The latest episode of The President’s Inbox is live. This week, Jim sat down with Richard Haass, who is stepping down as the president of the Council on Foreign Relations after a distinguished twenty-year run.
Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, sits down with James M. Lindsay upon completing two decades leading CFR to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the United States.
They discussed the challenges and tensions now facing U.S. foreign policy.
Here are three highlights from the discussion:
1.) The state of global affairs is in a far more dangerous place than it was thirty years ago. The world’s reaction to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is far different from its reaction to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. To some extent, the reemergence of geopolitical competition can be attributed to the ebbs and flows of history. But Richard argued that the current state of the world wasn’t inevitable; it owes to a “combination of omission and commission” in foreign policy. He cited the invasion of Iraq and the “off again, on again policies” that followed, as well as the misguided intervention in Libya as examples of U.S. mistakes.
2.) Isolationism isn’t the solution. Richard said it is easy to see why some Americans favor withdrawing from the world rather than engaging in it. He pointed to the disastrous war in Iraq in helping to fuel isolationist sentiment. However, he argued that more often than not U.S. involvement has been “decisive” in global affairs as was the case in World War II. And the failure to act imposes its own cost. As Richard put it, “What you don’t do in life, in foreign policy is every bit as consequential as what you do actually decide to do.”
3.) America’s domestic divisions have great consequences for the rest of the world. Precisely because the United States has for decades played an outsized role in shaping global affairs, what happens at home has substantial ramifications abroad. Richard argued that America’s deepening partisanship and polarization mean that its “ability to offer up an image of democracy that others might want to emulate is at stake.” Our political infighting also means that our “ability to reassure our allies that we’ll be there for them is at stake,” and with it, our “ability to deter our foes.”
If you’re looking for more of Richard’s work, Foreign Affairs is featuring several of his most influential contributions to the magazine. You can find Richard’s complete body of work for Foreign Affairs here. Peter Baker wrote a piece for the New York Times on Richard’s parting thoughts as president of the Council.