U.S. Diplomacy: Building Back Better Abroad


America’s diplomats should thank Donald Trump. By driving U.S. foreign policy and our international reputation to such historic lows, he has provided us with the unique opportunity to reinvent our diplomacy. When Joe Biden enters the Oval Office next January, America won’t just benefit from a man of great character, but one of the most experienced foreign policy leaders ever to hold our nation’s highest office. He will be in a unique position to reinvigorate and reinvent American diplomacy.

Vice President Biden talks about building back better at home, and our diplomats must carry that task forward by building ​back better abroad as well. Seventy- five years ago, American statesmen designed a world order that brought unmatched prosperity and security to Americans and billions around the globe. Today, we must remember that sense of purpose as we start the long-term hard work that will be needed to restore our credibility and our relationships to bring America back as a world leader..

Like their president, America’s diplomats will have to start from a place of contrasts – they need the humility to admit the grievous failures of the Trump Administration but also the confidence to assert American leadership once more. It will be a difficult needle to thread, but with the right support from the Obama/Harris administration, they can succeed.

President Trump has treated diplomacy with disdain, ignoring career diplomats while appointing ambassadors who do more harm than good. Here’s how President Biden, in the letter he sends each new American Ambassador, could reset the tone and timbre of American diplomacy:

Dear Mr./Madam Ambassador:

Thank you for your willingness to serve our country as my personal representative abroad.

Together we face a historic challenge. The very future of our republic and of the world we live in depends on American leadership. First and foremost, we must evaluate how American leadership can help hasten the end of the Covid pandemic. America must be a team player, and you and your team should spare no effort to shape the global: scientific, economic, and political partnerships necessary to defeat COVID-19. This will go a long way toward earning back the trust of our partners and the respect of our adversaries.

Your diplomatic assignment includes an important domestic component. I charge you with linking implementation of our foreign policy objectives in your country of assignment to our Administration’s domestic renewal plan of bringing back a modern, vibrant and sustainable economy, a more just and equitable society, and a strong democracy supported by a powerful national defense.

In order to represent the American people abroad you must know what is important to them here at home. I ask that you conduct regular listening tours across the United States and engage Americans as key stakeholders in our foreign policy. Our trade deals, our development commitments, and our military engagements must have their support. in order to be successful.

Above all, our diplomacy must be aligned with the values that define our country. That means we praise our allies in public and discuss our differences in private. We call autocrats to task and support those countries and leaders that share our values. Our diplomacy will lend weight to conflict resolution. Our development dollars will alleviate suffering and help build democracy and prosperity. Our military technology will enhance the capabilities of those countries that respect the dignity and rights of their peoples.

To convey the emphatic message that America has returned to the world stage to achieve positive, values-based change, I look to you to identify and draft new “Brandenburg Moments” as one of your former colleagues has argued, that will allow us to symbolically but powerfully connect with people around the world. Such messages of course recall the powerful words of President Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall in 1987 inviting then Soviet leader Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall that signaled the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Our Administration should aim for similar opportunities signaling our determination on our highest priorities, such as our commitment to defending democracy, defeating climate change, and protecting human rights.

I realize that in order for you and your mission to be effective, your Embassy must be a state of the art diplomatic platform, with a full complement of foreign affairs professionals employing the most advanced technologies. Our embassies must be welcoming places of engagement with your host country and be secure. But we must also reach people where they are. You should find new and creative ways to interact with all segments of your host population – including digital technologies and social media. I will work with the Secretary of State and the Congress to secure the resources you need to bring innovation into our embassies.

Your mission includes working with regional and international organizations in pursuit of U.S. policy interests. In that context, I expect you to lead in efforts at reforming and improving these multilateral bodies. You must make them more effective and more efficient, and not abandon them to those who would subvert their mission.

Finally, I count on you to always act as a confident agent of American soft power, never reluctant to assert our values nor afraid to honestly address our failures. I expect you to provide me with your very best analysis of developments beyond our borders. Our policy process must be based on generous debate and deliberation, including a channel for healthy dissent. Diplomacy involves risks, and I hope you take opportunities on behalf of American interests. As long as you act in good faith, to represent me, the Secretary, and the American people, know that I have your back.

The President, Washington January 20, 2021

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Filed under American Values, diplomacy, U.S. Foreign Relations, U.S. Leadership

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