The coming months mark the 10th anniversary of the start of a disastrous period for American diplomacy. A decade ago, the State Department languished on the sidelines as the Bush administration prepared for war in Iraq. On Feb. 5, 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the United Nations to argue that Saddam Hussein was still developing weapons of mass destruction. Powell knew that the case was weak, but he also knew that there was no hope for real diplomacy over Iraq. Washington wanted war.
Ten years on, diplomacy is back in fashion in Washington. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton has restored much of the confidence the State Department lost in the Bush era. Her successor-designate, Sen. John Kerry, is likely to continue the healing process. It is obvious that as president, Barack Obama retains tight control over crucial foreign policy decisions, but it is equally obvious that he is a believer in the power of persuasion in international affairs. His pick for secretary of defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, also has a history of defending engagement with America’s foes, including Iran.
But history may be about to play a nasty trick on the Obama administration. The diplomatic renaissance in the U.S. seems to be coinciding with a worrying decline in interest in diplomacy among other powers.