmen, they need different skill setsto carry out successful diplomatic work. Namely, diplomacy requires the long game. Relationships in diplomatic engagements are cultivated for years, or even decades, with long term gains. It is often slow, nebulous work that is hard to measure. However slow, this work is vital to U.S. long-term economic and security interests.
It is important for the United States to continue engagement globally towards a stable, peaceful, democratic world. Democratic leaders make better allies; stable countries make better trade partners. However, as most U.S. leaders have understood prior to this administration, democracy development takes time, even generations. In 1992, Presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Ross Perot recognized the large pay-off and importance of long term American diplomatic engagement, specifically in assisting with stable democratic in post-Soviet states. During their presidential debate, they echoed nearly identical sentiments to this end. Bill Clinton stated, “I think we will have a continuing responsibility, as the only remaining superpower, to stay involved. The Soviet Union is no more. Now we’re working to help them become totally democratic through the FREEDOM Support Act that I led on.” To this Perot, famously replied, “Well, it’s cost-effective to help Russia succeed in its revolution. It’s pennies on the dollar compared to going back to the cold war.” Both leaders understood the long-term value and important investment of democratic development.
It remains unclear if leaders within the Trump Administration, clear novices as to the inner workings of the U.S. government, and complexities of U.S. foreign policy, grasp the far-reaching impact of the State Department. One pundit from the Washington Post speculated that Tillerson did not comprehend the full extent as to how the Office of the Secretary of State exerts power and influence globally. Thus far, the current leadership seems to lack an understanding of the diverse diplomatic programmatic work of the Department. One such important program funded by the Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA) Bureau of the Department of State is the Fulbright Fellowship. Established in 1945,during post-war reconstruction, the goal of the Fulbright Fellowship is for “the promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.” Former ECA Assistant Secretary of State Evan Ryan said,“We view exchanges as long-term investments. Exchange is something foundational that we build upon. We might not be able to see the exact benefits of it for many years, but we know it is there.” One benefit is shaping positive relations with Americans and future global leaders. Numerous world leaders have been Fulbright Fellows;37 as heads of state. The Prime Ministers of Korea and Ghana, to name just a few,were Fulbright scholars early in their careers. Decades later, at times,they have implemented policies in their own countries that engendered a positive relationship with the United States. While the pay-off is slow, the return on investment for the U.S. national interest is enormous.
Worldwide, the U.S. is one of the largest donors to international humanitarian aid. Part of this assistance is human rights promotion, work that also is slow, but important for America’s long-term interest. In Jordan, for example, American diplomats forge relationships with Jordanians to “assist political parties in the country, improving the ability of parties to develop platforms, diversify membership, and more effectively advocate for the passage of legislation in line with party values and citizen interests.” Jordan remaining a stable nation in the Middle East is critical to U.S. interest in the region. In other countries, diplomats work towards religious tolerance, the rights of persons with disabilities, ending trafficking in persons, and beyond.
Diplomats also work to protect American citizens;indeed, this is a core responsibility of embassy staff. In 2010, when Morocco began expelling American Christians allegedly for proselytizing, for it was the work of countless hours of diplomatic engagement that made the expulsions stop. Some of these Americans had lived in Morocco for decades running orphanages, and after diplomatic intervention, they were reunited with their families,and manyallowed to remain in the country. This example of quiet diplomacy does not often make headlines. In fact, successful diplomatic engagement is often to stop a public incident or row over a specific issue with the host country. No news, is often good news for an embassy. It is this unsung work that the current administration seems either ignorant of, or disregards entirely. Whether to protect American citizens, promote religious freedom, women’s rights, or free and fair elections, diplomats conduct long-term work critical to U.S. national interests and strengthening stability the world over.
The United States, comparatively, is still a young country. Nations such as China or leaders in the Middle East often calculate much longer-term goals in their diplomacy. They may entertain delegations and diplomatic engagements to build relationships,not necessarily because they have any plans to implement near-term policy suggestions in the immediate future. China is famous for “playing the long game” in diplomacy. One example is Chinese construction of approximately sixty athletic stadiums across sub-Saharan Africa. While a huge expense in the near term to build a stadium, and no clear short-term interest for the Chinese people, Chinese leaders calculate the long-term gain of gaining good will and diplomatic ties with these nations as part of their national interest and worth the investment. The Arab world also values long-term diplomacy by way of personal relationships built over many years or decades in diplomatic relations. Thus, the jarring nature of changing U.S. leadership, or not valuing the true worth of diplomacy by the current administration, hurts U.S. ties across the world.
Diplomacy is not a short-term, for-profit venture. Rather, it is a slow, long-term endeavor to ensure American national interests.The long-term security investment of funding programs such as the FulbrightFellowship, democracy, and human rights programs is also clear: military and security cooperation can be linked back to decades of education and programmatic good will between two nations. Unstable leadership in the U.S. erodes critical trust between world leaders; with the leadership turnover agreements might not be honored and policies abruptly discontinued. Therefore, moving forward, it behooves the current U.S. leadership to stabilize its diplomatic core and run the State Department more…diplomatically.
About the author:
*Dr. Elise Carlson-Rainer is Doctoral Faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Public University. She has a long and distinguished career within the diplomatic corps of the United States, with postings across Europe and the Middle East. She was a Fulbright Fellow to Sweden in 2004-2005.She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Washington in the field of human rights and foreign policy. Dr. Carlson-Rainer teaches university courses in democracy and human rights, U.S. foreign policy, nationalism, global security and international relations.
This article was published by Modern Diplomacy.
 Müllerson, Rein 1997, 2004. Human Rights Diplomacy. Routledge, London, UK.
 Source: The Second Clinton-Bush-Perot Presidential Debate Oct 15, 1992
 Source: The Second Clinton-Bush-Perot Presidential Debate Oct 15, 1992
 U.S. Department of State. Jordan “Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports.Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor May 23, 2008