A massively thorough survey of the formation of the U.S. Foreign Service, from Benjamin Franklin’s early efforts to convince European powers to back the colonists’ cause to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’ tragic death in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.
Created as an arm of the executive branch, the U.S. Department of Foreign Affairs was conceived in 1781. For one “glorious moment” in 1784, the diplomatic team for the fledgling U.S. in Paris was represented by Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, their missions being to instill confidence abroad for the young nation, negotiate treaties, open markets and protect U.S. seamen overseas, among other duties. With the ratification of the Constitution, the U.S. Department of State was formally created, and it reported only to the president, with Thomas Jefferson serving as the first secretary of state. Despite the ensuing rocky relations between Britain and France, one high point of diplomatic negotiation included the bargaining for the Louisiana Territory with Napoleon, while an early foreign-service “professional,” William Brown Hodgson, with his quick study of Arabic, helped to anchor the growing nation by establishing relations with the Ottoman Empire. Moskin (Mr. Truman's War: The Final Victories of World War II and the Birth of the Postwar World, 1998, etc.) gallops chronologically over the decades to pin some of the milestones in foreign-service evolution, such as the ongoing correction of the “spoils system” (awarding political cronies and big donors with consulates) in favor of service meritocracy. The author looks at the many hotspots around the world where diplomacy has been crucial in resolving debates concerning expansion, slavery and empire, from Mexico to China to Russia to the “diplomacy of oil” in the Middle East.
An ambitious, impressively researched history, though the writing tends toward the ploddingly scholarly.