Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

A cranky book on American diplomacy, offering a pungent view on Benghazi

Laurence Pope, a career American diplomat, has written a cranky little book, The Demilitarization of American Diplomacy: Two Cheers for Striped Pants. It has some faults, upon which I prefer not to dwell. (But just for minor examples, George Marshall’s last name has two “L”s, and I don’t think John Winthrop’s flagship, the Arabella, was ...

Amazon/Palgrave
Amazon/Palgrave
Amazon/Palgrave

Laurence Pope, a career American diplomat, has written a cranky little book, The Demilitarization of American Diplomacy: Two Cheers for Striped Pants. It has some faults, upon which I prefer not to dwell. (But just for minor examples, George Marshall's last name has two "L"s, and I don't think John Winthrop's flagship, the Arabella, was a sloop.)

Instead, I recommend the book for the pungent observations sprinkled through it, in imitation of the aphoristic style of La Rochefoucauld:

"[T]he prevailing American diplomatic style is blunt to the point of arrogance." "The Louis Quatorzieme version of American exceptionalism was the divine right of kings." "The State Department's foreign policy functions have largely migrated to a National Security Staff at the White House, an off-the-books agency impervious to Congressional oversight and public scrutiny.... It is operational to a fault." "The American military ... lives to plan, and ideas are important to it." "The real revolution in American military affairs was the recognition of the ancient truth that war is a branch of politics." Because of Assange and other leaks, some of the most important communications nowadays are "conducted by e-mail or back channels." The cyberworld has "a strong bias toward anarchy." "In a world where information moves with the speed of thought, the issue is usually not what is happening, but what should be done about it." "Dwight Eisenhower was perhaps the last American president who understood the making of strategy."

Laurence Pope, a career American diplomat, has written a cranky little book, The Demilitarization of American Diplomacy: Two Cheers for Striped Pants. It has some faults, upon which I prefer not to dwell. (But just for minor examples, George Marshall’s last name has two “L”s, and I don’t think John Winthrop’s flagship, the Arabella, was a sloop.)

Instead, I recommend the book for the pungent observations sprinkled through it, in imitation of the aphoristic style of La Rochefoucauld:

  • “[T]he prevailing American diplomatic style is blunt to the point of arrogance.”
  • “The Louis Quatorzieme version of American exceptionalism was the divine right of kings.”
  • “The State Department’s foreign policy functions have largely migrated to a National Security Staff at the White House, an off-the-books agency impervious to Congressional oversight and public scrutiny…. It is operational to a fault.”
  • “The American military … lives to plan, and ideas are important to it.”
  • “The real revolution in American military affairs was the recognition of the ancient truth that war is a branch of politics.”
  • Because of Assange and other leaks, some of the most important communications nowadays are “conducted by e-mail or back channels.”
  • The cyberworld has “a strong bias toward anarchy.”
  • “In a world where information moves with the speed of thought, the issue is usually not what is happening, but what should be done about it.”
  • “Dwight Eisenhower was perhaps the last American president who understood the making of strategy.”

As for Benghazi, Pope has an interesting view, given that he was the temporary replacement in Tripoli for the murdered ambassador, Chris Stevens. Pope alleges that the coverage of the incident — presumably Fox’s — was “vile partisan agitprop.” He doesn’t elaborate.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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