Colin Powell, America’s premier soldier-statesman, put it best. Diplomats, he said, are “the first line of offense of America’s foreign policy.” With his military background, Powell understood better than most that diplomacy has always been an important, if not vital, American strength in dealing with a dangerous and unpredictable world.
Powell’s maxim came to mind during last week’s acrimonious debate over President Obama’s decision to try negotiations to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. It was striking how many Obama critics argued that diplomacy simply won’t work in dealing with anti-American hardliners in Tehran. The implication was that trying diplomacy with people like that is soft, naïve, and insufficiently martial. Thus, the invidious comparison of the Geneva deal to Munich, with Obama as a modern-day Neville Chamberlin.