Commentary Magazine


Strength Matters, Groveling Doesn’t

When the going gets tough anywhere in the world, and the United States wants to pull out its big diplomatic guns, it’s often the secretary of state who will get going. The head of the State Department is the diplomat-in-chief for the United States. His or her presence at the negotiating table should bring great weight to bear.

There is a point of diminishing return, however, when a secretary of state—or any other high-level figure—travels so much that their intervention becomes routine and even pedantic.

In the early 1990s, Secretary of State Warren Christopher distinguished himself by the sheer number of trips he embarked on to meet Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. He diminished the office of the secretary, and essentially transformed himself into a junior diplomat. Assad got a propaganda boon: After all, here was the secretary of state of the most powerful nation on earth traveling to meet him!

Alas, it seems the Obama administration is now making the same mistake in Turkey. From Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News:

“Turmoil brings Turkey one-way US diplomacy”

The number of senior U.S. officials visiting Turkey has dramatically increased recently, likely due to turmoil in the Middle East, notably including the Syrian crisis, Ankara’s fight against terrorism, Iran, and the NATO anti-missile radar system housed in Turkey… “Right now, there are certain things expected of the United States. It has not yet catered to those expectations,” [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan said in a recent interview on CNN International.

Diplomats like to travel, and aides scramble to go along on their trips. We have reached the point in Turkey, however, of diminishing returns. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has perhaps the most strategic sense of anyone in the Obama administration. How unfortunate, therefore, she is transforming herself into Warren Christopher, the sequel.