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American diplomacy is under siege. Offices across the State Department sit empty, while abroad the military-industrial complex has assumed the work once undertaken by peacemakers. We’re becoming a nation that shoots first and asks questions later. In an astonishing account ranging from Washington, D.C., to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and North Korea in the years since 9/11, accl American diplomacy is under siege. Offices across the State Department sit empty, while abroad the military-industrial complex has assumed the work once undertaken by peacemakers. We’re becoming a nation that shoots first and asks questions later. In an astonishing account ranging from Washington, D.C., to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and North Korea in the years since 9/11, acclaimed journalist and former diplomat Ronan Farrow illuminates one of the most consequential and poorly understood changes in American history. His firsthand experience in the State Department affords a personal look at some of the last standard-bearers of traditional statecraft, including Richard Holbrooke, who made peace in Bosnia and died while trying to do so in Afghanistan. Farrow’s narrative is richly informed by interviews with whistleblowers, policymakers, and a warlord, from Henry Kissinger to Hillary Clinton. Diplomacy, Farrow argues, has declined after decades of political cowardice, short-sightedness, and outright malice—but it may just offer America a way out of a world at war.


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American diplomacy is under siege. Offices across the State Department sit empty, while abroad the military-industrial complex has assumed the work once undertaken by peacemakers. We’re becoming a nation that shoots first and asks questions later. In an astonishing account ranging from Washington, D.C., to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and North Korea in the years since 9/11, accl American diplomacy is under siege. Offices across the State Department sit empty, while abroad the military-industrial complex has assumed the work once undertaken by peacemakers. We’re becoming a nation that shoots first and asks questions later. In an astonishing account ranging from Washington, D.C., to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and North Korea in the years since 9/11, acclaimed journalist and former diplomat Ronan Farrow illuminates one of the most consequential and poorly understood changes in American history. His firsthand experience in the State Department affords a personal look at some of the last standard-bearers of traditional statecraft, including Richard Holbrooke, who made peace in Bosnia and died while trying to do so in Afghanistan. Farrow’s narrative is richly informed by interviews with whistleblowers, policymakers, and a warlord, from Henry Kissinger to Hillary Clinton. Diplomacy, Farrow argues, has declined after decades of political cowardice, short-sightedness, and outright malice—but it may just offer America a way out of a world at war.

30 review for War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence

  1. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    Yes, it's true that with this book, Pulitzer Prize winner Ronan Farrow shines a light on how the US has been decimating and sidelining its State Department for years, although - hey, kids! - diplomacy is crucial. But while this is of course an important point to make, it also amounts to stating the obvious, so I would argue that what makes this book so insightful and relevant is how Farrow takes his readers inside the political, military and diplomatic entanglements of some of the most complex i Yes, it's true that with this book, Pulitzer Prize winner Ronan Farrow shines a light on how the US has been decimating and sidelining its State Department for years, although - hey, kids! - diplomacy is crucial. But while this is of course an important point to make, it also amounts to stating the obvious, so I would argue that what makes this book so insightful and relevant is how Farrow takes his readers inside the political, military and diplomatic entanglements of some of the most complex international conflicts and shows how the actions of individual people, the workings of bigger structures and a variety of opposing interests have brought us to where we are today. Farrow formerly worked for the State Department as a Special Adviser for Humanitarian and NGO Affairs in the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, and later as the Director of the State Department's Office of Global Youth Issues. For his book, he also conducted over 200 interviews, for instance with all living Secretaries of State, high-level diplomats and a warlord who, with the help of the US, became Vice President of Afghanistan (the book is worth buying for this chapter alone - this is great, great journalism). And his expertise shows: Almost every sentence contains some kind of factual information, and the way he connects the threads is more than convincing. From Petraeus' stance towards American counterinsurgency operations and other repercussions the Vietnam war had on later military offensives, to the importance of Pakistan for the stability of the whole region (and how the relationship with Pakistan was ruined); from the way the US cooperated with warlords and armed parties that would later fight them with their own weapons, to the wars in Afghanistan and Syria as well as the situation in Somalia and Iran - it is fascinating to read all this background Information. There is only one thing that left me wondering: I would argue that diplomacy per se doesn't solve conflicts, the question must also be what kind of diplomacy a country wants. As many of Farrow's examples show, the problem is not only the militarization of (foreign) politics (although the number of Generals in the Trump administration is ridiculous - at the same time, key civilian experts on international relations got fired unceremoniously), the problem is also that foreign policy efforts are often short-sighted and lacking moral integrity. Sure, these issues need to be tackled in a well-staffed State Department by civilian experts, but they need to be tackled. When Farrow refers to the situation in Afghanistan as an "infinite war at the ends of the earth", this perception is also part of the American (image) problem, IMHO. Still, this is a very insightful, meticulously researched book about foreign policy. Highly recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Detailed and sharp, War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence surveys the erosion of the State Department and the rise of militarized foreign policy since the start of the War on Terror. Across three wide-ranging parts journalist and former diplomat Ronan Farrow offers a forceful critique of 21st-century America’s hyper-militarized approach to foreign intervention, from the decision to forgo negotiation with enemy forces to the promotion of generals to high-level g Detailed and sharp, War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence surveys the erosion of the State Department and the rise of militarized foreign policy since the start of the War on Terror. Across three wide-ranging parts journalist and former diplomat Ronan Farrow offers a forceful critique of 21st-century America’s hyper-militarized approach to foreign intervention, from the decision to forgo negotiation with enemy forces to the promotion of generals to high-level government offices once occupied by technocrats. The second and third parts offer excellent case studies of imperial meltdown and military overreach, and are well worth reading. By contrast, the first tries to illustrate diplomacy’s decline through a critical portrait of former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke’s turbulent career, centering on his inability to bring about peace in Afghanistan; the section’s pacing is uneven, the characterization slightly cartoonish, and it doesn’t quite cohere. Farrow’s book is well researched, but his failure to propose any alternative to the belligerent status quo, as well as his refusal to reckon with the ways America’s foreign policy was already militaristic and heavy handed in the twentieth century, limits his work’s breadth.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    Who could have known Ronan Farrow would develop into such a remarkable thinker? He credits his mother, of whom he speaks with genuine awe in his voice. Not only has 30-year-old Ronan Farrow been a diplomat, in his early twenties working closely with Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the midst of American’s longest war, but just last year he broke the story published in The New Yorker which set America on a new trajectory for gender relations. War on Peace is an exam Who could have known Ronan Farrow would develop into such a remarkable thinker? He credits his mother, of whom he speaks with genuine awe in his voice. Not only has 30-year-old Ronan Farrow been a diplomat, in his early twenties working closely with Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the midst of American’s longest war, but just last year he broke the story published in The New Yorker which set America on a new trajectory for gender relations. War on Peace is an examination of American foreign policy in the last two decades, though Farrow occasionally wanders further afield to highlight a trend or to stress a break in continuity. Did we have a foreign service in the past two decades that was not consumed by military matters? Believe it or not, we had a robust diplomatic core who was toiling away unsung, trying to wrest decision-making from generals focused on anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency. Richard Holbrooke was one of these. Holbrooke wasn’t well-liked in Washington, but was effective in his role in the Bosnia peace talks. He was hard-headed, obsessive, egotistical. He’d wanted to be Secretary of State during President Clinton’s administration but the job went to Madeleine Albright. He was Secretary of State Clinton’s choice for envoy to the Afghanistan war zone. It was a bum job, but Holbrooke was happy to get it. Ronan knew Holbrooke as a family friend and was invited onto Holbrooke’s team. We get a view of Holbrooke from someone who knew his gifts and his faults. Ronan has a disarmingly frank manner. For this book he interviewed on the record every living Secretary of State, and just about every other Washingtonian who had anything to do with international work. What he charts herein is the militarization of the diplomatic corps, starting way back in Bill Clinton’s presidency through Bush and Obama, neither of whom did anything to slow or halt the trend. Farrow does talk about the current president, but only to highlight how diplomacy has become a dirty word in D.C. Most interesting for me was the access that Farrow had in talking about American foreign policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and how we never seemed to actually get anywhere. In Pakistan especially we never seemed able to take advantage of cooperation with the people who could bridge the trust gap. Farrow makes it sound like we were so close to better, more cooperative relations but the ship of state is hard to steer. Our relationships with other countries tended to impact our relations in Pakistan, to say nothing of the assassination of Bhutto, the misuse of aid funds, and bin Laden living in hiding there. Farrow gives some idea how DJT is playing in Europe at the moment, as if we didn’t know. He quotes Merkel's dry and damning statements about "we really should all be trying harder to work out problems with our allies..." But when this 30-yr-old says we must stay engaged in the leadership of the world because if we don’t, someone else will, we understand and we believe him. When Clinton said this during the campaign, actually answering a question I’d posed about America’s role in the world, I was resistant. I am still working through disappointment that she couldn’t manage to make even her countrymen want her to be that leader. Our dysfunctional relationship with Colombia is spelled out in painful detail. How stupid and disrespectful has America ever been in South America? America’s war on drugs became a sordid saga of the U.S. training drug runners. Towards the end of Farrow’s book, this story is just so sobering and souring. Perhaps we come off looking like the buffoons we are because of the unending corruption in every single South American country. It is just exhausting and hard to believe an honest person cannot rise to the top anywhere in South America. But we just keep playing out the worst examples of bad behavior, on both sides of the border. In the end this book is an impassioned call to young people to create the change they want to see. Farrow is trying to gin up some enthusiasm for a diplomatic corps who can think, talk, and make treaties around the world rather than militarize our relationships. It is obviously true that if you start with a gun in your hand you are going to have a very different mindset about solving disagreements. Diplomacy is long, frustrating, and often useless seeming…until it isn’t. Great book. The inside scoop on how the Department of State functions is worth the price of admission. I listened to the audio of this, read by Farrow himself and it was terrific. Produced by Audible.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Riley Haas

    This is a deeply flawed but fascinating book about the decline of the US foreign service and US diplomacy and general, the the ebbing of US influence as the American Empire slowly ends. Farrow was an employee of the State Department at one point and perhaps he was too close to his subject. The first 100 or so pages are essentially an apologia for his boss, Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke is no longer around to defend himself so Farrow seems to have taken it upon himself. I don't think it necessarily This is a deeply flawed but fascinating book about the decline of the US foreign service and US diplomacy and general, the the ebbing of US influence as the American Empire slowly ends. Farrow was an employee of the State Department at one point and perhaps he was too close to his subject. The first 100 or so pages are essentially an apologia for his boss, Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke is no longer around to defend himself so Farrow seems to have taken it upon himself. I don't think it necessarily works as a point of entry into this topic for someone who isn't an American, or who isn't a Democrat, frankly, and it feels more like it's about Holbrooke than it is about failed efforts in Afghanistan. Until the riveting depiction of Holbrooke's death, I was seriously contemplating abandoning this book. Things pick up considerably in Part 2 and Farrow does a better job of chronicling problems the US has helped fester (or even caused) when he's less close to the material. This is the real value of the book: how the US has prioritized the military and the CIA over the State Department more and more, and the inevitable disasters that result. This point was made with Holbrooke, but the whole Holbrooke section is cast is a "best intentions" light that makes it harder to stomach. And it's the idea of "best intentions" that brings us to the book's main problem, it's thesis. As a work of journalism chronicling the decline of the US State Department, this is mostly a success (even the Holbrooke part). But as an argument that the decline of US influence is a bad thing, well that remains to be proven. Because, the thing is, if you're not an American, and you don't believe the US should be the policeman world, then it's hard to know why this decline is necessarily a bad thing. Farrow himself doesn't really argue this point at all. He mentions Vietnam and some other past US foreign policy disasters, but claims that the good outweighed the bad; he never bothers to try to convince us, it's just assumed. It's a little like a British person during the Sinai Crisis saying "But whatever will the world do without our leadership?!?" This is perhaps too crude but bear with me: imagine everything the US has done outside its borders since the Spanish-American War. Do you believe that the US has saved more lives than it has helped end? I don't know the answer to that question, but I'm not sure the answer is affirmative. As someone who is not an American citizen, I find the assumption that the US has normally or mostly acted for the good of the world to be highly, highly questionable. I'm not sure the passing of American influence is as terrible as Farrow thinks it is. (Though, as a Canadian, I should point out that the US being economically strong is in my self-interest and I definitely agree with Farrow that China is not necessarily the country we want to replace the US on the world stage.) So read this if you're interested in the declining role of diplomacy in US actions in the world, but don't read it if you want a coherent argument as to why the US should remain the policeman of the world, because there isn't one.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Marisa

    3.5/4 Stars To start with a very brief negative, I would say that the structure was a little hard to follow. From what I could tell, Farrow structures the book mainly around the countries whose foreign relations he discusses. I'm sure this structure would be easier to follow while reading a physical copy of the book, but as an audiobook listen, it was occasionally disorienting when he jumped from Pakistan to Somalia. However, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives in this insanely well-r 3.5/4 Stars To start with a very brief negative, I would say that the structure was a little hard to follow. From what I could tell, Farrow structures the book mainly around the countries whose foreign relations he discusses. I'm sure this structure would be easier to follow while reading a physical copy of the book, but as an audiobook listen, it was occasionally disorienting when he jumped from Pakistan to Somalia. However, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives in this insanely well-researched book. Not only does this illuminate a whole part of government that I knew very little about, but I do think Farrow succeeds in laying out a case for the importance of diplomacy. All I can say is that if I had read this in high school or college, it would have made me seriously consider a career in the foreign service.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    The premise of this book is that international diplomacy by the U.S. has given way to the military and the Pentagon. Rather than diplomacy, and after maybe war; it has become much more war followed by diplomacy – a far more complex and expensive scenario. The budget for the Pentagon and military has gone up, while that for the State Department has gone down, including unprecedented layoffs of valuable personnel. Much of this started after 9/11. The author spends a lot of attention on Richard Holbr The premise of this book is that international diplomacy by the U.S. has given way to the military and the Pentagon. Rather than diplomacy, and after maybe war; it has become much more war followed by diplomacy – a far more complex and expensive scenario. The budget for the Pentagon and military has gone up, while that for the State Department has gone down, including unprecedented layoffs of valuable personnel. Much of this started after 9/11. The author spends a lot of attention on Richard Holbrooke, more so on his attempt, prior to his death in December, 2010, to negotiate with the Taliban. I did find the personal presentation of various personalities in the U.S. State Department to be the strength of this book. There are many countries covered: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Columbia, and even North Korea. I did find this book too United States centric. The U.S. is not the only player with something to offer in international diplomacy. The author does mention the European contribution to the now broken Nuclear Arms deal with Iran. China is rarely mentioned in this book and they are now a major player on the world stage and in a few years, for better or worse, will be the number one player. In a book I read “China’s Second Continent”, which is Africa, the author of that book makes a conservative estimate that there are now over one million Chinese in the continent running everything from small businesses to mega-projects. Many of those people are there to stay, unlike temporary visitors from the United States. Perhaps Europe will also take over as the United States continues in a downward spiral to withdraw from world affairs. Saudi Arabia’s influence on Pakistan and Afghanistan before and after 9/11 is not mentioned at all. It was a long learning curve the U.S. had to play to catch up to the real significance of the role of Saudi Arabia on these two countries. As the author does point out, much of the war in Central Asia has been done with the military and cash handouts to groups, like Afghan warlords and Pakistan’s ISI, who the U.S. had little knowledge of. The U.S. diplomatic community must share some of the blame for ignoring the dangers of the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. It was caught up and blinkered in the paradigm of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was trying, in Afghanistan, to build a semi-communist regime that supported the education of women and wanted to do away with warlords – and the U.S. chose to support the opposing side. The author is correct that the role of the State Department must take priority over that of the Pentagon. But is it too late?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jill Mackin

    An excellent book of investigative journalism. The ongoing deterioration of the State Department and rise of Militarism as foreign policy.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    The advent of the Trump presidency has wreaked havoc with the traditional American approach to foreign policy that has been in place roughly for the last seventy years. Under the leadership of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the Foreign Service has been gutted as have the careers of life long diplomats leaving the United States with a lack of qualified personnel to conduct the daily work of the State Department, an essential component for an effective foreign policy. This is in large par The advent of the Trump presidency has wreaked havoc with the traditional American approach to foreign policy that has been in place roughly for the last seventy years. Under the leadership of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the Foreign Service has been gutted as have the careers of life long diplomats leaving the United States with a lack of qualified personnel to conduct the daily work of the State Department, an essential component for an effective foreign policy. This is in large part due to the paucity of regional experts, professional negotiators, and has resulted in the rising lack of trust in American foreign policy worldwide. A case in point is the current American-North Korean nuclear talks and announced summit for June 12. One day it is on, one day it has been cancelled, a process that should be based on months of preparation seems to be evolving around the whims and/or transactional nature of President Trump’s decision making. Another example is the American withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal, with no thoughtful policy to replace it. The appearance of Ronan Farrow’s new book, WAR ON PEACE: THE END OF DIPLOMACY AND THE DECLINE OF AMERICAN INFLUENCE comes at an important time in US diplomatic history as our reputation keeps declining worldwide due to the machinations of the Trump administration. Farrow’s thesis is an important one as he argues that the decline in State Department influence and the diplomatic community in general did not begin with Trump, but has evolved over the last two decades and it is a bipartisan problem, not to be blamed on one party. Farrow’s thesis is very clear in that the reduction of the role of diplomats at the State Department was underway during the tenure of Secretary of State James Baker under President George H. W. Bush, continued under Bill Clinton as the need to achieve budget savings was paramount as we refocused on domestic economic issues. During the 1990s the international affairs budget declined by 30% employing the end of the Cold War as a means of rationalizing the closing of consulates, embassies, and rolling important autonomous agencies into the State Department. By the time of the Islamic State twenty years later many experts in that region and subject matter were gone. After 9/11 the State Department was short staffed by 20%. Those who remained were undertrained and under resourced at a time we were desperate for information and expertise which were nowhere to be found. Farrow is correct in arguing that the Trump administration brought to a new extreme a trend that had gained momentum after 9/11. With crisis around the world the US “cast civilian dialogue to the side, replacing the tools of diplomacy with direct, tactical deals between our military and foreign forces.” In areas that diplomats formally where at the forefront in policy implementation, now they were not invited into the “room where it happened.” “Around the world, uniformed officers increasingly handled negotiation, economic reconstruction, and infrastructure development for which we once had a devoted body of specialists.” The United States has changed who they bring to the table, which also affects who the other side brings to negotiate. Restaffing under Secretary of State Colin Powell during George W. Bush’s presidency saw the repackaging of traditional State Department programs under the umbrella of “Overseas Contingency Operations” and counter terrorism. Since 2001 the State Department has ceded a great deal of its authority to the Defense Department whose budget skyrocketed, while the budget at State declined. As a result diplomats slipped into the periphery of the policy process especially in dealing with Iraq as Powell and his minions at State were squeezed to the sidelines by Vice President Dick Cheney who ran his own parallel National Security Council. Interestingly, the process would continue under President Obama who liked to “micromanage” large swaths of American foreign policy. Obama also favored military men as appointees, i.e.; Generals Jim Jones, David Petraeus, James Clapper, Douglas Lute to name a few. Farrow’s book is an in depth discussion of how US foreign policy has been militarized over the last twenty years. He discusses how this situation evolved, who the major players were and how they influenced policy. Further, he explores how it has effected US foreign policy in the past, currently, and its outlook for the future, particularly when Washington leaves behind the capacity for diplomatic solutions as it confronts the complexities of settling the world’s problems. Farrows is a wonderful story teller who draws on his own government experience and his ability to gain access to major policy makers – a case in point was his ability to interview every living Secretary of State including Rex Tillerson. At the core of Farrows narrative is the time he spent with Richard Holbrooke who brokered the Dayton Accords to end the fighting in the Balkans in the 1990s, and was a special representative working on Afghanistan and Pakistan under President Obama. Holbrooke was a driven man with an out sized ego but had a history of getting things done. From his early career in Vietnam through his work at State with Hillary Clinton, who held the job he coveted. Holbrooke saw many parallels between Vietnam and Afghanistan. First, we were defeated by a country adjacent to the conflict. Secondly, we relied on a partner that was corrupt. Lastly, we embraced a failed counterinsurgency policy at the behest of the military. These are the types of views that at times made Holbrooke a pariah in government, but also a man with expertise and experience that was sorely needed. His greatest problem that many historians have pointed out is that he was not very likeable. During the Obama administration Holbrooke butted heads with most members of the National Security Council and the major figures at the Pentagon. He worked assiduously to bring about negotiations with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan. No matter how hard he tried he ran into a brick wall within the Obama administration. Secretary of State Clinton would finally come around, but the military refused to partake, and lastly his biggest problem was that President Obama saw him as a relic of the past and just did not like him. An important aspect of the book is devoted to the deterioration of American-Pakistani relations, particularly after the capture and killing of Osama Bin-Laden and the episode involving CIA operative Raymond Davis. The lack of trust between the two governments was baked in to policy, but events in 2011 took them to a new level. Farrow’s monograph makes for an excellent companion volume to that of Steve Coll’s recent DIRECTORATE S which is an in depth study of our relationship with Pakistan concentrating on the ISI. Like Coll, Farrow hits the nail right on the head in that Pakistan reflected the difficulties of leaning on a military junta, which had no strategic alignment with the United States, particularly because of India. Once Trump took over the “fears of militarization” Holbrooke had worried over had come to pass on a scale he could never have imagined. Trump concentrated more power in the Pentagon, granting nearly total authority in areas of policy once orchestrated across multiple agencies. The military made troops deployment decisions, they had the power to conduct raids, and set troop levels. Diplomats were excluded from decision making in Afghanistan as 10 of 25 NSC positions were held by current or retired military officials, i.e., White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly; Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis; until recently National Security advisor H.R. McMaster among a number of other former or serving military in his cabinet. However, one member of Trump’s military cadre is dead on, as Secretary of Defense Mattis has pointed out that “if you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.” Farrow zeroes in on US, Syria, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, and policies toward Egypt and Columbia to support his thesis. The US had a nasty policy of allying with warlords and dictators in these regions and negotiations were left to the military and the CIA. Obama’s approach was simple; conduct proxy wars, he described our foreign military or militia allies as our partners who were doing the bidding of the United States. Yemenis and Pakistanis could do our work, why send our own sons and daughters to do it was his mantra. The Trump administration has continued this policy and closed the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and has left the position of Assistant Secretary for Southern and Central Asia vacant – makes it difficult to engage in diplomacy/negotiations. As in Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance and other warlord groups, the US approach in Somalia was similar. First, we “contracted” the Ethiopian military in Eritrea to invade Somalia and allied with a number of warlords. In both cases, military and intelligence solutions played out, but the US actively sabotaged opportunities for diplomacy and it resulted in a destabilizing effect “continents and cultures away.” One wonders if American policy contributed to the growth of al-Shabaab in the region – for Farrow the answer is very clear. Farrow accurately lays out a vicious cycle; “American leadership no longer valued diplomats, which led to the kind of cuts that made diplomats less valuable. Rinse, repeat.” Farrow’s thesis is accurate, but at times perhaps overstated as in most administrations there are diplomatic successes (at this time we are waiting for North Korean negotiations – which all of a sudden has gone from a demand for total denuclearization to a getting to know you get together); Obama’s Iran Nuclear deal, Paris climate deal, opening relations with Cuba are all successes, despite Trump’s mission to destroy any accomplishments by the former president. Farrow’s book is a warning that new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should take to heart, if not all future negotiations will rest with people who have not studied the cultures and societies of the countries they would be dealing with. Dean Acheson wrote PRESENT AT CREATION detailing his diplomatic career and the important events following World War II, I wonder what a diplomat might entitle a memoir looking back decades from now as to what is occurring.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kelley

    Riveting book I couldn’t put down War on Peace” is a riveting and thought-provoking book exploring the reasons behind the declining, though one hopes not dying, art and craft of US foreign diplomacy negotiation. Ronan Farrow, former US State Department diplomat and current journalist, details how the use of diplomacy has diminished over the last several presidencies, at the hands of ever increasing military power that is now used by the US as a replacement to foreign diplomacy. This trend starte Riveting book I couldn’t put down War on Peace” is a riveting and thought-provoking book exploring the reasons behind the declining, though one hopes not dying, art and craft of US foreign diplomacy negotiation. Ronan Farrow, former US State Department diplomat and current journalist, details how the use of diplomacy has diminished over the last several presidencies, at the hands of ever increasing military power that is now used by the US as a replacement to foreign diplomacy. This trend started under President Reagan, continued through President George W. Bush, and was heavily favored by President Obama and is now carried on by the current administration. Now with key diplomatic positions unfilled in the State Department, and with a quarter of the its budget slashed, it seems that US diplomacy may be on life-support, if perhaps for the foreseeable future. Instead Farrow shows how military might (and the threat of it), and the military industrial complex seem to rule US international relations more and more, often supporting despotic rulers who pay lip service to US interests, but often actually secretly act in ways counter to US interests. Farrow has done meticulous research for his book. He interviewed over 200 key players, including all living former US Secretaries of State, numerous career diplomats, and military officials. Clearly his access helps give his book tremendous weight. His close work with the late Richard Holbrook, the legendary diplomatist, is masterfully portrayed in this book — as a man whose skills are of a time past and was significantly under-appreciated and under-utilized at the time of his death. Still Farrow was a young diplomat (at his time of service), and so I sometimes felt that his book’s conclusions about some diplomatic decisions, now portrayed through his eyes as a young journalist, were sometimes too judgmental. He may have felt the outcomes were only too obvious, but in hindsight only which is what he forgets. The decisions were not always clear at the time of negotiation; the reality of diplomacy is that it is usually intensely complex and clear-cut answers aren’t always evident or possible. Compromise must happen and only time will reveal that certain decisions may have been right or wrong ones, even when they might all appear positive at the time. I also think that Farrow could have been a little more objective in his approach. He admires Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who administration he worked under. Yet he doesn’t mention at all under her watch the foreign policy disasters of the Embassy bombing in Libya or the email scandal that ultimately sank her own bid for the presidency. I suspect those two events also harmed the credibility of the State Department in many ways as well, something he should have explored more to present a fuller picture leading to the current State Department. This book was truly amazing though. I could hardly put it down, it was that good. Because of it, I found myself dwelling pondering the state of US diplomacy over the last many presidencies. I’m a strong believer in diplomacy, and hope that someday diplomacy will again ascend to its rightful place as the primary tool of foreign negotiation.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Owlseyes

    Ronan on playing "nice" with North Korea: -"we're flying blind now" -"they often lie" -"risk: we get played" -"they cheat" Let's hope for the better on the 12th June. Et Voilá: Ronan on playing "nice" with North Korea: -"we're flying blind now" -"they often lie" -"risk: we get played" -"they cheat" Let's hope for the better on the 12th June. Et Voilá:

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sugarpuss O'Shea

    This is one of those books that will keep you up at night. I know it did me. At every turn, we have f'ed things up -- Nixon put off ending Vietnam in order to get reelected; Reagan made Colombian drug lords richer in the name of counterterrorism; Clinton started slashing our civilian presence in the world & cut the budgets to State at the same levels Trump has today; G W Bush turned diplomacy over to the Pentagon & could've ended the Afghan war (by talking to the Taliban), but the military would This is one of those books that will keep you up at night. I know it did me. At every turn, we have f'ed things up -- Nixon put off ending Vietnam in order to get reelected; Reagan made Colombian drug lords richer in the name of counterterrorism; Clinton started slashing our civilian presence in the world & cut the budgets to State at the same levels Trump has today; G W Bush turned diplomacy over to the Pentagon & could've ended the Afghan war (by talking to the Taliban), but the military wouldn't let him (they want us there indefinitely just like Korea); Obama stepped up our obsession/dependance with proxy wars & has sold more weapons than an other president since WWII(!!!); and Trump has pulled us out of many of the few diplomatic successes we have had, while decimating the State Department to unprecedented levels (he doesn't even have a nuclear proliferation team!!). Awesome. With diplomats being squeezed out of the room, and their voices & expertise being replaced by military men, we can expect more and more of the same -- Incompetency mixed with short-sided immediacy. This isn't a good mix for the future of our country, let alone the world. I just wish Mr Farrow would've given us a glimmer of hope & how we can fix this.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    Tillerson parroted China talking points written by Kushner. Rachel Maddoow looks at past reporting on Jared Kushner's sketchy meetings with Chinese officials, and notes the tie-in to a scoop in Ronan Farrow's new book "War on Peace" that found Kushner to be the source of Rex Tillerson remarks parroting China's preferred perspective on U.S. China relations. Farrow is a high-flyer with a very rosy future. Tillerson parroted China talking points written by Kushner. Rachel Maddoow looks at past reporting on Jared Kushner's sketchy meetings with Chinese officials, and notes the tie-in to a scoop in Ronan Farrow's new book "War on Peace" that found Kushner to be the source of Rex Tillerson remarks parroting China's preferred perspective on U.S. China relations. Farrow is a high-flyer with a very rosy future.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mike Kanner

    As always, my disclosure. I am a lecturer in security studies and foreign policy in a major university. While still in government, I worked with DoS in Central America and Europe. Despite the praise of so many, I found this a mediocre history plagued with selection bias. The first third (and sprinkled throughout) is praise of Richard Holbrooke who served as the author's mentor. The rest is a hit and miss picture of high-level aspects of foreign policy from about 2000 on often losing sight of the As always, my disclosure. I am a lecturer in security studies and foreign policy in a major university. While still in government, I worked with DoS in Central America and Europe. Despite the praise of so many, I found this a mediocre history plagued with selection bias. The first third (and sprinkled throughout) is praise of Richard Holbrooke who served as the author's mentor. The rest is a hit and miss picture of high-level aspects of foreign policy from about 2000 on often losing sight of the primary argument of how the DoS lost its position as the lead in US foreign policy. But, the real issue is that in making its claim about the militarization of foreign policy, it ignores the DoS role in its own demise. First, DoD's many solutions require DoD assets and so you cannot blame DoD for wanting to have a hand in the policy. This was evident in one of the more famous blow-ups between then GEN Powell and SecState Albright about the use of the US military for peace operations (see AN AMERICAN JOURNEY). Second, he ignores that part of the reason for the militarization of the Iraq and Afghanistan policy was the inability to get FSOs to volunteer for positions, as a result, military officers and contracted individuals (e.g., Rory Stewart as recounted in THE PRINCE OF THE MARSHES). Third, in his final chapter which focuses on Trump's first year, he claims that we have seen the end of bipartisanship in foreign policy. I would argue that this has never been the case. McKinley and Congress were at odds about going to war with Spain. Theodore Roosevelt challenged Congress after he sent out the 'Great White Fleet'. His cousin had to deal with an isolationist Congress up until Pearl Harbor. After Tet, Johnson had to fight with his own party over Vietnam. During the Reagan years, Democrats in Congress were adamant about his position in Latin America to the point of passing the Boland Amendment to prevent funding of the efforts. Democratic members of Congress threatened GHW Bush with the War Powers Resolution during the First Gulf War and Senate Republicans (mostly Jesse Helms) and Clinton fought about US efforts in Yugoslavia. Bottom line, the breezy journalist style makes this readable, but the absence of focus and ignoring of evidence detracts from the authors stated argument.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ml Lalonde

    This dense, gripping, impossibly detailed account of the decline of American diplomacy leaves me wondering how a single country can give birth to both Donald Trump and Ronan Farrow. How does this young scholar, investigative journalist and public servant even coexist in the same air space as Trump's government? You'll be hiding under the bed to read this. One wonders if the ancient Romans knew their empire was declining while it was happening. Thanks to Ronan Farrow, the Americans will know for This dense, gripping, impossibly detailed account of the decline of American diplomacy leaves me wondering how a single country can give birth to both Donald Trump and Ronan Farrow. How does this young scholar, investigative journalist and public servant even coexist in the same air space as Trump's government? You'll be hiding under the bed to read this. One wonders if the ancient Romans knew their empire was declining while it was happening. Thanks to Ronan Farrow, the Americans will know for sure.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Ronan Farrow is an investigative journalist who began his career as a State department staffer. In this book he makes the case that the State department has been minimized over the years, to the detriment of our country and security. The emphasis throughout the book is on how and why diplomatic negotiations have been shuttled off to Defense and Intelligence, as opposed to civilian diplomacy under the State Department. In his mind this approach began with the Clinton administration, continued thro Ronan Farrow is an investigative journalist who began his career as a State department staffer. In this book he makes the case that the State department has been minimized over the years, to the detriment of our country and security. The emphasis throughout the book is on how and why diplomatic negotiations have been shuttled off to Defense and Intelligence, as opposed to civilian diplomacy under the State Department. In his mind this approach began with the Clinton administration, continued throughout Bush and Obama, and has culminated with the gutting of the State Department under Trump and Rex Tillerson. The book largely focuses on the war in Afghanistan, and the complexities of dealing with that country and neighboring Pakistan. Farrow highlights the efforts of his mentor at State, Richard Holbrooke, a long-time diplomat who fell out of favor over the years, due to his sometimes abrasive style. This is followed by further examples of diplomatic failures via incidents in Somalia, Egypt, and Columbia. I thought it was interesting that he managed to interview all living Secretaries of State for this book and to hear their thoughts. To me this was a good but not great, instructive read for those who are interested in the current state of U.S. diplomacy and prestige in the world.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nev

    4.5 - Ronan Farrow has achieved way too much in his 31 years on this earth. Graduating from university at 15 and from law school at 21. He’s a lawyer and has also worked for the US State Department. Not to mention winning the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting that exposed Harvey Weinstein. So of course he had to go and write a book on top of all that. STOP MAKING THE REST OF US LOOK LAZY AND UNACCOMPLISHED RONAN. War on Peace is a non-fiction book which examines the declining role of the US dipl 4.5 - Ronan Farrow has achieved way too much in his 31 years on this earth. Graduating from university at 15 and from law school at 21. He’s a lawyer and has also worked for the US State Department. Not to mention winning the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting that exposed Harvey Weinstein. So of course he had to go and write a book on top of all that. STOP MAKING THE REST OF US LOOK LAZY AND UNACCOMPLISHED RONAN. War on Peace is a non-fiction book which examines the declining role of the US diplomacy and the increasing use of military power. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about the US State Department and the work of diplomats. The book is written in a way that it is completely understandable, and interesting, for people who are newcomers to the topic. The book is fascinating because Ronan was able to interview every living Secretary of State. It was illuminating to be able to hear their perspectives on how the role of diplomacy has changed over the years. I definitely learned a lot about the US foreign service and military involvement overseas from reading this. While the book is not a memoir of Ronan’s time working in the State Department, there are moments here and there about his personal experiences. Those tended to be some of the parts I found to be the most fascinating. I’d definitely be interested in reading a whole memoir from him someday. Occasionally there would be moments where I’d get some of the different people or organizations confused. But for the most part everything in the book was fairly easy to follow even with pretty much no prior knowledge. I’d definitely recommend the book to anyone looking to learn more about the US State Department and the changing role of US diplomacy over the years.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sonja

    Ronan Farrow is a genius and US foreign policy is generally horrifying. That's it, that's the review. No, in all seriousness, this was a super fascinating read and definitely gave me more of an understanding of the ever-growing decline in diplomacy and increase in military use in US foreign policy. Ronan Farrow does an incredible job with this seriously well-sourced book. He got so, so many people on the record, not just every living US Secretary of State, a plethora of diplomats, and a couple of Ronan Farrow is a genius and US foreign policy is generally horrifying. That's it, that's the review. No, in all seriousness, this was a super fascinating read and definitely gave me more of an understanding of the ever-growing decline in diplomacy and increase in military use in US foreign policy. Ronan Farrow does an incredible job with this seriously well-sourced book. He got so, so many people on the record, not just every living US Secretary of State, a plethora of diplomats, and a couple of warlords (truly, the chapter on his interview with the Afghan warlord was probably the most fascinating one in the book), it shows the depressing dismantling of the State Department in 2017 and just overall does a really good job covering the negotiation parts of US foreign policy. And yeah, a lot of it is horrifying to read (particularly what kind of foreign regimes US governments end up propping up for their own interests), but it was such a good book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This book is a must read for anyone who is interested in the state of the world today. It is a fascinating and sometimes frightening look at the decline of diplomacy in the modern era.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Julianna

    Reviewed for THC Reviews I’ve only somewhat recently become familiar with Ronan Farrow through his Pulitzer-prize-winning work for the New Yorker covering the Harvey Weinstein scandal that led to the #MeToo movement being raised into our collective consciences. Then he also covered the breaking news story of Deborah Ramirez, one of Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers, during the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings. I honestly didn’t know that Mr. Farrow had written a book until War on Peace came up Reviewed for THC Reviews I’ve only somewhat recently become familiar with Ronan Farrow through his Pulitzer-prize-winning work for the New Yorker covering the Harvey Weinstein scandal that led to the #MeToo movement being raised into our collective consciences. Then he also covered the breaking news story of Deborah Ramirez, one of Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers, during the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings. I honestly didn’t know that Mr. Farrow had written a book until War on Peace came up as a suggestion for our book club. Of course, the book has nothing whatsoever to do with either of those cases I previously mentioned, but I thought it sounded pretty interesting. Apparently others in our club thought so, too, because it’s become our latest read. This is a very meaty book that is definitely not light reading. I’m still not sure that I grasped everything in it, but it was a very enlightening read, nonetheless. Before becoming an award-winning journalist, Mr. Farrow worked as an official at the state department. Therefore, he has an insider’s view of the goings-on inside the world of international diplomacy, and I must say that the picture he paints is a rather bleak one. Not long after the cold war ended, the US began pulling back somewhat on seeking diplomatic solutions in war-torn areas. Even when our country was involved in talks, more often than not, those “peaceful” solutions involved supplying arms and other weapons of war to these countries as part of the bargain, which in my mind, is the opposite of brokering actual peace. In many instances, these weapons then either fell into the hands of the “bad guys” anyway or were used by the supposed “good guys” to terrorize and murder innocent people. In some cases, none perhaps quite so prominent as in the Middle East, we actually made Faustian bargains with brutal warlords who have dismal records of human rights violations, while eschewing direct talks with the Taliban. While I know that negotiating with terrorists wouldn’t play well politically back home, I can’t help feeling like we were simply trading one devil for another. I have to give the author kudos for his balanced writing. He didn’t really cut any administration of the past thirty or so years, Democrat or Republican, much slack when it came to the issue of diplomacy. Mistakes (or what in my mind were mistakes) have been made by all of them, and over the years, old-school diplomacy has gradually been relegated to the history books as the purview of diplomacy falls more and more to the Pentagon, which again, in my mind is the opposite of “peaceful talks.” Those whose job it is to make war don’t genuinely understand what it takes to broker peace. However, no executive failing on diplomacy has been as glaring as with the current administration’s under whose leadership much of the State Department has been shuttered, many ambassadorships remain open, and more than a thousand foreign service workers with real expertise in specialized diplomatic areas were let go. Of course, in the midst of this power vacuum, China has risen to the occasion to fill the gap, leaving much of the US influence on the international stage falling hopelessly behind. I do hope that we will someday be able to become influential again, but I fear that much of the ground gained throughout history is forever lost. I suppose only time will tell. War on Peace is an extremely well-written and well-researched tome on the state of world politics and the role the US has played throughout the past few decades. It’s a very ambitious work that by Mr. Farrow’s own admission in his author’s note took five years to write. During that time, he conducted over two hundred interviews with former Secretaries of State and other diplomatic officials, and even some of those warlords I spoke of. The author profiles many of these people while also showing the role they played, for good or bad, in helping advance US objectives overseas. While not my usual reading fare and not exactly a page-turner for me, I was, nonetheless, extremely impressed with the quality of the writing. This is definitely an intellectual book that will be a feast for any mind that enjoys exploring the international socio-political arena.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dorian

    Clear, sharp, intelligent, to-the-point and sometimes even emotional account of the state of Diplomacy in the largest empire in the history of the world. The demise of the State Department and its peace-bringing mission is told through interviews and stories. READ IT.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lubinka Dimitrova

    This world is doomed. Doomed to be destroyed by the morons we elect to rule us. By the morons who elect morons to rule over them and over the fate of the planet. It only remains to be seen how it will all end.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Meg Northrup

    As other reviewers have noted, the central argument/narrative of this book is so obvious as to be cliche at this point. The DoD has not only been encroaching on DoS for years, it has eclipsed it in many spheres. The interviews though! I found the interviews alone well worth the read, and the supporting details fascinating.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Scott Rhee

    Diplomacy is dead. This is the main take-away of Ronan Farrow’s recent book “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence”, a frightening look at the first stages of a growing new world military order and the death of hope for mankind. The book starts with the Mahogany Row Massacre, the name given to Trump’s sweeping blanket firing within the State Department during his initial first weeks in office. Virtually every ambassador, diplomat, and consultant that was involve Diplomacy is dead. This is the main take-away of Ronan Farrow’s recent book “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence”, a frightening look at the first stages of a growing new world military order and the death of hope for mankind. The book starts with the Mahogany Row Massacre, the name given to Trump’s sweeping blanket firing within the State Department during his initial first weeks in office. Virtually every ambassador, diplomat, and consultant that was involved in overseas diplomatic efforts with hundreds of countries was forced to resign or fired. To this day, a majority of those positions have gone unfilled. Whole American embassies sit empty and collecting dust right now. What Trump did was, according to Farrow, unprecedented and terrifying, but he makes the case that the lack of respect and interest in diplomacy started long before Trump. It began under Bill Clinton and continued on under the presidencies of George H. W. Bush and Barack Obama. Partly due to an attempt at “trimming the fat” (or, as Trump would call it, “draining the swamp”) of what was seen as an over-budgeted diplomatic corps and partly due to the fears brought on by September 11, 2001, the de-emphasis of diplomacy inevitably meant the rise in more military spending and a stronger militarization of foreign policy efforts. This trend has, unfortunately, been going on under our very noses and with very little protest. Whether because the media has been under-reporting it or because we have all been willfully ignorant doesn’t really matter at this point. It’s happened, and it’s getting worse. We all assume that the Bush presidency was most likely the worst culprit in this military escalation, which makes sense since 9/11 happened under his watch. The truth is, though, that Obama is equally, if not more, culpable: “Over the course of his presidency, Barack Obama approved more than double the dollar value of arms deals with foreign regimes than George W. Bush had before him. In fact, the Obama administration sold more arms than any other since World War II. (p. xxvii)” Much of what happened prior to the Mahogany Row Massacre was due to a petty fight between two generations: Obama’s post-post-boomer and millenial worship of technology and innovation versus the Old-school form of diplomacy as embodied by men like the late Richard Holbrooke. Obama and Holbrooke historically butted heads about how to approach foreign policy. Obama’s tragedy was in refusing to listen to and learn from the past. Holbrooke’s tragedy was dying before convincing the Obama administration that his generation of diplomats were a valuable and under-utilized resource. The problem with Obama (and, according to Farrow, an entire generation of young people) is the lack of understanding of the kinds of things that old-school diplomats like Holbrooke did. To many of the new-school, the old-school looked like an outdated form of James Bond-like espionage, which lent itself (erroneously) to the image of impropriety and illegality. As old-school diplomat Robin Raphel explained, “I have had foreign policy people come up and say, ‘You were doing the old-fashioned thing and now there’s a new thing.’... I wasn’t doing the wrong thing. I wasn’t doing the out of date thing. I was doing the real thing. (p. 151)” Because of the gradual de-emphasis on diplomacy, foreign policy matters were, more and more, being managed by military minds. Unfortunately, the military is very good at one thing---war---and not very good at diplomacy. Historically, too, the U.S. entanglement with warlords and foreign militants have, in many ways, been the cause of many current problems. For example, it’s easy to forget that the CIA, during the 1980s, backed, both financially and militarily, the Taliban in Afghanistan as a way to undermine the Soviet Union. And, yes, that’s the same Taliban that birthed Osama bin Laden. These kinds of entanglements have, unfortunately, backfired, escalated, and created completely new problems in tumultuous parts of the world such as Central and South America, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. So, yeah, that’s basically the entire world. It’s easy to criticize the diplomats of the ‘60s and ‘70s, who got us entangled in embarrassing and, in some cases, irreparable situations like Vietnam. The problem, according to the late Holbrooke, was that presidents Bush, Obama, and now Trump refuse to see the obvious parallels between Vietnam and what we are doing in the Middle East and elsewhere. Diplomacy as an option is being completely taken off the table, and we are in a world that needs diplomacy more than ever.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Doug Orleans

    I read this for a book club, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have read it otherwise, but I don't regret reading it. I wasn't wowed, though... It's a weird mish-mash of personal memoirs of Farrow's time in the state department working on Pakistan relations, a biography of Richard Holbrooke's last years, investigative reporting (about the mass graves in Afghanistan shortly after we went to war there, and about a British teenager who joined al-Shabaab in Somalia), and a general survey of the effects I read this for a book club, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have read it otherwise, but I don't regret reading it. I wasn't wowed, though... It's a weird mish-mash of personal memoirs of Farrow's time in the state department working on Pakistan relations, a biography of Richard Holbrooke's last years, investigative reporting (about the mass graves in Afghanistan shortly after we went to war there, and about a British teenager who joined al-Shabaab in Somalia), and a general survey of the effects of the waning influence of diplomacy in American foreign policy in the last 20 years. While I appreciate the variety of subjects and approaches, I think it needed some more explicit connecting text and a big-picture view to clarify and hone the points he was trying to illustrate. I did learn a few new things, though I had to go to Wikipedia to get the full picture: I didn't know that Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006; I didn't know that right-wing militias in Colombia were killing innocent people and dressing them up as FARC radicals in order to collect bounties; and I didn't know that we're still giving Egypt $1.3 billion/year in aid because we refused to call el-Sisi's military takeover a coup. These aren't exactly revelations new to this book, it's just that these are the sort of things that don't make headlines in American news media these days. His portrayal of Holbrooke as being marginalized and undermined by the Obama White House felt surprisingly one-sided. Couldn't he have gotten some quotes and perspective from insiders in that administration, given that his partner since 2011 is Jon Lovett, former Obama speechwriter and part of the Pod Save America crowd with other Obama administration insiders Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor, Ben Rhodes, etc? A few lines stood out to me, which I can't help but point out given the tabloid celebrity of the author: At Richard Holbrooke's funeral: "'He was the closest thing to a father I had,' I said quietly, surprising myself." Farrow has been estranged from his father, Woody Allen, since childhood, and many speculate that Frank Sinatra is his biological father. "General Dostum, an adviser informer me, had a cold. I waited like Gay Talese at a nightclub." Gay Talese is famous for his 1966 profile, "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold". "We were on ample suede couches, the kind you'd get at a bargain furniture retailer like Raymour & Flanigan." I'd never heard of Raymour & Flanigan; apparently they are not just in NYC but have many locations around the Northeast. But clearly he expects his audience to be mostly New Yorkers.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bookish

    I really enjoyed this one although there were moments initially where a few of the people seemed to be written as caricatures, for instance the Ambassador to Pakistan accused of espionage, and the tone was a bit too gossipy. Shortly after though the author seemed to settle into his argument and this came across in a leveling of tone and slightly more developed players in Parts 2 and 3. The subject itself is broad in scope and the people interviewed cover the relevant perspectives BUT I wanted mo I really enjoyed this one although there were moments initially where a few of the people seemed to be written as caricatures, for instance the Ambassador to Pakistan accused of espionage, and the tone was a bit too gossipy. Shortly after though the author seemed to settle into his argument and this came across in a leveling of tone and slightly more developed players in Parts 2 and 3. The subject itself is broad in scope and the people interviewed cover the relevant perspectives BUT I wanted more depth. For instance, more depth to the wars mentioned and how the specific militarization of diplomacy played out in that arena, especially Syria, which is quite sparse. Confusingly so, as both Obama and Trump have prominent places in that continuing horror story. And more depth to the players involved. The author did a good job with Richard Holbrooke who obviously plays an important part in the narrative of what American diplomacy should look like but the absence of more weight to other characters leave, at times, sections of the book reading as a collection of quotations. Lastly, the US has interfered in and created more terrorists in far more places than the few mentioned here and an attempt to reference that inclusion and that history would've added more heft to the narrative. This is admittedly part of the author's argument and the string is unwound to a certain extent but the lack of depth and breadth compromises the structural context of the book. The book itself excluding reference notes was just 310 pages long with a short prologue. I would've loved more, and as it is had to force myself to put the book down to get on with other things.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    Good but not great. First, what makes it good? Farrow notes with detail about how presidents of both parties, from Bill Clinton on, have contributed toward an increased use of the military as a tool of, or substitute for, diplomacy. He spells out specific instances of this. Second, he notes that, without wielding a meat-ax, State could use some budget trimming and reorganization as well. By focusing on Holbrooke, and his being knee-capped, Farrow shows one possible specific way in which reorganiz Good but not great. First, what makes it good? Farrow notes with detail about how presidents of both parties, from Bill Clinton on, have contributed toward an increased use of the military as a tool of, or substitute for, diplomacy. He spells out specific instances of this. Second, he notes that, without wielding a meat-ax, State could use some budget trimming and reorganization as well. By focusing on Holbrooke, and his being knee-capped, Farrow shows one possible specific way in which reorganization would help – a less turf-warring, and less hidebound, department. What makes it not great? Farrow didn't get former Secretaries to talk in detail about how they'd reorganize State, first. Nor did he offer up any ideas of his own. Second, I disagree with his assessment of the 1940s as a glory period for State. It most certainly was not, in the first half of that decade. Cordell Hull was a thin-skinned curmudgeon, while Assistant Secretary Breckenridge Long was a file anti-Semite who knowingly let millions of European Jews go to their deaths while not trying to loosen visa issues, or to get FDR to consider it. (FDR, in turn, let Long go his merry way on this.) Stettinius was OK and Byrnes was bad. Even under Marshall, State wasn't perfect. Meanwhile, as showed by Long, a 1930s ambassador to Italy, the foreign service staff in the 1940s wasn't necessarily great and FDR liked to work with people like Harriman outside State jurisdiction, too.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mack Hayden

    I’m bummed out that I didn’t take to this book. The subject is immensely interesting to me and Ronan Farrow is one of our best reporters. There just seemed to be a lack of direction here; it felt more like an excuse for Farrow to do PR for his cantankerous old boss, Richard Holbrooke, and interview a bunch of notable diplomats and leaders. While I agree diplomacy is always the best course of action and the rapid collapse of the State department is nothing to scoff at, it seemed like all Farrow w I’m bummed out that I didn’t take to this book. The subject is immensely interesting to me and Ronan Farrow is one of our best reporters. There just seemed to be a lack of direction here; it felt more like an excuse for Farrow to do PR for his cantankerous old boss, Richard Holbrooke, and interview a bunch of notable diplomats and leaders. While I agree diplomacy is always the best course of action and the rapid collapse of the State department is nothing to scoff at, it seemed like all Farrow was advocating for was an aggressive diplomatic stance of American exceptionalism rather than an aggressive militarist stance of the same. While I’d much rather have the former than the latter, this book seemed less like an argument for peacemaking and more like a plea for the US to bully the rest of the world more sophisticatedly and using violence a little more sparingly. It just sort of left me unmoved and disinterested, but there are obviously a lot of positive reviews so I’m probably just missing something.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Parisienne

    I was expecting a book that focused on the decline of the role of diplomacy in US foreign relations. This turned out to be a book about Afghanistan, Pakistan and Richard Holbrooke, with a couple of other regions thrown in more briefly. It’s part journalism and part memoir, with enough analysis to perhaps make for a decent New Yorker or maybe Foreign Policy article. I’m a bit bewildered by the 4.25 star rating, and wonder how much of that is based on Farrow’s name and reputation, and the access t I was expecting a book that focused on the decline of the role of diplomacy in US foreign relations. This turned out to be a book about Afghanistan, Pakistan and Richard Holbrooke, with a couple of other regions thrown in more briefly. It’s part journalism and part memoir, with enough analysis to perhaps make for a decent New Yorker or maybe Foreign Policy article. I’m a bit bewildered by the 4.25 star rating, and wonder how much of that is based on Farrow’s name and reputation, and the access to top of the line interviewees that he enjoyed.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Seán Lee

    “Diplomacy really ought to be the tool of the first resort internationally. It can sometime achieve things at far less cost, both financially and in terms of American lives, than the use of the military can.” -Bill Burns

  30. 5 out of 5

    Leo

    Was hoping for stories highlighting U.S. soft power decline with an argument for how to renew the Department of State. Instead felt it read mostly like an insiders memoir.

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