Rosa Brooks: Would Machiavelli Have Drawn a Red Line?

tags: foreign policy, Rosa Brooks, Georgetown University, New America Foundation



Rosa Brooks is a law professor at Georgetown University and a Schwartz senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as a counselor to the U.S. defense undersecretary for policy from 2009 to 2011 and previously served as a senior advisor at the U.S. State Department. Her weekly column runs every Wednesday and is accompanied by a blog, By Other Means.

In days of yore, diplomats were diplomatic. Or so, at least, I am led to believe by fiction and film: Fictional diplomats are erudite, conniving, and suave, treating allies and enemies alike with the same elegant courtesy, even while arranging the most sophisticated betrayals.

Consider the urbane Chauvelin in The Scarlet Pimpernel, a manipulative flatterer who "strove to read the very souls of those with whom he came in contact." Or take the character of Mr. Dryden in Lawrence of Arabia, who defends diplomatic duplicity by asserting, "A man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But a man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he's put it." Above all, consider that most infamous of real-life diplomats, Niccolò Machiavelli. Dishonest? Certainly. Amoral? Possibly. But rude and obnoxious? Never.

Somewhere along the line, this seems to have changed. Today, many of our senior-most diplomats (and I include the president in that general category) seem to substitute shrillness for suavity, hectoring intransigence for erudition, and prissy pomposity for persuasion.

The examples are too numerous to cite, but take that peculiarly popular word "unacceptable" (as in, "That is unacceptable to the United States"). The number of things the United States finds "unacceptable" is equaled only by the number of things it "will not tolerate." And that is to say nothing of the multitude of "red lines" and "lines in the sand" that U.S. officials draw on a regular basis....



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