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Ross on Diplomacy, Negotiation, and Mediation; a Great Read
on August 23, 2007
Dennis Ross' book on statecraft provides an insightful look into the world of diplomacy and negotiation, which are the two prime ingredients, the author claims, of statecraft. But the book is more than just a theoretical discussion: Ross combines his considerable real-world experience gained through his tenure in multiple administrations to move the discourse into the hard realities of the world as it actually exists, not just paper abstracts. And therein perhaps lays the greatest strength of this book. Yes, the book is a polemic of sorts, but there are probably not too many who would argue with the central premise of this book, that the U.S. has lost standing in the world, finds itself in a series of extremely difficult situations (perhaps mostly of our own making), and is now faced with a new structure of emerging and re-aligned world powers that require meaningful engagement if we are to restore the country to its former standing.
Not all will agree with Ross' political discourse in this book. Nevertheless, that should be no reason to either overlook the treasure trove of experiences which he brings to the table, nor neglect the impressive insight he shares on both past and present political dilemmas. There are commonalities he feels apply to all these situations (we are given twelve rules of negotiation, and eleven rules of mediation, for example), but there is great value in working through the individual, unique examples he provides as historical case studies in which statecraft was both successfully and unsuccessfully practiced. There can be little doubt that any person (or administration) wishing to improve its own negotiating and mediating prowess could learn from this series of important discourses.
One "extra" found in this book is the highly detailed and insider's view of the statecraft carried on by the Bush 41 administration in helping garner worldwide support to respond to the invasion of Kuwait. Ross is able to lay out in narrative detail the diplomatic steps that were taken both in and out of the public view to help build consensus, and ever better, a careful and meaningful comparison to the LACK of statecraft efforts by the current administration in building such a consensus. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the current administration's policies, we can almost cringe when we see the difference between how the father and the son handled these events. Ross lays it out in a manner that is virtually impossible to ignore.
Ross' book has one unintended outcome in my own mind. In spite of the fact that Ross actually addresses this particular item at various points in the book, the text lays out enough detail on some of today's most pressing world issues to the point to where they appear so difficult, so complicated, and so divergent that solutions simply appear to be out of reach. Of course, sometimes these situations contain a "Gordian Knot" that, once found, can be a key to unlocking seeming intractable problems. But work through some of Ross' examples and see if you agree. It's more of a commentary on the present set of problems in which the world finds itself than on any perceived shortcoming of Ross' skills as a negotiation expert, and the book indeed recommends a number of approaches that might be quite worthy of implementation. But there is a feeling of frustration lurking around the corners and between the lines in this book for any reader who possesses more than a passing familiarity with today's outstanding issues.
Regardless, this is an outstanding treatise on negotiation and mediation, and the author's suggestions probably have application in many areas of life, not just in intra-governmental settings. A great read that is an important addition to the discourse - or perhaps, to get the discourse started. Plan to spend a few days or perhaps a week on the text to get it down and be able to think carefully about it as you go.