The U.S. Department of State's official mission is to lead America's foreign policy through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance by advancing the American people's interests, safety, and economic prosperity.
For a situation that is bringing us closer to World War III and the worst inflation in 40 years, partly triggered by global events, the State Department is failing to lead in its core mission. Secretary Antony Blinken sounds like a cross between a media analyst and a military general rather than the lead diplomat of the free world.
During his March 17th remarks to the press, Blinken chided Russia as he has been doing for weeks. Switching hats, he then announced a laundry list of weapons to assist Ukraine. He sounded more like Lloyd Austen, the Secretary of Defense: "We're also helping Ukraine acquire longer-range anti-aircraft systems and munitions at President Zelenskyy's request." There was no mention of the State Department leading diplomatically, other than a vague promise: "We'll support Ukraine's diplomatic efforts however we can."
Leaving rookie Ukraine, whose leader has been in political office for fewer than three years, to negotiate peace with wily Russia will not cut it. For weeks, the parties have been talking while Russia mercilessly attacks Ukrainian civilian targets. Each hour's delay brings about additional carnage.
Blinken has been relentlessly pursuing a strategy to strangle Putin, isolate Russia, and inflict so much pain that Putin would initiate serious diplomatic overtures. "I have not seen any meaningful efforts by Russia to bring this war to a conclusion through diplomacy," Blinken said to news media this week.
But this "lead-from-behind" approach, relying on Russia to bell the diplomatic cat, makes no sense. History has repeatedly shown us that pariahs do not initiate peace talks. Even the appearance of conceding defeat would spell the death knell for them back home.
If anything, Putin's speech in Moscow shows that he feels vindicated by his actions in Ukraine. Putin has upped the ante by firing hypersonic missiles, which can travel at ten times the speed of sound. Russia is a powerful country spanning nine time zones and boasting a larger nuclear arsenal than any other country. It is more likely that Putin will dig in rather than bail out; take risks than ask for help.
This is where American diplomacy can make a difference. America is already intricately involved in the war, sending weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and leading the West in a throat-choking menu of sanctions that have crippled the Russian economy. What America has taken, it can give it back in exchange for assurances from Putin never to use force on anyone again, thus forging a path to world peace and a framework to punish Putin.
History also teaches us that dealing with authoritarian regimes requires the collective experience and heft of the world's top nations, with America in the lead. The JCPOA was agreed between Iran and the so-called P-5 plus 1 (U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia, and Germany). After the first Gulf War, American, British, and French governments established no-fly zones to protect Kurdish minorities from Saddam Hussain's wrath. American diplomacy helped oust Slobodan Milošević, the Yugoslavian president, making him the first leader of a country to be charged with war crimes.
The current situation is ripe for American diplomacy. Ukraine not becoming part of NATO has been a critical demand of Putin. On Tuesday, President Zelenskyy repeated his softened stance about joining NATO when addressing a United Kingdom-led Joint Expeditionary Force meeting. "Ukraine is not a member of NATO. We understand that, we are not crazy. For years we have been hearing about the alleged open door, but we have also heard now that we cannot enter."
Antony Blinken should temporarily shed his distaste for Russia and call Sergey Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, asking for a meeting of the major powers to end this war immediately. The world needs peace, and America should lead the deliberations towards peace.
Americans, by huge margins, support Ukraine and are shocked at Russia's actions, especially the atrocities committed on a peaceful neighbor exercising its sovereign rights. But equally importantly, Americans also want the war to come to an immediate end.
Justice for Putin and his cronies will come. Punishing Putin is crucial, but stopping the bloodshed and its spillover effects is even more so. Peace is what will advance America's interests, safety, and economic prosperity. It is time that the State Department started working all channels to stop this carnage. Today.
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