The Foreign Service Journal, November 2023

68 NOVEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL What made Dobbins so thoughtful in his defense of nation-building was his strategic cast of mind. My personal debt to him continued almost to his death. We corresponded over the years, chiefly on nation-building issues and more urgently from me on the looming Afghan implosion. I sent him a long appraisal of his memoir highlighting what I called its “zingers” (some of which can be found in the sidebar), and another long message on his review, sharp in its criticism but civil in its tone, of Michael Mandelbaum’s tendentious Mission Failure. Readers interested in the subject, but daunted by the multivolume RAND series, would do well to turn to that 2016 book review in The American Interest. The concluding chapter in Foreign Service, called “Reflections,” is also Dobbins in best form, a meditative “Summing Up,” as Dean Acheson titled his own last chapter in his memoirs. After he received my comments on his memoir, Dobbins proposed lunch to discuss further. We met in Washington on Dec. 29, 2017, as my diary records: Hosted lunch for Jim Dobbins at the Cosmos Club. We discussed his memoirs. “My image of you the memoirist, the historian”—I led off as our meal arrived, salad for him, salmon for me—“is drawn from your Petersberg chapter [negotiating the settlement in Afghanistan]: You on the hill looking down, on the city of Bonn, on your time there as the DCM at our Embassy; the historian on Olympus.” He seemed amused, or puzzled. b Toiling in the field, pondering from the mountain, working at the State Department, writing at RAND—this combination made Dobbins an authority on nation-building. Better: a builder of nation-building, an architect and sometimes critic. n Excerpts from Works by James Dobbins The whole history of Balkan diplomacy in the early 1990s demonstrated that buck passing rather than burden sharing was the default policy on both sides of the Atlantic. —from Foreign Service, 2017 If the record of George W. Bush’s first term might be caricatured as policy without reflection, the Obama White House seemed committed to reflection without policy. —from Foreign Service, 2017 Modern American presidents are chosen principally for what they promise to do for the economy, over which they have limited sway, rather than for how they propose to conduct foreign and defense policy, over which they have near total control. —from Foreign Service, 2017 Nation-building is not principally about economic reconstruction; rather, it is about political transformation. —from America’s Role in Nation-Building, 2003 It’s well past time to abandon the illusion of omnipotence and the temptation to unilateralism—bitter fruits of victory in the Cold War. —from “American Decline? We’ve Been Here Before,” in The Wall Street Journal, 2019 Recent gains in peace and prosperity “are based on two basic, widely accepted norms of international behavior: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s territory, and thou shall open thy markets to all equally.” —from “History Ended in 1945,” in The Wall Street Journal, 2018 Invading Iraq was probably the single worst decision in the history of U.S. foreign policy. —from a book review in The American Interest, 2016 Nation-building is difficult, costly, time-consuming and likely to disappoint. ... [S]uch missions may nevertheless sometimes prove necessary. That is why I think it so important that we learn from our experiences. —from a book review in The American Interest, 2016