Prior to reading War on Peace, I knew a few things about Ronan Farrow but was not familiar with his backstory. Had I been aware of everything he accomplished at such a young age, as well as the astonishing depth of knowledge he had accumulated about America’s foreign policy, I would have jumped the book War on Peace to the top of my to-read list.
What a read. Farrow interviewed every single living Secretary of State for War on Peace, and his research was beyond exhaustive. Not only did he conduct interviews but his citations draw on an exhaustive bibliography, including materials only made available through Wikileaks.
Farrow tells the tale of his own experience at the State Department, which was colored heavily by his mentor, veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke. Under Holbrooke’s tutelage, Farrow learned of the stark divide between diplomats and military officials, from their priorities to how they and their opinions are treated by the executive branch of government.
In War on Peace, Farrow teaches the reader about diplomacy as a dying art form, and argues that a resurgence of respect for and interest in this relic from the past could possibly save the country from a foreign policy that is overly reliant on the military. He traces the decline of diplomacy and illustrates the manner in which the after-effects of 9/11, including the Patriot Act and an uptick in communications surveillance, have led to that decline.
Both Republican and Democratic administrations have made a habit of surrounding themselves with military leaders rather than civilian diplomats, and the distance from the State Department to the Oval is much further than from the National Security Advisor’s office, Farrow explains.
While military officials (current or retired) are enticing options for many Cabinet level positions due to their leadership qualities, Farrow argues that experienced diplomats should fill the roles. He also discusses the vast shortage of currently filled jobs within the State Department, and the lack of applicants looking to begin their careers in the diplomatic corps.
As Farrow tells the story of his mentor, Richard Holbrooke, and how he successfully and artfully helped to forge a peace accord in Bosnia, he ends up making quite the case for a return to the heydays of diplomacy. It’s a terrifying story, beautifully told, and highly worth the read.