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The Dartmouth
April 15, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Kiesling: U.S. faces challenges in restoring relations

Repairing foreign relations after the Iraq war is dependent on restoring the legitimacy of the U.S. government in the eyes of the international community, former U.S. diplomat Brady Kiesling said yesterday.

"We have all the power we need. We have a military that is larger than we can sustain in the long term. What we do not have is the legitimacy around the world so that we do not have to use our power," Kiesling said in his speech, entitled "Bruised Giant, Angry Planet: Restoring U.S. Diplomacy After Iraq."

A change in U.S. worldview is also needed to restore U.S. diplomacy. The U.S. has historically led the free world by assessing global threats and helping to remove them, but its current assessments are dated, Kiesling argued.

"The only reason we could do that was the fact that the world believed that our assessment of the threats to the world was a correct assessment, and that by following us we could all be safer," he said.

Now that there is no military threat to the countries of the European Union, many nations feel the world is generally a safer place than the United States makes it out to be.

Global problems now include fixing the global economy, the environment, SARS, AIDS, organized crime and terrorism, Kiesling said. Being a diplomatic leader means dealing with these problems as a member of the global community.

For Kiesling, U.S. legitimacy was lost when previous backers of U.S. foreign policy did not support the action in Iraq.

"It did damage my morale quite a bit when the people who supported us before, who backed us in the first Gulf War, who backed us in Kosovo, were gone," Kiesling said.

In the future, the United States needs to re-commit to working with other nations, perhaps sacrificing some short-term goals for the sake of global relations.

"The world was mad at us, but every important country in the world that we have to deal with is still perfectly willing to deal with us," Kiesling said. "For the United States to repair its relations, we have to decide whether we want the State Department to be good diplomats or bureaucrats."

To restore U.S. diplomacy, Kiesling prescribes courage.

"We lead the world when we are braver and more hardworking and smarter and more idealistic than anybody else. What we really need is to be braver. We cannot lead the world by acting like the world is a scary place," he said.

Kiesling, who had been serving as U.S. Political Counselor in Athens, Greece, submitted his resignation to Secretary of State Colin Powell in February 2003 after 20 years of diplomatic service.

"I resigned at a time when it seemed to me that this administration had totally lost contact with the real world," Kiesling explained.

Mounting frustration with U.S. diplomatic policy combined with a loss of U.N. support for military action were both factors in Kiesling's resignation. The focus of the U.S. government on bureaucracy rather than diplomacy also played a role, he said.

"I was a loyal diplomat. I came up with arguments that were probably better than the ones they gave me," Kiesling said. "But I knew they were not true."

The speech was presented by War and Peace Studies and the Ethics Institute and sponsored by the Dickey Center.