Wednesday, March 20, 2019

William J. Burns

William J. Burns is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2014 after a thirty-three-year diplomatic career. He holds the highest rank in the Foreign Service, career ambassador, and is only the second serving career diplomat in history to become deputy secretary of state. Burns's new book is The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal.

From his Q&A with Isaac Chotiner at The New Yorker:

When you look at the last two years, you could argue that we haven’t had a huge war compared to what we had in previous Administrations, and the world seems to be chugging along. People are angry at us more, but fundamentally things are O.K., and that gives you a certain amount of hope about American foreign policy, even if you have a bad man in the White House. Or you could argue that groundwork has been laid for future problems. How do you view those two options, or am I thinking about it wrong?

I think we’re doing a lot of corrosive damage to ourselves in the world over the last couple of years. I would emphasize that the drift in American diplomacy certainly was not something that was invented by Donald Trump. Throughout the post-Cold War era, I think we oftentimes tended to downplay the importance of diplomacy in the way in which we exercise leadership in the world, despite a number of accomplishments over those years. But I think what we’re doing now is digging a pretty deep hole for ourselves internationally, and what I worry about is that eventually we’ll stop digging, and we’ll climb back to the top of the hole, but we’ll look out at a landscape that has hardened in a number of ways against our interests.

The biggest concern I have is that what Trump has really turned on its head is the notion of enlightened self-interest. And again, we pursued that very imperfectly over the years, and I try to be honest about all the ways in which I got things wrong. But the Administrations of both parties thought we had one thing that sets us apart from lonelier powers like China and Russia, and that’s the capacity to invest in alliances and mobilize other countries, whether it’s to deal with challenges to regional order or big overarching problems, like the one existential problem that faces us today, which I’m convinced is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue