It did not warm my heart to see a photo of former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker III, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton join the current secretary, John Kerry, to break ground on a new museum dedicated to, well, themselves. Technically it is the U.S. Diplomacy Center, to be built in front of the State Department building in Foggy Bottom. But basically it is a museum to the shoveling secretaries, their friends and colleagues.
I have two major objections. To digress for a moment, neither Condoleezza Rice nor George Shultz attended. No reason was given, but I prefer to attribute it to good sense and humility. But back to the objections:
While private funds will be used, the elaborate Web site for the monument to the secretaries explains that the taxpayers will be footing the bill for “the tangible elements of public-sector support, including the land, operations and utilities, security, staffing assistance and equipment.” I wonder how that much costs. At a time of budget cuts, it is not appropriate to indulge their egos at the public’s expense.
Was there no private university or think tank to take them in? Hey, they are practically next store to the grandiose U.S. Institutes of Peace, the eye sore across from the national Mall. Surely they could have gotten a room or even a floor in that cavernous building. The millionaire shovel holders at the ceremony are extraordinarily wealthy — couldn’t they have paid for their own museum?
My further objection is that it perpetuates a myth, namely that diplomacy is a separate thing, a severable part of foreign policy and can be assessed based on the number of agreements reached, miles traveled and meetings held. In fact “diplomacy,” at least with hard bitten foes, works once leverage has been obtained, usually through military and/or economic force (or the threat of deploying them), as we have painfully learned during the Obama years.
One recalls the taunt leveled at then Gov. George W. Bush: “He was born on third base and thought he’d hit a triple.” Diplomacy works not when the participants get the wording just so or the secretary comes up with a brilliant formulation. It works in concert with the full array of U.S. powers, on which its success depends. Indeed there is no better example of flawed, counterproductive and dangerous diplomacy disconnected from other levers of power than all the meetings Kerry has held with the Russians and the Iranians — and the biggest farce of them all, the “peace process.”
The ones who deserve a museum (some branches already have them) are the men and women of the U.S. military, on which our freedom, power and diplomatic success ultimately rest. It is the only functioning “atrocities board” the world has. It has liberated millions, brought foes to their knees and valiantly defended allies. That would be worth the money.