Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service and a former U.S. State Department official under President Obama, Ronan Farrow writes a blend of memoir and analysis of the decades-long dismantling of diplomacy in favor of militarization, which has reached a tipping point under President Trump.
At a time when the Trump administration has called for gutting the State Department’s budget and filled foreign-policy jobs with military officers, Farrow draws on both government experience and fresh reporting to offer a lament for the plight of America’s diplomats — and an argument for why it matters ... his wry voice and storytelling take work that is often grueling and dull and make it seem, if not always exciting, at least vividly human ... Farrow lays out the vicious cycle: 'American leadership no longer valued diplomats, which led to the kind of cuts that made diplomats less valuable. Rinse, repeat.' Yet real as these dynamics are, Farrow’s account of them comes with some omissions that skew the broader picture ... Only in the final pages, in the context of Trump’s threats to dismantle the Iran deal, does Farrow get into the years of diplomacy that yielded that agreement. He similarly has little to say about the other diplomatic accomplishments of the Obama years ... Those omissions are in themselves telling, since they reflect a deeper challenge that reinforces the dynamics Farrow deplores. Even the most towering diplomatic achievements are at best partial victories; what look like necessary compromises at the negotiating table become ripe targets for political attack when diplomats come home and present uncertain promises and half-measures to a public that prefers silver bullets and sweeping principles.
Ronan Farrow’s War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence is more an elegy than a work of journalism, more a work of journalism than a history of diplomacy, and more a history than a sustained analysis of the value and effect of U.S. diplomacy ... Although War on Peace doesn’t fully achieve its broadest ambitions, it offers lively writing, astute commentary and plenty of great stories, laced through with passion and outrage ... If it doesn’t entirely hang together as an argument, it still makes for enjoyable and occasionally compulsive reading: Farrow is a natural storyteller, and his empathy and imagination breathe life even into the endless, awkward Thanksgiving dinner that constitutes diplomacy. In the end, War on Peace is much like Farrow’s characterization of diplomacy itself: rich, messy and imperfect, but ultimately, more than worth it.
Is Farrow right? Has the United States turned its back on diplomacy, and on its diplomats? And if so, at what cost? Farrow makes a good case that we have, and that the cost will be high ... Farrow makes the case well that, given our recent history, Trump is not (wholly) an aberration, but a toxic extension of trends in place. In his telling, and he tells a good tale, what distinguishes the current administration is its unabashed shift from benign neglect — and quiet reliance on diplomacy — to wrecking ball ... Much of Farrow’s work, however, is homage to the late Richard Holbrooke, for whom Farrow worked as a fresh 20-year-old law school graduate. Farrow is honest about his admiration for Holbrooke, who became, in his own words, a father figure. He is equally honest about the tragedy of Holbrooke, a man who repeatedly defeated himself and his ideas ... The decline of American influence that Ronan Farrow captures in his War on Peace has already begun. When, if we come to our senses and recognize, as French President Emmanuel Macron said, that there is no Planet B, we will re-enter a global community that has largely moved on. Can you blame them?