It’s the last day of Joe Biden’s tour of Ireland and Northern Ireland marking 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement, and George Mitchell’s name has come up throughout. Mitchell (pictured, centre, with Northern Irish politician John Hume and Gerry Adams in 1998) was the former senator and US envoy during the peace process who helped to bring warring republicans and unionists to the negotiating table. At a time when the US is often struggling to be heard, it’s poignant to reflect on how effective American diplomacy can be when it’s done well.
Earlier this week, I spoke to Derek Chollet, a top adviser to the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, for The Monocle Daily. I asked him why many countries in the Global South have not joined the West in its condemnation of Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. “We’ve been trying to make the case by showing up,” said Chollet. Indeed, his boss has stepped up his touring schedule over the past six months, visiting old allies in Africa and elsewhere to counter the Russian narrative. Yet, as countries in Latin America turn their backs on Taiwan and Beijing mediates talks in the Middle East, it’s clear that the US view is not as prevalent globally as it once was.
Some of this is about boots on the ground. There are US embassies that haven’t had an ambassador in years. In the past few weeks a flurry of top diplomats have received their credentials and headed off to places that had been neglected for far too long. Take India, a vital player in the Indo-Pacific, and Saudi Arabia, which has a new US ambassador after several years without one. Showing up is not just about the big state visit. It’s a ground game too – and it’s one that Russian and Chinese diplomats are, in some corners of the world, winning.
Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.