According to that 1990 Bush strategy I mentioned earlier, nation-building in the period between the end of the Cold War and 9/11 was done largely for
humanitarian reasons, and because the U.S. had a "responsibility" to "do our part." In Central and Eastern Europe in particular, Washington wanted those
countries to become NATO allies and also join the European Union -- after all, they are in the backyard of longtime U.S. allies in Western Europe.
President Bill Clinton's 1996 National Security Strategy was similar in that respect. The reason it
provided for nation-building was to "alleviate human suffering and pave the way for progress." Neither strategy cited a direct link to U.S. national
security, which is why those efforts weren't nearly as global, ambitious, and costly as they are today.
Another major difference after 9/11 is that the Foreign Service has been operating in war zones, which is not only very dangerous but also makes the job of
bringing about good and effective governance extremely difficult. American diplomats hadn't served in a war zone since Vietnam, and those who had done that
were no longer in the service after 9/11, so that led to an identity crisis of sorts.
What kind of personalities succeed best in the Foreign Service?
You need to be very adaptable, to enjoy living in foreign countries and change them every three years at the most, to be good at foreign languages and know
how to operate in foreign cultures, and in unfamiliar and sometimes dangerous environments. You also have to be a self-learner and a quick study, because
training in the service is minimal and proper professional development doesn't even exist. More specifically, you have to be an excellent writer, analyst,
negotiator, advocate and communicator, with broad knowledge and understanding of how the host country works, and have ability to quickly acquire basic
expertise in a new field. It helps to be good at entrepreneurship and innovation.
Now, this is what makes a good diplomat, which is not always the same as succeeding in the Foreign Service. After all the research I've done, I have no
doubt that the single most important skill to rise to the top in the service is knowing how to work the bureaucracy and having the right connections.
What are some of the short-term and long-term goals of diplomats that occasionally clash?
Such clashes are actually part of everyday diplomacy. For example, with Russia and China, Washington has to play a careful balancing act between its
advocacy of human rights and democracy, and the help it needs from Moscow and Beijing to address strategic issues, such as the North Korean and Iranian
nuclear programs. Currently, Pakistan is perhaps the best textbook example of that clash, because it makes the work of American diplomats there utterly
challenging and frustrating. The main short-term U.S. goals in Pakistan are destroying al-Qaeda and winning the war in Afghanistan. However, the long-term
goal in the region is a stable Pakistan, but also a stable Afghanistan, as well as stable India. To be able to influence the Pakistani government to help
achieve that long-term goal, you need to build mutual trust and an effective working relationship. Things like drone attacks advance the short-term goal of
defeating al-Qaeda, but they also badly hurt the trust and confidence-building with the Pakistani authorities.