23 February 2019
US Secretary of State John Kerry (fourth from left) and five of his predecessors join the groundbreaking of the US Diplomacy Center in Washington on Wednesday. Photo: AFP
US Secretary of State John Kerry (fourth from left) and five of his predecessors join the groundbreaking of the US Diplomacy Center in Washington on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

US diplomacy museum draws criticism

It was a rare public gathering of some of the best and the brightest of American diplomacy, and it almost turned into a mutual admiration society.

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday paid tribute to five of his predecessors who attended the groundbreaking of a new museum celebrating the achievements of American diplomacy, Associated Press reports.

The US Diplomacy Center will be built in front of the State Department building in Washington, D.C. It will comprise 40,000 square feet of interactive exhibits and artifacts and will offer educational programs as well.

Kerry was joined by Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker III, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Hillary Rodham Clinton in the event. Of the seven living ex-secretaries of state, all of whom are honorary directors of the museum, only Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz were not present, according to the report.

In his speech, Kerry hailed his five predecessors. He praised Clinton for breathing new life into old partnerships and giving meaning to “personal diplomacy” and Powell for uniting the world against al-Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Albright “epitomizes moral leadership and continues to inspire American diplomats wherever they serve” for her work in ending the conflicts in Kosovo and Bosnia, Kerry was quoted as saying.

Baker, he said, created “the gold standard by which modern coalition-building is judged” in the run up to the 1991 Gulf War. 

And Kissinger “literally wrote the book on diplomacy”, Kerry said.

Some US$25 million in private donations has been raised to fund its construction, which will be completed in 18 months.

While the building’s construction is privately funded, one critic pointed out that according to the museum’s website, 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”.

Writing a blog for the Washington Post, conservative writer Jennifer Rubin observes: “At a time of budget cuts, it is not appropriate to indulge their egos at the public’s expense.”

Aside from the funding, her other beef is that the museum “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”.

Rubin stresses that diplomacy works in concert with the full array of US powers. In dealing with foes, for example, diplomacy works “once leverage has been obtained, usually through military and/or economic force (or the threat of deploying them)”, she says.

And in a dig at the current secretary of state, she concludes: “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’.”

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