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Have Diplomacy—Will Negotiate

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia
October 2, 2021

A United States president fulfills many roles, such as Commander in Chief, Chief Legislator, Head of State, Foreign Policy Leader, Party Leader, Chief Executive, Chief Economic Planner and representative of all the people. In every one of those roles, a keen sense of diplomacy is required to be successful. Let us consider for a moment that the president is more or less, “CEO of the nation.” In the private sector, CEOs employ diplomacy in nearly every aspect of their duties, including sales deals, board relations and dealing with employees throughout the company. Those that do not wield sufficient diplomacy generally wind up to be the subject of a chapter in a leadership book on, “How not to do it.” Those who reveal themselves to be CEO diplomats tend to serve as exemplars for us all.

Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution enumerates the powers of the president. These have grown over time to include implied powers such as executive orders, executive privilege and executive decision. If the founders looked at presidents in our times, I suspect they would be strongly surprised at this growth in the role. After all, they were heavily concentrated on the Legislative Branch as the power broker. Today’s presidents often interpret these implied powers differently. It seems that every modern-day president starts out by assembling a stack of executive orders on his desk and going through a meticulous signing ceremony on each of them. These executive orders obviously require no diplomacy—just sign and distribute. Here is a list of presidential functions and duties that, by contrast, do require a mastery of diplomacy:

• Acting as Commander-in-Chief of the armed services.

• Granting reprieves and pardons.

• Making treaties (with concurrence of the Senate).

• Appointing ambassadors, Supreme Court judges and all other officers of the United States (with confirmation by Congress).

• Appoint people to fill vacancies that may occur during the recess of the Senate.

• Receive ambassadors and other public ministers.

• Care that the laws be faithfully executed.

• Recommend to Congress measures for their consideration (propose a bill).

• Approve or veto every Congressional bill (vetoes may be over-ridden).

Using diplomacy is certainly not new nor is it the exclusive characteristic of any one political party, group or other segment of our society. Public servants of large governmental organizations such as Cabinet leaders use diplomacy routinely in carrying out their duties. Most every United States president has tried his hand at diplomacy so that he could stave off a conflict through peaceful means.

Two Examples:

President Theodore Roosevelt

In 1903, Panama was trying to break away from Columbia. Teddy Roosevelt sent United States warships as a show of force during that stand-off. Panama won independence and the United States won the right to build, own and operate the Panama Canal. Roosevelt’s catchphrase concerning diplomacy was, “Speak softly but carry a big stick.” Historians later referred to Roosevelt’s approach as, “Gunboat Diplomacy.”

President Ronald Reagan

When I served in our nation’s Pentagon, I had occasion to read and study a document which would later be called the, “Weinberger Doctrine.” Casper “Cap” Weinberger was Secretary of Defense in the Reagan era (1981-89). He wrote a series of conditions which he felt needed to be met before the President and Congress could commit troops to battle or peacekeeping arrangements. The impetus for these pronouncements was a sincere desire to not get mired in another Vietnam War. President Reagan lauded this approach and adopted the Weinberger Doctrine in his administration. Reagan believed in, “Negotiating from strength,” and, “Trust, but verify.”

Here are the Weinberger Doctrine conditions:

1. The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the United States or its allies are involved.

2. United States troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning. Otherwise, troops should not be committed.

3. United States combat troops should be committed only with clearly defined political and military objectives and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives.

4. The relationship between the objectives and the size and composition of the forces committed should be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.

5. United States troops should not be committed to battle without a, “Reasonable assurance,” of the support of United States public opinion and Congress.

6. The commitment of United States troops should be considered only as a last resort.

I believe that most Americans, regardless of ideological differences, would agree with Weinberger’s 6th point, and that almost every leader has respected the essence of it in our history.


The secret of being a great president is to understand the full scope of one’s duties as prescribed by the Constitution and forged over time with respect to implied powers. No president is an expert in every facet of those duties—some are great diplomats while others excel at managing the country’s economy or showing skills in negotiating with Congress. Therefore, it is important to recognize where one is strong and weak, and then hire people who can help materially with the weaker areas. The country depends on that.

Author: Dr. Robert Brescia respects the wisdom of generations, promotes the love of learning, teaches ethics to university students, government & politics to AP seniors, and leadership to organizations. The Governor of Texas recently appointed him to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Contact him at [email protected].

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2 Responses to Have Diplomacy—Will Negotiate

  1. Christopher J Stanley Reply

    October 5, 2021 at 5:25 am

    Thanks for this! Possibly your next piece could compare Weinberger and Augustine and the “just-war” theory.

  2. Brenda Norman Reply

    October 3, 2021 at 7:05 pm

    Succinct, hits the nail on the head!

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