The end of heroic diplomacy
Finally, there's a reason that since the end of the Cold War our secretaries of state have racked up more miles than they've made history. Before 1995, the job involved ending or avoiding superpower conflicts and signing big arms control treaties. Those were the stuff of heroic diplomacy. Fortunately, today there are fewer big wars to end, and the big treaties now focus more on trade and the environment than nukes — and they're very hard to achieve. Also, today's secretary of state has to deal with so many more failed or failing states. Secretary Hillary Clinton practically had to forge the Syrian opposition groups into a coherent collective, as a necessary precursor to persuading them to do the right things. Today, to make history as a secretary of state, you have to make the countries to deal with first.
In short, we're still indispensable, but the problems are much more intractable. Our allies are not what they used to be and neither are our enemies, who are less superpowers and more superempowered angry men and women. A lot of countries will need to go back to the blackboard, back to the basics of human capacity building, before they can partner with us on anything. So while we're not likely to shift our secretary of education to secretary of state, let's at least understand why it is not such a preposterous idea.
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