Vice President for National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations
Richard N. Haass, president of CFR and author of The World: A Brief Introduction, leads a post-election conversation on the United States’ global role and discusses the events and ideas that have shaped today's world.
FASKIANOS: Good afternoon to you all. Welcome to CFR's Fall 2020 Academic Webinar series. I'm Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR. Today's webinar is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We're delighted to have Dr. Richard Haass with us today. Dr. Haass is in his eighteenth year as president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has served as a senior Middle East advisor to President George H.W. Bush, the State Department's director of policy planning under Secretary of State Colin Powell, and in various positions in the Defense and State Departments during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He also was U.S. coordinator for policy toward the future of Afghanistan and the U.S. envoy to both the Cyprus and the Northern Ireland peace talks. He's a recipient of the State Department's Distinguished Honor Award, the Presidential Citizens Medal, and Tipperary International Peace Award. He is the author or editor of fourteen books on U.S. foreign policy and one book on management. His latest book is The World: A Brief Introduction published by Penguin Press.
Richard, it's great to have you with us today. I would love to begin with your book, The World: A Brief Introduction, and have you talk a little bit about why you wrote it, and then pivot to the ForeignAffairs.com piece that you just authored, “Repairing the World: The Imperative—and Limits—of a Post-Trump Foreign Policy.” We're obviously a week after the U.S. presidential election, and we would love to hear your take on the challenges facing the incoming Biden administration.
HAASS: Well, thank you, Irina. For the record, even though this is my eighteenth year as president, this must be your 180th year in your capacity. So just want to set the record straight for anybody on this and by the way, welcome everybody, thank you for taking the hour to be with us. Irina asked me a question that I could speak at length about but I will show uncharacteristic discipline and not filibuster and keep it short, because I'd much prefer to save as much time as we can for your comments or questions.
So two issues. One, why did I write this book and to talk about the agenda, the inbox, that will greet the forty-sixth president of the United States. First, the book. I wrote this book, A World: A Brief Introduction, because I think there's an enormous gap between, on one hand, the objective importance of the world in our lives, and on the other hand, the degree to which most people in this country, but also other countries—but I'll focus on America—appreciate that. And there's a gap between the objective importance of the world and to the degree to which people understand it or place a priority on understanding it.
We actually saw that pretty dramatically during the recent campaign. If you look at the debates, the town halls and the like, foreign policy barely figured. And I've only seen one exit poll asking people why they voted the way they did, why they voted for this or that candidate. Virtually nobody, which kind of in the other category, 1 percent or less, voted because of foreign policy and international issues. And what's so surprising about that is here we are living with COVID-19 and what is so fundamental about it, it began in Wuhan, China, and got on the conveyor belt, if you will, of globalization. And here it is. Well, we just mark the nineteenth anniversary of 9/11. And what was that? That was a group of terrorists who trained in remote parts of remote Afghanistan, got on airplanes and killed three thousand people in a day here. Or any of you who live in or spend time on, say, the West Coast have been through the fires over the last few months. And these have dramatically worsened, the conditions made the forest far more susceptible and vulnerable to these fires because of climate change that essentially happens and comes from everywhere. We've just had an election—what was one of the features of it? Foreign interference. Oh, how? Through the internet, which is a largely unregulated, unpoliced domain.
So in all these various ways the world matters. Yet people, again, don't seem to really understand it, don't place a priority on it. Many of you are college students. While these courses are about international relations and foreign policy are taught on most American campuses, very few actually require it as a condition of graduation. If you decide to take it because you're interested in it, or it's your major, it's one thing, but that places you in a minority. And so most young people graduate from college without a grounding in the world that will so fundamentally shape their lives. Most high schools don't even offer it.
People of my generation, when we went to college, it wasn't required. So again, most didn't study it. If we did study it—two things. One, we've forgotten it. I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast, much less what I studied fifty years ago. But second of all, that was a very different world. When I went to college in the late 1960s and early 1970s, that was essentially midway in the Cold War. Well, the Cold War ended thirty years ago. Interestingly enough, I think it was yesterday, that was the, what, thirty-first anniversary of the taking down of the Berlin Wall, the symbolic end to the Cold War. The Soviet Union doesn't exist any longer. So either we’ve forgotten it, or if we did remember it, a lot of it may not be relevant.
If you watch the news, most of the news programs don't really cover the world with any frequency or depth. There's a lot of information on the internet. That's the good news. There's also a lot of misinformation on the internet. And that's the bad news. And the problem is the internet doesn't come with Post-its—it doesn't say read this, ignore that. So for any number of reasons, I think there's a gap between what informed citizens should know about the world and what they do. Or young people trying to make informed career decisions—should I go into the government? Should I become an academic? Should I become a journalist or a businessman or woman? Should I go work for some NGO? Investors? Businesspeople? The world matters in all sorts of ways. And what I tried to do was write essentially a short book that doesn't assume background in the history of the regions of the world or the issues that shape the world, and in three hundred pages try to give people what I think is a foundation. It's not everything you need to know, but I think it's the beginnings of what I believe people need to know. So that's what the book is, Irina.
So now let me, I kind of feel like I'm steering the car, let me now grab the wheel. So what about the world that Mr. Biden will inherit? As I'm fond of pointing out when you run for president, you can choose just about anything you want. You can choose your running mate. In this case, Mr. Biden chose Senator Kamala Harris. You can choose what the platform says. The Democrats have an extensive platform; the Republicans actually chose not to have a platform this time around. If you win, you can choose what you say in your inaugural speech. If you win, you can decide who becomes secretary of state or secretary of defense. The only thing you can't choose if you win, is what's in your inbox—that's chosen for you. And that's when you walk into the Oval Office on that first day after the inaugural event, that's what greets you or slaps you in the face. This is a really demanding one, for a couple of reasons.
One is the domestic setting. The new president will take office against the backdrop of a pandemic that is, by that point could be claiming as many as two thousand lives a day. We could have 150,000-200,000 new infections a day. Hospital capacity could be completely at its limit. So you have the public health aspects of it, but you also have all the economic consequences of it. It's unlikely that any medical development, whether vaccines, therapeutics, or anything else will either be available, or if it is available, whether it would be available of a scale that would make an appreciable dent in any of that come January or even February or later. You will have unemployment much higher than it was, say, a year ago. You'll have all sorts of people depending upon whether there's various relief legislation, living on the edge maybe unable to meet their next mortgage payment or their rent. We've obviously got tremendous political divisions. A poll I saw this morning showed seven out of ten Republicans do not believe the—well seven out of ten people who voted for Mr. Trump, which is roughly seventy million people, do not believe that the election was legitimate, which then raises questions about whether they would come to see Mr. Biden when he becomes president as legitimate. So you've got a country that's truly divided politically. You've got a social media and cable and talk radio, all of which will in some ways both feed and reflect those divisions. We got racial divisions in this country and massive wealth inequality. It’s a long list. So the domestic dimension of the inbox is daunting.
And then internationally, you've got two groups of challenges. You've got, if you will, the familiar stuff—great-power rivalry, China, Russia, what have you. That's the stuff of history. And then now in this era, we also have all sorts of global challenges. I've already mentioned several: infectious disease, climate change, an unregulated internet. You've got proliferation, you've got terrorism, and so forth. So in all these areas, there's a real gap between the nature of the challenge and whatever collective response is out there, be it the institutions or rules, what have you. So what this adds up to is this incredibly demanding international agenda against the backdrop of a really demanding domestic situation. So there's no one crisis other than COVID, which is a big enough crisis. It's not like there's a massive hot war, like the presidents who got elected during major wars, be it Korea or Vietnam or Iraq. So it's nothing that acute in the traditional geopolitical sense, but if you add up everything I've mentioned, and I believe beginning with the pandemic, I think it's an extraordinarily difficult situation.
And one of the questions for Mr. Biden, that's what I wrote about in this Foreign Affairs piece, is how does he choose his priorities? If he has to deal with the domestic challenges beginning with COVID, how does he deal with that yet still focus sufficiently on his international challenges? The world never says to the United States or any country, okay, go sort your problems out and when you're good and ready, we'll be happy to have you back. History doesn't work that way. So the question is, how much time does Mr. Biden allocate to international subjects? What international subjects? What's essentially his agenda, all the while he's trying to get COVID-19 under control. And that's what I was writing about, basically think through how he might think through that question.
FASKIANOS: Great, thank you very much for that overview. And we're going to go now right to questions to all of you, because we do want to hear from you and everything's fair game—well almost everything. So if you want to ask a question, please click on the “participants” icon at the bottom of your screen and raise your hand there or you can also type your answer, sorry, your question in the Q&A box. And our good colleagues—
HAASS: I think, Irina, I think people can also type their answer. And then we could turn this into Jeopardy! in honor of Alex Trebek and we could—
FASKIANOS: That's a great idea. I just want to thank you, Jim Harrington, for your comments. "Richard," he says, "thank you not just for the book, but also the excellent support and materials directed toward teaching foreign affairs."
HAASS: Thank you. That's the kind of feedback I love.
FASKIANOS: Right. So now there are lots of hands raised, and I'm going to go first to Mojubaolu Okome. And please remember to unmute yourself, and—
HAASS: Let us know what school you go to and what your major is or anything else we need to know.
Q: Okay, well, my name is Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome. I teach political science at Brooklyn College.
HAASS: Brooklyn College? My father was a graduate of Brooklyn College.
Q: I hope you have given big money. Well, you know, one of the puzzles for me is that the U.S. is the most powerful country in the world. If the world really matters, what accounts for the profound level of insularity about world affairs and also diplomatic history in this country, you know?
HAASS: (Laughs.) Well, it's a question I ask myself an awful lot. And, again, it's in part what led me to write this book. But let me say a couple things because I think it's a profoundly important question and there's not an obvious answer. But when you look at the full sweep of American history, nearly two and a half centuries now, the preponderance of that time we have not made the world a priority. In some ways, the last seventy to seventy-five years since the end of World War II are the exception. Or if you take World War II, basically from 1941 through the present, these, what eighty years, where the United States has been heavily involved in the world, that's pretty much it other than a couple of years during World War I. But the preponderance of time, the principle American foreign policy tradition is isolationism. It’s minimal involvement with the world. Why is that? Well, I think at the time of our founding, there was great suspicion about the Old World, the whole idea was to get away from it. You look at George Washington's speech, and he talked about early on about avoidance of entangling alliances. There was a continent to ultimately subdue and then populate. There were domestic challenges, not the least of which was a civil war. There was all the advantages of this very fertile, mineral rich continent so there was a sense of self sufficiency. Threats in the world seemed pretty distant until the arrival of modern weaponry and then means of travel. So in some ways, it's understandable, this is the whole idea of the New World was to get away from the Old and the oceans were, kind of, what seemed to be moats offering this new country considerable protection. The country had enough on its hands dealing with itself and its economic development, of, again, westward expansion, a civil war, Reconstruction, domestic challenges. And I think what really changed it more than anything else was World War II and the arrival of the modern state and its ability to go to war on a grand scale and the attack the United States suffered at Pearl Harbor. And what it brought home is that in the modern age, the oceans were no longer moats—that the United States no longer had the luxury of isolationism, that the world would find us one way or another even if we didn't want it to.
And even with that, it's been a struggle after World War II. There were still once again isolationists. They were ultimately beaten back. But I think what we're seeing in recent years with the end of the Cold War, with the sense that the United States overstretched, overreached in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, we're seeing this resurgence of what George McGovern, a democratic political candidate, what, nearly fifty years ago, talked about of coming home. And what I said about this domestic inbox, for a lot of people, the United States needs to focus on itself. And my whole argument is, yes, we need to deal with our domestic challenges, but again, we don't have the luxury of trying to deal with them in isolation, but a lot of Americans don't appreciate that. We don't teach it in our schools, which again, I think reinforces the sense that the world doesn't matter. But look, as you would expect, as I expect you hear in my voice, I am the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. The subject you raise is the source of more than a little frustration to me. So I get up early in the morning, and I talk about the world on morning television. And I talk about it at times during the day and I write more articles and books then it's probably healthy for me, and it's probably more than any reader wants to read. And I dedicated a big chunk of what we do with the Council on Foreign Relations now to trying to teach young people and educate them about the world, but it's just, I mean, I think you raised a really great point. I don't have a better answer than the one I gave, but my view is whatever the reason, I think it's truly, truly unfortunate. It's not in our interest. You've made the career decision to push back by your teaching. I've made the career decision to push back by my writing and my speaking and so forth. And I think it's not going to be an effort that's ever going to be won once and for all. My hunch is it's a constant effort with every generation, with every class of students, and so forth to make the case. Thank you for raising that.
FASKIANOS: Great, thank you. I'm going to go next to Babak Salimitari, who has raised his hand and also written the question. Babak is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Irvine and he says, "How will U.S. relations change with Iran in the Biden administration."
HAASS: My last job in government, which I left now, what, seventeen to eighteen years ago, was I was the head of the policy planning staff. And I used to say, I'm in charge of policy planning but not policy predicting. So my crystal ball is no better than yours. I would think this will be one of the difficult issues for this administration, because they're coming into office and you've got an Iran that is truly repressive against its own people at home, violates human rights on a large scale. In the region, they support all sorts of, what I would call, “imperial efforts,” using groups like Hezbollah, using terrorism, using their own forces to basically be quite dominant in parts of the region. They've got a nuclear program that has increasingly operated outside the limits established by the 2015 agreement that Iran was one of the parties to, which the United States was a party to originally but has subsequently, under the Trump administration, left. So the question is going to be what do you do about all these different facets of Iranian policy—the domestic, the regional, the nuclear and missile? Do you deal with all of them? Do you just deal initially with the nuclear and missile in kind of segregation?
One other thing I should say is the administration will inherit a policy from the Trump administration. I mentioned one part, which was to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear accord. You have a strengthening of Iran’s neighbors, for example, the recent decision to provide F-35 fighter bombers to a country like the United Arab Emirates. The United States still has some forces in the region, including in Iraq, I think, five thousand or so, if my memory serves me right. And all sorts of sanctions—indeed, between now and the end of January, when Mr. Biden takes over, I expect there'll be a whole new set of sanctions introduced against Iran. So I think one of the big decisions for the administration is going to be what do they do? What do they add? What do they subtract? In particular do they enter the 2015 agreement? If so, under what conditions? In order for us to reenter it, what would Iran have to do? And even if we were to reenter it, it's not a solution because the nuclear dimensions of that agreement begin to expire in five years. And the question then is, we'd be no more comfortable with Iran developing nuclear capabilities in five years or ten years than we are now. It's one of the reasons that people like me had, shall we call it, limited enthusiasm for this agreement. And the question is, so what will this administration do? So I think one of their big early decisions is going to be what to do about the Iran agreement. And unlike some other aspects of foreign policy, where there could be a degree of overlap with the Congress and with the Republicans, this one is potentially not. So I think this could be substantively difficult, diplomatically challenging, and politically quite controversial.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I'm going to go to a raised hand to Mohammed Arshad, who's an undergrad student at the University of Bridgeport. So please accept—
HAASS: As in Connecticut?
Q: Yes, I'm an undergraduate student. I study international political economy and diplomacy from the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut. And first of all, I'd like to thank CFR and especially the International Institutions and Global Governance Program, which has helped me immensely throughout my undergraduate studies. And it is just a great program, I'm even seeking an internship there next semester. So over to my question. My question is that, as Biden won, a lot of, let's say, the Global South or developing countries, they were not enthusiastic or overtly happy like one would expect. So my question is, does U.S. foreign policy change with an administration or is it crafted by establishment that is not dependent on a blue government or a red government, but just based on U.S. interests? Or does it really change with a new incumbent president? Thanks.
HAASS: Well, it's an interesting question. And obviously, there's always elements of continuity, and there's always elements of change. So it's not either/or. Any administration that takes over inherits all sorts of policies, arrangements, commitments—you never start with a blank slate. So, and there's often a lot of continuity. I think what's different about the Trump administration is that they probably introduced greater change than any other administration in the modern era. By the modern era, I'm beginning with the first of the post-World War II presidents, Harry Truman, back in 1945-1946. So there was more change than usual this time. So I would think Mr. Biden will also introduce change. In some cases, he'll go back to what existed before Mr. Trump. He will selectively, probably perpetuate a few things that Mr. Trump did. And he will probably innovate, yet again, in some other areas. In my experience, I've been involved in any number of transitions in both directions. I've been involved with transitions to a new president, working for the person coming in. And I've been involved in transitions for the president, either who lost or was retiring and helping the new team. By the way, it's more fun being involved for the president coming in than it is the one going out, but that's a digression. But I think in this case, you'll probably have more change than usual, reflecting the fact that Mr. Trump represented more of a change than usual. And in the previous transitions, change always came but it tended to be at least modest at the beginning or gradual, and even at the end, was rarely fundamental. I think, again, Mr. Trump represented more of a departure than usual. So my guess is Mr. Biden will represent more of a departure seen against the backdrop of Mr. Trump, probably less of a departure seen against the backdrop of Mr. Trump's predecessors.
Now, one other thing you talked about the career bureaucrats. Every president gets the opportunity to appoint approximately four thousand people. And these are four thousand political appointees, and they're scattered around the executive branch—people at the White House, might be a couple of hundred at the Pentagon, or a couple of hundred at the State Department or Treasury. That's the political layer at the top of the U.S. government—the cabinet, the subcabinet, and others. And these people have tremendous influence. They have considerable authority. At the same time, if they're smart, they ask and they depend on, in many ways, the career bureaucrats because they understand the history, they're experts, and there's a kind of a working relationship between careerists and political appointees. In this administration, Mr. Trump's, it was a much more hostile relationship than I've ever seen. And political appointees tended often not to listen, or even to meet with the careerists. A lot of them were fired along the way. But again, I would think in a Biden administration, you're more likely to have a more cooperative relationship between career professionals and the political appointees.
FASKIANOS: Thank you, we have several questions in the Q&A box about America's global decline, Richard. How it's intensifying, how do you strike the right balance between doing too much and too little abroad? And if U.S. relative power is in decline, how strongly do international laws need to be defended, revisited, or adjusted for this new era that we're in?
HAASS: Let's just sort of be clear about our terms. The United States is not in a position to determine its relative power, because relative power is a function of our absolute power and the absolute power of everybody else. So if the United States increases, say, the economy grows by 2 percent or our military by some measure gets 3 percent stronger, those are absolute gains. If it turns out though that the economies of others grow by 3 percent or 4 percent, so even by that measure we'll be stronger economically, but our relative economic position will have suffered or even if our military improves by, again, some abstract measure of 3 percent, but other militaries improve by some abstract measure of 5 percent, again, you could say our relative power has gone down even though our absolute power has gone up. So again, all we can control is our absolute power. That's the reality of international relations. Others will make decisions themselves about what they want to do, what their resources allow them to do. And one way to think about international relations is the effort to translate power into influence, power is capability, influences is something very different. It's the ability to persuade or force, depending on the circumstance, others to do what it is you would like them to do. And that's a very different thing and power can be one of the mechanisms by which that happens, but there's also diplomacy, other ways to persuade people to do things. Indeed, one way to think about what you try to do in diplomacy is to try to get others to see their self-interest in ways that you would define your self-interest and to try to get the two closer. And that's part of the process of consultation or negotiation.
I think what's difficult about the world we live in, and I write about it a little bit in the book, is the United States, for all of its extraordinary power, economically, what, we're still about a fifth or a quarter of the world's economy, we still have the world's most capable military, we have lots of other resources from extraordinary universities to great laboratories, great companies, and so forth. The United States has extraordinary assets or advantages but so too do a lot of other countries. We hear about China a lot, Japan, Europe, other countries may have energy resources or minerals. You also have all sorts of actors out there who aren't even countries who matter. If you're thinking about who matters most in cyber, you might have some of the Silicon Valley companies—the Alphabets, the Googles, the Facebooks, the Twitters, the Microsofts, what have you. If you're thinking about global health, the single most important entity might not be the World Health Organization, or might be, but it's also the Gates Foundation. So there's lots of other pieces on the chessboard, not all of them are nation states. But I think what's interesting about this period of history, there's a lot of power of different types, a lot of capabilities in a lot of different hands. So it's a world of what you might call "distributed power." I once used the phrase, "nonpolarity." Normally, we think of a couple of principal poles, like during the Cold War was bipolarity—two poles. Or some other periods of history we've used the phrase multipolarity, and classically, that meant three, four, five or six centers of power. The reason I use the phrase “nonpolarity” is there's so many centers of meaningful power—countries, terrorist groups, companies, media organizations, foundations, even wealthy individuals in some cases. So this is a world where you've got more power in more hands than arguably at any of the time in human history. So for all of our strengths, the United States, we've got to navigate and operate in this world where there's a lot of others who can bring capacity to bear. And even if we have the most power overall, think about it, you can't bring all the power you have to bear in every situation.
I mean, it's as if, it's like one of those games and you've got like a card game, you've got a stack of chips, the United States has the biggest stack of chips than anybody else. But if there's fifty or a hundred squares on the board, we've got to decide how to allocate the chips. So we may allocate two or three of our pile of chips to this or that square, well, someone else, if that's the only square they're playing on, they may have four chips. So even if we're the strongest power overall, we're not necessarily the strongest power on a certain issue, on a certain part of the world. Well, for us, something may be pretty important but for somebody else, it may be the only thing that really matters. So they may have far more tenacity, for more will and commitment than we have. Or we may not agree. There might be political divisions in our country, whether socially or in Congress or what have you. So this ability to how you measure power, I introduced the phrase in the book, "available power." So it's not simply the power you have on a piece of paper if you're adding it up, but it's the power that's available given all the commitments you have on the political realities that may say, yes, you've got a stack of chips this high, that's ten feet high, but for this particular challenge you can only actually spare one chip because of everything else you're committed to and all the political considerations. So, I mean, it's a complicated question, is what I'm trying to say, about how you measure power and simply the static measures. You've got this many tanks, and this many planes, and this many missiles or this many dollars, that's all true, but that's only the beginning of the conversation. It's not the end of it.
FASKIANOS: Great, I'm going to go to Jillian Burns in the Q&A box. She thanks us for all that we are doing to help educators. Her students at GWU enjoy Model Diplomacy. That's good to hear. Her priority, one of her priorities, in her U.S. foreign policy class is developing strategic planning skills. [Burns writes], "Can you talk about a recent example when you think the U.S. did an excellent job research embedding policy options through the interagency process and then track the effectiveness of its decisions after the fact. And any advice you have, Richard, for future foreign policy makers on how to become good strategists?"
HAASS: Well, let me start with the latter and then I'll come back to the former. Look, this question of how to become good—strategy, it's not like if you want to become a good chef and you can go to cookbooks. I'm not sure there's a strategist cookbook or recipes for how to be good. I think, to me, the single most useful thing to look at is history. It's not that situations repeat themselves, but to use the old cliche, it rhymes. And I think that one can learn from history what other people did in certain situations. And then one can think about what's analogous, what's similar, what's dissimilar to the situation you find yourselves in and thinking about things. So I'm a great believer in reading history, reading biography to get a sense of how others have thought—I mean, there's books about strategy, including a book called On Strategy. Any number of books of strategy, but I find history and biography, in some ways, the best way to go—a really useful book in this regard, was written by two former colleagues of mine. I used to teach with them at the Kennedy School—Richard Neustadt and Ernie May—called Thinking in Time, about the uses of history for decision-makers. Also several books by Alexander George. And what all these books have in common is their attempt to take things that seem distant, whether history or whatever, and then apply them to current situations. But if you think about some of the great strategy documents in American foreign policy histories, I'm hard pressed to think or say, let's just take the ones that emerged at the beginning of the Cold War and right after World War II. The containment doctrine written by George Kennan, NSC 68, and so forth. These were really important documents. But they were infused with a history, knowledge of Russian history, of communism, what the Soviet Union represented and people understood the need to prioritize and think about the relationship between resource and purpose. People have read a lot about how other people have dealt with, how empires have been successful and not so successful, had dealt with their challenges. So for me, I can't think of anything better than to, again, think of, again, get heavily involved with history, to some extent, biography. I do think also case study teaching can be useful to think about. Where I think we've done really poorly in some ways, this gets me to the first half, is think about where the United States was thirty-odd years ago, we came out of the Cold War, we won it on terms that were wildly favorable. The Soviet Union lost, it unraveled. A lot of the countries that were part of the Soviet external Empire, the Eastern European countries, became independent. Many became democratic initially. You then had the Soviet Union, itself, dissolve. Some of those countries became democratic.
Coming back to the previous question, the United States enjoyed a situation of real relative power advantage. And one of the questions would be, well, how did we do with that? How did we do with that situation? How did strategy makers do and I would say, not so hot. And just sort of, say, looking back on it thirty years later, we don't have all that much to show, I would argue, for the tremendous advantages we had coming out of the Cold War. So it's an interesting exercise to say, well, what should the United States have done? What should we have maybe not done that we did? And what should we have done that we didn’t? So almost a reverse strategy exercise. Did we have options and opportunities that we did not avail ourselves and did we make mistakes and what it was we did? For example, a lot of people would say things, some would say NATO enlargement was a mistake. Some would say, well, many would say the Iraq War was a mistake or elements of the Afghan War were a mistake. So, I think, one could go back and sort of ask those questions. I feel pretty good about how something I was involved in how we did after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, and how we put together a strategy for dealing with that—the various elements of it, the military, the diplomatic, the economic, and all that.
But if you're talking about grand strategy, which is less how you deal, I mean, one could think of strategy at almost various levels. And there's a strategy for dealing with China now, we need that, or a strategy for dealing with Russia. The new administration will come up with their strategies for dealing with all this or climate change or global health or North Korea. So there's this strategy at that level, the specific level. And then I think there's kind of a grander strategy, how to think about America's role in the world or how to think about how strategy really matches objectives and means. When you think about what is it we're trying to bring about and what are we going to do to try to bring it about. And that's what strategy is, it's not simply the articulation of ends. But again, it's the integration of ends and means.
In my experience there is not too many good examples of it, certainly at the grand level. The last time I think there was a great success at the grand level was after World War II. And thinking about both the narrow effort against communism and the broader effort to build institutions to help the world recover from World War II. I think that was the last great strategic moment for the United States, and then you have the next forty years of implementation. I don't think we had an equivalent, really creative strategic moment, after the end of the Cold War. And we are where we are now. And I think one of the questions that I've been grappling with in my articles and books over the years is what would be a strategic approach to this era. And I put out some ideas about how we have to, in some ways, rethink sovereignty. We have to deal with the traditional problems of strategy, dealing with a rising China or a cranky Russia. We've got to deal with narrowing the gap between global challenges and global policies and responses. But I also think part of the goal has to be to come up with a slightly different relationship, or a bit different way to think about sovereignty. And despite, in addition to the rights of sovereignty, I also think in a global world, we have to start thinking about the obligations of sovereignty. And I would argue that that would be a strategic approach for the United States. But we're a long ways away from that. But I think it's a great exercise for anyone, whether they're working at a think tank, like the Council, or they're a student or in a class to basically say, you got a new administration, okay, so if Mr. Biden and his team, once they're together, what should be—I mean, you can look at all the different challenges and pieces, China, Russia, but if you took a step back and said, what should be the grand strategy of the United States now? What should be the common approach? How do we explain it to ourselves and to the American people? How do we explain it to our allies? How do we explain it to the world? What's the mechanism, the measure, or the matrix by which we determine our priorities? What are our ends and then how do we match our means to those ends? That to me is what strategy is all about. It's been a while since we've had anything like that.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Derek Suthammanont. He's at Texas Tech.
Q: Hello. I'm Derek Suthammanont, I'm a senior in international economics at Texas Tech, even though I'm here in DC because I'm studying remotely. So, it seems like a lot the issues that you mention in A World in Disarray is that domestic issues affect trust and foreign issues or institutions. So with a Biden administration, how do you propose we rebuild trust in those foreign institutions and basically distinguish them from our own domestic issues and people who muddle the two together?
HAASS: Well, the best way I know to build trust in foreign institutions is to show that they can deliver. Trust in something like—interrupt me if I haven't understood your question—but trust in something like the World Health Organization right now is significantly reduced because it didn't perform as it could and should have when the virus broke out in late 2019, early 2020. So one question is, well, how do we restore the, well not restore, how do we create a World Health Organization or some other vehicle that merits our trust? You've got an opportunity, potentially, with the various efforts to produce and distribute, allocate, so forth, a vaccine. That might be a mechanism by which we can earn some trust. If you can make progress in dealing with climate change, whether it's through Paris or some other vehicles, that would build trust. If the UN or some other vehicle could deal with this or that conflict or a North Korea or an Iranian nuclear challenge.
Basically, I think, institutions and countries and individuals earn trust when they earn it. When they don't demonstrate their added value or utility, they tend to bleed trust. I think it's probably that straightforward, but maybe I missed your—I think it is also a little bit of suspicion in this country about these international institutions that somehow the deck is stacked against us or obviously we don't control them. At most, we influence them. In lots of cases there's resentment over burden sharing. I think some of the effort is also on us. It's not simply how the institutional arrangement part, we’ve got to explain the costs and benefits. I grow weary of some of the conversations about alliances. I think that people harp way too time and what they see is the shortfalls and ignore what I would see as many of the benefits that accrue to us. But that to me is a challenge of education and public explanation. I don't think we do a very good job of making the case for our foreign policy, of explaining indirectly to where I began the hour about why the world matters and why what we do is good, not just for the world, but is good for ourselves. I don't think we're very good at connecting the dots and creating a something of a lobby or at least a part of the population that's ready to support us in the world. Because they see it as something that is fully consistent with our own self-interest. I don't think we're very good at explaining it.
The last president I thought who was really, really, really good at it, before my time, was FDR during World War II and his ability to using the so-called "fireside chats," the radio talks, to almost turn the Oval Office into a classroom and explain to the American people why certain things were—he kind of took them to places they didn't know they were ready to go. And I think we need more of that in foreign policy. I think we need to use the Oval Office and senior people in the administration need to devote more of their time, not simply talking to experts and their foreign counterparts, but talking to this country to make the case for why it is what they're doing is in the country's interest and deserves the country's support.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. There's several questions on China in the box about whether the Biden administration will be taking a different strategy with China. Is there a future for non-China alliances like the Quad [Quadrilateral Security Dialogue]? And is there a possibility that there would be a U.S.–China cooperation on climate change?
HAASS: Look, I think actually there'll be more continuity than many people realize in U.S.–China relations. In many areas of foreign policy, there's big gaps between the Republicans and Democrats than more, say, between the Trump administration and what's likely to be a Biden administration. I actually think on China, the consensus in this country was changing towards China quite a few years ago. And the Trump administration was a part of that and a reflection of it at one in the same time. And I think the big reason is that the China that we now have is one that people are much more worried about. This is a China that is perceived widely as much more repressive at home and people point to the treatment of the Uighur minority, of what happened in Hong Kong. This is a China that has not played, if you will, the economic game, has not adopted trade practices that were our expectation and understanding when, for example, they became members in the World Trade Organization nearly two decades ago. There's been a lot of theft of intellectual property, just to name one thing. This is a China that's not just built up its military but is becoming far more assertive in places like the South China Sea, militarizing it even when they gave us a pledge they would not militarize it. This is a China that's beginning to act in a more intimidating way towards, say, Taiwan, obviously towards India. We've seen skirmishes along the border.
So I think the biggest change is in China. This is a somewhat different China under the current leadership under Xi Jinping. And I think we're seeing a pretty broad American reaction to it. That said, I still think it, how do I put it, it's in our interest to limit our differences with China if possible, to see that these differences don't spill over into confrontation. That's the last thing we would want. We also want to conduct our relationship with China, if possible, that we push back where we have to over human rights or over trade or over strategic differences. But it's done in a way, if possible, that it does not rule out the possibility of a cooperation where it's in our interest to cooperate, be it on, you asked about climate change, that would be an area, or reining in North Korea's nuclear missile programs, or maybe doing something on Afghanistan, China borders on Afghanistan. So I think the conceptual challenge with China is how do we push back where we must? How do we avoid pushing where it's simply not smart? For example, I thought the current administration went way too far in essentially calling for an end to the role of the Communist Party. That's going to be for China to work out, the role of the Communist Party.
And we don't want to, again, preclude the possibility of cooperation where it's in our interest to cooperate. It's going to be complicated and just describing it, it's complicated. So diplomacy is easier when it's one directional, when it's black and white, but it rarely is and in the case of China, it's a rainbow. And we're going to have to figure out how is it we compete in certain areas, we even, to some extent, confront in others, yet we maybe cooperate in still others. That's going to place a real premium on statecraft, on foreign policy, diplomacy, call it what you will. I think we're likely to be much more successful if we enlist allies and partners in Asia, Europe, India, and others in the process. So it's not just China against the United States, but it's China against many others. And again, I think, if we focus on shaping Chinese foreign policy, if that's the principal focus of our foreign policy, I think we've got a decent chance of succeeding if, again, we enlist others in the effort. And I think in some areas, like the economic, what'll end up is we will have areas where we continue to do business with China, but in some areas, we won't be able to. Some areas in advanced technology, that could be used either for economic competition or has military purposes, we're going to have to basically go our separate ways. And the challenge will be, again, how do we how do we divide things? How do we promote economic involvement in many areas but still have exceptions in others? So again, it's not going to be a one directional or one-dimensional relationship. But this will be critical and as goes this relationship, so will go a lot of the next few decades. So I do think it's the single most important bilateral relationship we have. The quality of this relationship has deteriorated in recent years. I think that's more on China than on us. But again, if possible, it's still in our interest to try to help steer this relationship in different directions. But that's also up to China. That's also up to Xi Jinping. We'll just have to see if they are prepared to do that as well.
FASKIANOS: There's so many questions. I'm sorry that we're just not going to be able to get to them all. But I'm going to try to—
HAASS: Can we blame that on you? Should we blame that on the moderator?
FASKIANOS: (Laughs.) Yes, we can blame it on me. I want to sort of come back to where we began with two questions: one for the professors and one for the students. So Katrinka Somdahl-Sands says, "How do you see The World is different from your text, A World in Disarray? What kind of courses do you see each book fitting best?" And then if you could talk a little bit, Richard, about, I mean, we've seen the hollowing out of the State Department over the past four years, which may be off-putting to some thinking about pursuing a Foreign Service officer career. What would you say to students thinking about pursuing a career in the Foreign Service?
HAASS: I’ll take the latter one first. Don't give up on it. I think you'll see a major commitment to reviving diplomacy as an instrument of national security and to reviving, and I also hope modernizing, the Foreign Service. The Foreign Service had issues long before the Trump administration, not nearly enough training, and so forth. I think there's questions about what the role of a Foreign Service officer should be, what an embassy should be in the age given the technologies we have, and so forth. So what I'm hoping is that it's revived, that diplomacy is once again at the front table, that Foreign Service officers are involved in quality, non-Foreign Service officers are appointed to senior jobs in the State Department and National Security Council and so forth. I think this will happen, so don't give up on this. And I think there's so many ways to have a—whether it's a career Foreign Service job, career intelligence, military, or you can be an academic or others who go in either for a long time or short time—you can be a political appointee. So I really, really hope that people don't give up on this as a career. I can say, speaking personally, it's been extraordinarily interesting and satisfying. And there's few things better, if anything, than being involved in government when it's good and working on things that really do affect the lives and welfare and security of your country, of other people in this country and around the world. It really is purposeful. And when it's good, it literally doesn't get any better. When it's not always good, but like any job, even as Irina would confess, working for me at the Council on Foreign Relations, it has its off days. And I think it's been particularly tough, unfortunately so, the last few years where the expertise of career professionals was often not respected. But I do think this is something of an aberration. Again, I've worked for four presidents, Democrats and Republicans alike, and this is different. So my feeling is, I think, with a Biden administration, it'll go back more to the tradition where more talented people have a chance to contribute to policy. So I would hope that people would consider it for a career. And there's lots of different ways, again, to do it. Lots of different bureaucracies or departments to work in and you can think of it as a stint, as something you might just do for a couple of years or it could be something to do as a career. If you're not sure, try it. And then you might say, great, I'm glad I had that experience now I'm going to leave and go take over Amazon from Jeff Bezos or go do something else. So I just think, but I would hope that, particularly students of international relations, at some point, you will also be, even if you decide to become an academic, you will be a better academic if you spent at least one tour inside the government. It's always good to see how the sausage is being made if you're going to write about it.
Asked about the books, look, A World in Disarray, now the world's in greater disarray. I'm not sure what disarray squared is. But I think it's there. I think there's a chance for there to be something of a correction. And I think you'll see a revitalization of alliances, the United States getting back into some institutions, but, it's a big but, reducing the disarray significantly will be managing the U.S.–China relationship and the U.S.–Russia relationship, basically great-power issues. What I've been talking about a lot today, narrowing this gap between global challenges and global responses is critical. And we'll only be able to do all that if we get, among other things, COVID under control here at home. So I would simply say if there were a measure of disarray, there's more disarray now than it was four or five years ago when I wrote the book. The good news is though it's not anarchy, it's not chaos. It's just disarray. It's almost like in caps. If we were going to tweet about it, now we probably put it in caps. It's stronger, but disarray is less a switch than it's a dial. And I think there's an opportunity, a possibility of dialing it down to some extent. But just there's enormous structural challenges out there related to globalization and great-power competition that have to be dealt with if the disarray is going to be meaningfully reduced.
Both Disarray and The World are meant for courses on international relations. They're also meant for things like freshman seminars, for nonspecialists. I mean, they’re meant for things that only could be the one thing a nonspecialist reads. It couldn't be part of an introductory course. Neither are, per se, foreign policy books, but both have elements of foreign policy in them. I mean, they're both biased against isolationism. They're both biased against unilateralism. They both discuss foreign policy. So they can be used either as a backdrop to a foreign policy course or as kind of the bones of an international—particularly The World is meant for the bones of an international relations course. Indeed, Irina can get it to you, the teachers. We've done a syllabus based on The World and an entire course based upon using The World and using Foreign Affairs and then primary source of publicly available documents. It'd be the least expensive course ever taught on an American campus, I think. And the whole idea is, again, to make it accessible either as a basic international relations course or something as part of a larger curriculum dealing with IR and foreign policy combined. How's that Irina?
FASKIANOS: That was fantastic. Thank you, Richard. Obviously, I would not have been at the Council so long if I had off days with Richard. It has been a pleasure to work for him and with him as we have really mounted this education initiative and try to provide resources for all of you and your students. As Richard said, you can follow him on Twitter @RichardHaass. You can visit his book page at CFR.org/book/world. The syllabus is there, we can send you a free exam copy. And to all of you students, please go to CFR.org regularly for coverage of the latest issues. We also have ThinkGlobalHealth.org and ForeignAffairs.com. Richard has overseen Model Diplomacy, a national security course, a National Security Council simulation, as well as World101, which is an online fundamentals of foreign policy. So we hope that you'll go to all those resources and take advantage of them. So Dr. Haass, thank you very much for your commitment.
HAASS: Thank you all. Stay up stay healthy and safe out there everyone and have a wonderful Thanksgiving, which is coming up soon. Despite everything, still much to be thankful for.
FASKIANOS: Agreed. Thank you all. Stay safe.