War on Peace

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - CON COUGH­LIN

Ro­nan Far­row

HarperCollins, pa­per­back, 432 pages, €17.99

The jour­nal­ist Ro­nan Far­row, son of Mia Far­row and Woody Allen, has lost no time mak­ing a name for him­self. He burst on to the scene last year with his ex­plo­sive al­le­ga­tions about the preda­tory sex­ual ex­ploits of Har­vey We­in­stein in The New Yorker. Now the tyro is back again, this time with his de­but book, por­ten­tously ti­tled War on Peace: The End of Diplo­macy and the De­cline of Amer­i­can In­flu­ence.

In it, Far­row seeks to per­suade his read­ers that Amer­ica is in ter­mi­nal de­cline be­cause, over a pe­riod of years, it has over­seen the demise of the once-proud State Depart­ment, now threat­ened by the dys­func­tional ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. His qual­i­fi­ca­tion for tak­ing on such a weighty sub­ject ap­pears to be the few years he spent work­ing as a glo­ri­fied er­rand boy for Richard Hol­brooke, the com­bat­ive Amer­i­can for­eign envoy who spe­cialised in tack­ling some of the world’s more in­tractable con­flicts. Widely cred­ited with end­ing the hor­rors of the Bos­nian civil war in the 1990s by ne­go­ti­at­ing the Day­ton Agree­ment, Hol­brooke had re­fo­cused his con­sid­er­able talent on tack­ling the Afghan con­flict when he suf­fered a fa­tal heart at­tack in 2010. His dy­ing words were said to be: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”

Hol­brooke’s un­timely death was a griev­ous loss to diplo­macy, and it may well be that, had he lived, he might have found a res­o­lu­tion to the Afghan con­flict, as Far­row rev­er­en­tially con­tends. He would cer­tainly have chal­lenged the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion over its de­ci­sion to cut and run be­fore the Tal­iban had been de­feated.

Far­row was not in­volved in diplo­macy per se, but li­aised with the nu­mer­ous — and, in the main, in­ef­fec­tual — NGOs that tend to pro­lif­er­ate wher­ever a ma­jor con­flict de­vel­ops. And it is from this mod­est back­ground that he has taken it upon him­self to present a cri­tique of all that is wrong with Amer­ica’s diplo­macy.

He ar­gues that the ero­sion of the State Depart­ment’s abil­ity to project Amer­ica’s stand­ing in the world has been caused by the mil­i­tari­sa­tion of US for­eign pol­icy, with the Pen­tagon and in­tel­li­gence agencies in­creas­ingly call­ing all the shots. To jus­tify this the­sis, Far­row has in­ter­viewed ev­ery liv­ing Sec­re­tary of State, from Henry Kissinger to the recently de­parted Rex Tiller­son. This ma­te­rial is backed up with anec­dotes gleaned from his bag-car­ry­ing days for Hol­brooke, which are given as ex­am­ples of the du­plic­ity that lies at the heart of mod­ern-day pol­i­cy­mak­ing in Washington.

In essence, though, the book is lit­tle more than an ex­tended whine about the de­cline of the State Depart­ment as an in­sti­tu­tion, and the peremp­tory man­ner in which many of its se­nior staffers, some of them per­sonal friends of Far­row, have been treated.

Far­row is not lack­ing in self-es­teem. Recently, he lamented that, be­cause of the de­mands of his new-found fame, he has not been able to keep abreast of the is­sues of the day. War on Peace might have been bet­ter if he had. As he ad­mits, its cen­tral the­sis is based on his (un­fin­ished) doc­tor­ate on Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy, be­gun while he was a Rhodes Scholar at Ox­ford Univer­sity. He might well write a book worth read­ing if he ever gets round to

His qual­i­fi­ca­tion for tack­ling such a weighty sub­ject ap­pears to be the few years he spent as a glo­ri­fied er­rand boy for Hol­brooke

un­der­tak­ing a more ma­ture anal­y­sis of Amer­ica’s re­cent re­asser­tion of its power.

Far­row might then re­alise that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, far from pre­sid­ing over any de­cline, is in the process of re­defin­ing Washington’s deal­ings with the out­side world, from get­ting bet­ter trade deals to ca­jol­ing rogue states like North Korea to adopt a more re­spon­si­ble ap­proach to global se­cu­rity — some­thing that decades of State Depart­ment diplo­macy failed to achieve.

Ul­ti­mately, I sus­pect this book is not aimed at for­eign af­fairs vet­er­ans such as my­self, but at a younger gen­er­a­tion who might ap­pre­ci­ate some of its more ob­scure pearls of wis­dom, such as this one from the rap artists Nas and Dr Dre which, in an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to the plight of the mod­ern State Depart­ment, reads: “If you ain’t speakin’ money lan­guage I can’t hang — you know your con­ver­sa­tion is weak, so it’s sense­less to speak.” Well, quite.

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