Congress Must Stand Up for Diplomacy
“If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” The Trump administration would do well to remember this truism from former Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan.
President Trump publicly scoffs at diplomatic efforts as he extracts the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord and threatens North Korea. The U.S.’s credibility to negotiate—not to mention its safety—erodes with every step the president takes to break the Iran nuclear deal.
The country’s budget is following this lead. While the Pentagon budget continues to climb, hitting $600 billion this year, investment in diplomacy is dwindling. Budget cuts and reorganization at the State Department mean that entire offices of that agency could close in the next year.
The Trump administration’s systematic dismantling of our international relations infrastructure could be devastating. Not only would communications channels close and programs end, but the experience and expertise of U.S. diplomats would be lost—perhaps for generations, as fewer people look to enter a career path with dim prospects.
Talks, negotiations, and all the other forms of interpersonal interactions that make up diplomacy are critical tools for U.S. foreign policy. Whether with the Soviet Union during the Cold War or with Iran in this decade, diplomacy has helped the U.S. avoid both war and capitulation. Yet too often diplomacy—if it is tried at all—is viewed as a box to be checked rather than a sustained, ongoing process that lasts up to and beyond a signed agreement. Its success is measured by the foundation it creates for ongoing relationship and dialogue.
At a time when that foundation is crumbling, how can we re-orient the U.S. toward diplomacy?
Congress is part of the answer. Your members of Congress vote on how much money to give the State Department, USAID, and other agencies that support diplomacy. Congress can limit the president’s ability to forge ahead toward war on his own. Congress can refuse to pass legislation that undermines diplomatic deals already in place. It’s critical that your members of Congress hear your strong support for diplomacy and negotiations to address conflicts.
This re-orientation also requires an inward look. Partisanship and polarization is rampant in our domestic political life. When we can’t speak civilly to our neighbors, how can we expect to value and practice dialogue across international boundaries and cultures?
Diplomacy doesn’t require admiration or even trust between the parties. It does require an orientation toward continuing conversation and a willingness to listen to other perspectives. It is, in its way, a spiritual discipline of endeavoring to speak to the Divine that lives in each of us.
FCNL works by creating space for common ground. We lobby Republicans and Democrats alike and support opportunities—such as the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus—for members of Congress to work together across party lines. We have literally created space where dialogue is possible in the new Quaker Welcome Center. And we urge our government to pursue policies that promote diplomacy, encouraging U.S. participation with other nations in addressing problems that need the world’s collective strength.
“Friends” and “enemies;” “us” and “them”—these distinctions are less important than the common problems and ties that bind us together. Our nation has a choice between digging deeper into these distinctions and continue to separate ourselves from each other and the world, or coming out from behind those walls. We need to model what that looks like in a country that often forgets—and we must urge our leaders to make choices that make our country stronger.