The Era of Transactional Diplomacy is Upon Us
Posted on: November/16/2016 4:55 pm by: Lamar Cravens

If the previous Republican administration's foreign-policy was characterized by transformational diplomacy, the incoming administration's might be characterized as transactional diplomacy.

During the tenure of George W. Bush then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a new paradigm for State in a well-publicized speech. On January 18, 2006 at Georgetown University she declared an America forward program to reorganize the State Department to pursue what she described as "transformational diplomacy." She delivered the speech at the height of America's war on terror (and as some concluded at the height of its hubris). The essence of transformational diplomacy was to remake the world in American ideals. That it failed cannot be attributed to a lack of sincerity by the Secretary nor inadequate boldness. The world, it seems, was unwilling to be reformed.

Certainly this new administration will come to Washington as boldly as its predecessor. But it will come with considerably less idealism. In place of transformational diplomacy we can foresee diplomacy that is purely transactional in nature. In place of the idealism that led the country into protracted foreign wars and much criticized nation-building we can foresee realism guided by The Art of the Deal. Such realism would replace an "America forward" policy with an "America first" policy. And in the place of intangibles it would promote tangible results that very likely could be both measured and monetized.

It is easy to imagine American diplomacy conducted only in those countries with something to offer to the United States. A diplomacy shifted away from abstractions and a foreign-policy reoriented from abstract interests to concrete ones would likely see the closure of foreign missions across much of Eastern Europe, probably all of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia as well as many of the smaller nations in southeast Asia. And Africa would become a vast playing field for commercial competition with the Chinese.

Under a regime of transactional diplomacy, competition would replace cooperation in international affairs, and American diplomats would pay more attention to promoting American business than meddling in the business of their host governments. In our embassies, the trade section takes on more importance; the political section less as a transactional diplomacy might well see a declining interest in how other nations treat their citizens in favor of greater interest in how those nations treat Americans.

In place of friends and allies, the United States would have only trading partners. Coalitions would form around short term interests and could reform in different combinations when those interests change. In such a shift it would be easy to imagine a rethinking of US foreign assistance, shifting the focus of our aid from reducing extreme poverty to a simpler and easier to sell back home "aid for trade." In other words, those countries that offer us favorable terms on what we want get investments; those who do not, tough.

It is probably too early to guess at the policies of the new administration. But if the signal foreign-policy failing of the previous Republican administration was to diminish America's standing through overreach and that of the intervening Democratic administration was to accept that diminished standing as the new normal, the incoming administration's promise to "Make America Great Again" requires that it jettison the vestiges of transformational diplomacy and negotiate better deals. The era of transactional diplomacy is upon us.

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