April 30, 2013—The biggest threat to the United States comes not from abroad but from within. This is the unexpected message of Council on Foreign Relations President Richard N. Haass in Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America's House in Order.
"Many of the foundations of this country's power are eroding," Haass warns. "The effect, however, is not limited to a deteriorating transportation system or jobs that go unfilled or overseas owing to a lack of qualified American workers. To the contrary, shortcomings here at home directly threaten America's ability to project power and exert influence overseas, to compete in the global marketplace, to generate the resources needed to promote the full range of US interests abroad, and to set a compelling example that will influence the thinking and behavior of others."
A rising China, climate change, terrorism, a nuclear Iran, a turbulent Middle East, and a reckless North Korea all present serious challenges. But, Haass argues, U.S. national security depends even more on the United States addressing its crumbling infrastructure, second-class schools, outdated immigration system, and burgeoning debt, something that will require controlling entitlements rather than just raising taxes and cutting discretionary spending.
"To mount an effective foreign policy the United States must first put its house in order," Haass writes. "The United States must also put its house in order if it is to avoid placing itself in a position of high vulnerability to forces or actions beyond its control."
Haass rejects both isolationism and the notion of American decline. But he contends the country is underperforming at home and overreaching abroad. He argues that the United States must sharply limit its role in humanitarian interventions and in wars of choice designed to remake other societies, as was tried unsuccessfully in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, it should emphasize maintaining the balance of power in Asia, advancing North American economic integration and energy self-sufficiency, and promoting collective responses to global challenges.
The world is no longer dominated by one or more superpowers. Instead, the paramount feature of international relations in the first half of the twenty-first century is nonpolarity; power has been diffused, spread among an enormous list of entities capable in their own right to exert their influence. In addition to traditional nation-states, there are many other entities active in the political sphere, whether global (UN, World Bank), regional (European Union, NATO, Arab League), commercial (JPMorgan Chase, Exxon Mobil), disruptive, or altruistic. This world is relatively forgiving, however, with no great rival directly threatening American interests.
How long this strategic respite lasts and how well the nation continues to fare on the global stage, according to Haass, will depend largely on whether the United States puts its own house in order.
He writes: "This book is premised on the idea that the world needs American leadership, but that American leadership requires the United States to first put its house in order, something that in turn will require its being more restrained in what it tries to do abroad and more disciplined in what it does at home."
PRAISE FOR FOREIGN POLICY BEGINS AT HOME:
"Richard Haass shows us that maintaining America's leadership in the world will require significant reforms within our own borders. Full of insight but without polemics or preachiness, this book clearly demonstrates that our ability to inspire, influence, cooperate with, or deter others depends upon our ability to promote shared prosperity and social progress at home."
—William J. Clinton
"Richard Haass has long been a keen observer of the U.S. position on the world stage, and his must-read book is no exception. Haass rightly explains that if the United States is to continue fulfilling the leadership role it has had since World War II, our country must be more restrained in what it does abroad and put its house in order at home by defusing the looming fiscal debt bomb that threatens our national security and global standing."
—James A. Baker III
"A concise, comprehensive guide to America's critical policy choices at home and overseas. Richard Haass writes without a partisan agenda, but with a passion for solutions designed to restore our country's strength and enable us to lead."
—Madeleine K. Albright
"A perceptive diagnosis and common sense prescription for what ails us as a nation. It is a practical guide for those who believe America's continued global leadership is critical in the twenty-first century, but who believe it must be anchored in restoration at home and more effective use of all the tools of American foreign policy abroad."
—Robert M. Gates
"Richard Haass is one of America's most insightful and experienced thinkers. In Foreign Policy Begins at Home, Haass explains why our ability to wield power and influence abroad will depend on our confronting pressing challenges at home. He offers a sobering look at the domestic policies that are undermining our international competitiveness—and a thoughtful roadmap for strengthening America's position on the global stage."
—Michael R. Bloomberg
Richard N. Haass is in his tenth year as president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He served in the Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations. He received the State Department's Distinguished Honor Award and the Presidential Citizens Medal. Haass has written or edited twelve other books. He lives in New York City. Follow him on Twitter at @RichardHaass.