The past few months have brought with them some diplomatic triumphs on the world stage, not one of them attributable to the United States or its NATO allies. The most impressive was the Chinese initiative to bring Saudi Arabia and its regional enemy Iran together to iron out their differences.
While neither country is a champion of human rights, and sectarian divisions have long been used to drive tensions by both, easing the discord between them could lead to a more stable Middle East over the longer term. It also seems like the detente might finally bring the proxy slaughter in Yemen, the poorest country in the region, to an end, a good enough reason on its own to applaud China’s efforts.
A proposed future agreement with Riyadh to trade oil between the two in Yuan instead of American dollars could also spell trouble for U.S. global economic dominance, which hinges on the petro dollar.
As if to show that it’s positioning itself to move out of the Western sphere of influence, Saudi Arabia also struck a deal with the Russian Federation to end the regional isolation imposed on Syria’s government during its civil war. Despite objections on the part of Kuwait and Qatar, this will bring the country back into regional forums like the Arab League.
An argument can be made that Saudi’s diplomatic opening to these American rivals is in part blowback on the part of the country’s leadership for the widespread condemnation caused by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, presumably at the order of Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin-Salman.
Still, quiet diplomacy clearly played a role in China’s coup and surprised the world.
At the same time China is making diplomatic inroads with a key American ally, another BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa–the rising powers in the world) nation, Brazil, is reviving the idea that non-aligned states, especially in the Global South, can work together to better their positions relative to wealthier countries and fight common threats like climate change.
President Lula de Silva has not only infuriated the United States by opening up dialogue with neighboring Venezuela, which his predecessor had ended, but also by following long established precedent in Brazil and refusing to send arms to the Ukraine. He has further angered Washington by attempting to bring that country and Russia to the negotiating table with a proposed ‘G20 for peace’ to end the war there.
It should be possible to both denounce Russia’s war of aggression and seek a way out of it through dialogue, but it sometimes feels like the West’s armchair generals want a battle down to the last Ukrainian. Whether these voices like it or not, there is little support for this war in the Global South, not least because many poor countries rely on exports of grain and fertilizer from both to feed their citizens.
A big part of the failure of American foreign policy in this young century is the fact that so much of it is in the hands of political appointees rather than career diplomats that usually have a more nuanced understanding of different countries and regions. All too often in the U.S. and neighboring Canada, important diplomatic posts are assigned to donors and political operatives as a reward for their work on campaigns.
Another major problem is that as a result of a military that spends more than the next 10 countries combined, the United States has learned to rely on its big stick and rarely offers carrots to those governments it’s designated as enemies. Constructive dialogue is difficult conducted while looking into the barrel of a gun.
Their failures at diplomacy put the United States and its closest allies at risk of becoming isolated in an increasingly multi-polar world. Rather than accepting the growing soft power of other nations like China and Brazil and trying to productively engage with them to deal with issues from conflict to climate change, far too many Western political leaders are refusing to face this new reality.
The U.S. never wants war on its own soil, but seems perpetually eager to generate massive profits for its overwhelmingly powerful armaments industry by supplying weapons to the world in conflict. The rest of the world may at last be rejecting that war footing, if the signs from these new initiatives are an indication.
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