The late US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the purpose of foreign policy is to persuade others to do what we want or, better yet, to want what we want.
Something a lot easier said than done, as Sabina Higgins found this week, following the posting of a letter on the internet.
The furore over its content – and the site from which it was delivered – caused an unseasonal storm in the normally sedate environs of Áras an Uachtaráin.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has insisted the Government was not embarrassed by the contretemps.
“Everything has to be kept in perspective,” he said. And he is correct, for in terms of international affairs there must be no distraction from the top global priority at the moment, which is Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Finding a means to bring the murderous campaign to an end is a diplomatic minefield.
As John F Kennedy put it: “Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.”
Vladimir Putin cannot be seen to profit from his cowardly invasion, which has resulted in untold civilian carnage.
The people of Ukraine are the innocent parties whose borders have been violated.
The indiscriminate and indefensible wholesale destruction of cities and towns is rightly classed as a war crime. Apart from the mounting death toll, there is the accompanying fallout in global food and energy markets.
Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whom it must be noted is a friend of Putin, has gone on record to say the deal between Moscow and Kyiv to unblock Ukrainian grain exports may offer a way forward to a possible ceasefire.
“The good news is that the Kremlin wants a negotiated solution,” Mr Schroeder said.
But “good news” is never more arbitrary than in a war zone. A way forward must be found, but not just any way. The Kremlin has violated the international order by showing no regard for life.
The idea that Moscow might dictate terms, having taken what it wants by force, can only fan the flames of further conflict.
As American economist David Friedman put it: “The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations.”
So we cannot afford to forget that people are being slaughtered every day.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, commenting on the situation in Donbas, said: “It is just hell there. Words cannot describe it.”
Despite arms supplies from the West, his forces could not yet overcome Russian advantages in heavy guns and manpower.
Mr Schroeder has suggested that “a solution based on the Swiss cantonal model will have to be found”, adding that it would have to be seen if Putin would go back to a pre-war “contact line” in a ceasefire.
But the fact is, Moscow must do so if there is to be any remote chance of stopping the fighting.