A thoughtful New York Times article by Michael A. Cohen on to how to conduct an effective foreign policy is worthy of serious consideration.
Cohen begins with the reality that the current administration is pretty much considered feckless in the realm of foreign affairs today. Yet he cites three areas where recent progress has been made: the destruction of all of Syria's chemical weapons, the de-escalation of the crisis in Ukraine, and progress toward a nuclear settlement with Iran. One could add the agreement by Afghanistan presidential candidates to abide by an international audit of the votes cast in their recent election.
The point Cohen is making is that all of this progress has been made through diplomacy and without one American soldier on the ground or one shot being fired. He notes that military force does not always bring the quick results that some would suggest.
Cohen states: "Force is a blunt instrument that produces unpredictable outcomes (for evidence look no further than Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya)." He adds that what has worked in the three situations listed above has been the gradual development of a global consensus, effective international sanctions, and an awareness of the limitations of American power.
Cohen admits that there are significant limits to the ability of the United States to influence events. War is still raging in Syria, Russia still holds Crimea, and there is no guarantee Iran will ultimately agree to a nuclear deal. Yet it is also clearly the case that those who counsel military interventions have over-promised. Cohen argues that the United States must set realistic goals by working to limit conflicts and seeking achievable diplomatic outcomes.
While admitting that the United States may simply have no good answers to some international crises, such as being able to force Iraq to enact necessary political reforms, I believe Cohen makes a strong case for a less strident tone in our foreign policy. The notion that we can solve problems by force or operate independently in the world, ignoring the international community, is not a viable option. It is through painstaking diplomacy and working with international partners that we are most likely to achieve results, however modest. It may be somewhat counterintuitive but I agree with Cohen: "More often than not, boring is better."