Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat on "The Art of Diplomacy"

PITTSFIELD – On Thursday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m., expect an insightful evening with Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat as he discusses topics from his new book, The Art of Diplomacy: How American Negotiators Reached Historic Agreements that Changed the World.

This free event - presented by Knesset Israel in cooperation with Jewish Federation of the Berkshires and OLLI at BCC - will take place at Knesset Israel, 16 Colt Road in Pittsfield.

In his book, Ambassador Eizenstat delves into America's most significant negotiations over the past fifty years, addressing conflicts such as the Middle East peace process, "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland, and lingering World War II issues. Drawing on his extensive experience as a former top White House aide, U.S. ambassador, and undersecretary of state, Eizenstat provides valuable insights into the use of American military force as a diplomatic instrument, with lessons applicable to contemporary conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

As a leading figure in several historic negotiations and having personally interviewed over 130 U.S. and international leaders, Ambassador Eizenstat offers a comprehensive view of international diplomacy, highlighting the personalities, issues, and breakthroughs that have shaped the world today. Don't miss this opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of American leadership in global negotiations.

Books will be available for purchase at the event. For more information and to RSVP, please visit

BJV Interview: Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat

In May, Ambassador Eizenstat spoke to the BJV about his new book. Our conversation was edited for length and clarity.

What was your intent in writing The Art of Diplomacy?

I wrote it for three reasons. We're living at a turbulent time where the world is beset with challenges and conflicts seemingly incapable of positive resolution, and that makes diplomacy more important than ever. First, I wanted to show how the US-led diplomacy resolved difficult and seemingly insoluble problems in the past to create a better world. Second, with the hot wars in Gaza and Ukraine, I wanted to take a hard look at when and how US military force can be used as an element in diplomatic negotiations in light of a mixed record during our lifetimes – to draw lessons for when military force should be used, when it shouldn't, and if you use it, how to use it to back up diplomacy. And third, is to make a broader point about the need for continued US engagement and avoidance of a growing isolationism, which can lead to a vacuum that might be filled by Russia and China and countries who have very different values and interests than ours. I am concerned about a growing feeling that somehow our leadership doesn't make a difference.

I was reading just today [May 28] about how the pier in Gaza constructed by our military seems to have broken apart [leading to four US Navy vessels running aground, as well]. The US government made this promise of going in to help the people of Gaza and yet it did not have the ability to pull things off successfully – moreover, most of the aid that had been delivered seems to have been commandeered by Hamas. In the wake of this and other displays of US weakness, such as in Afghanistan, how does a diplomat work around the inability to deliver, to project strength, to project competence?

Well, one of the things that I stress throughout the book is the importance of making sure that our military is supporting our political goals and that our political goals are supporting the military. I quote Steve Hadley, who was George W. Bush's National Security Advisor, saying that we too often get it backwards. We lead with our military without thinking through what the political consequences are and what the political goal is we hope to achieve. That needs to be the other way around. Now, on the particular matter you mentioned about the piers, this seems to be some technical problem, which is surprising because the Corps of Engineers are highly competent; obviously, anything like this creates a negative impression of US military.

But there are two problems on the humanitarian side. One is the lack of corridors, particularly in Rafah, to get supplies in. The second is the absence of a distribution system internally. The major institution that humanitarian goods and social and educational services in Gaza for the last 50 to 60 years has been the United Nations Work Relief Agency. Elements of UNWRA were implicated in the October 7 attacks, but UNWRA is the only major game in town. Sure, there are plenty of NGOs but they don't have the internal distribution system that UNWRA has. So, you're in a situation where even when goods come in, they don't get into the proper hands.

Is that a failure of planning or could that have been foreseen and negotiated diplomatically before investing funds and putting our reputation on the line?

Israel repeated mistakes that we made in Iraq and Afghanistan, which I stress in my book, which is going in without a plan of how you get out or of what government you intend to put in place when the military phase is over. You have to have good intelligence to understand the culture and the internal politics of the country in which you're intervening, which we did not have in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, you would think that Israel, which is cheek to jowl with Gaza, would. But the Israeli government allowed, without knowing it and right under its eyes, for Hamas to morph from a terror group into a formal terrorist army of 30,000 to 40,000 people who are well-trained, well-armed, well-disciplined.

General David Petraeus told me in one of 130 interviews I did from that book, that what turned the Iraq war around was this concept – to clear, hold, and build. Clear an area from terrorists. Continue to hold that area. And third, and most crucial, is the build phase. And he stressed that it was essential that while the fighting was going on, there was an effort of reconstruction and helping civilians.

Is that going to be possible in Gaza in your estimation?

Well, it has to be done, not by Israel alone; it has to be done with a coalition of moderate European countries and the EU and the US. Now, I want to put the Gaza War into a broader context.  This really is part of a battle between Iran's axis of resistance – with Syria, the Houthis, Hezbollah, and Hamas – to establish a radical order in the Middle East, against a potential coalition that the US would take a lead in along with Israel and the EU and moderate Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Morocco, Bahrain, and ultimately Saudi Arabia. That would help with the reconstruction and with the new governance. The problem now is that the moderate Arab countries are insisting that as a condition of joining such a coalition with Israel, there be some prospect – and it doesn't have to be tomorrow – of an ultimate Palestinian state. And that's something that the Prime Minister of Israel can't agree to with his current coalition. That will vastly complicate a postwar resolution. But the glue that will hold this anti-Iran coalition together is antipathy toward Iran, concern about its nuclear capacity, its support of terrorism, and its undermining the more modernized states in the region. This is Israel's great opportunity because it has the chance of being part of that broader coalition.

You identify a failure to follow through on agreements as a recurring weakness of US diplomacy over the decades. Can you speak a little bit to that?

It's one of our failings as a country – the reliability of the agreements we make. Take, for example, climate change agreements.  I was a lead negotiator at the 1997 Kyoto climate change negotiations, what was called COP 3, in Kyoto, Japan and then in Buenos Aires the next year. The history of US involvement in climate change changes almost every four to eight years, depending on who the president is. When it's a Republican president, it tends to be less active and sometimes totally inactive, like with President Trump. With Democrats, [the US is] engaged. So, we go in and out, in and out, in and out, and that does not create a reliable negotiating partner. People, they ask, well, is the agreement we're about to reach only as good as the next election?

Given American politics and our system of government, is that something that can be addressed in any formal way? Or will our diplomats have to show more discipline in persevering with agreements despite changes in the political landscape?

Commercial agreements between two businesses who make a deal are enforceable by law. But international agreements are not enforceable by law. They depend on the trust and confidence of the countries [making them]. So, when Trump pulled out of the [Obama administration-negotiated Iran deal], there was nothing that anyone else – not just Iran, but the so-called P5+1 (the United Nations Security Council members, plus Germany) – could do. Therefore, it's very important that there be more bipartisan foreign policy along that concept of Senator Vandenberg voiced during the Roosevelt administration: politics should end at the water's edge. We should not politicize foreign policy and diplomatic agreements as we do domestically.

One of the things that I stress is my book is that international agreements are not like a game of poker, where one side wins and the other side loses. In order for an international agreement to be effective, it has to be a win-win for both sides. There is an art to it that I liken to an artist creating a painting. The frame is negotiation, so the other side is convinced it is in their interest to reach an agreement that is also in our interest. It's not like a real estate deal, where you squeeze out everything you can because you're not going to have to deal with the person on the other side again. [International agreements] are ongoing relationships. When you deal with a country on one issue, you may need them as allies on another issue, like China on climate change. And because there's no legal enforcement, you can't go into a court to enforce it, you've got to make sure that it serves the interests of both sides. Therefore, diplomacy is a unique type of negotiation and agreement.