CFR President Richard N. Haass and Deputy Director-General of the International Institute for Strategic Studies Kori Schake discuss A World in Disarray at the 2018 International Studies Association Annual Convention as part of CFR Campus.
CALDWELL: My name is Dan Caldwell. I’m a professor of political science at Pepperdine, Los Angeles. But I also work with the CFR Campus Program. And I wanted to tell you a little bit about that, because this lunch and the presentation this afternoon are really a result of the CFR Campus Program. And we have many, many resources that I think would be valuable to almost everyone in the room who teaches. And take a look at Model Diplomacy, at World101, at our conference call series, at the special reports that we have. And you can find all of these listed on the CFR website, which is www.CFR.org. And I think you’ll find a lot of outstanding things there.
One of the other educational resources that the Council provides are books, and then some study guides to go with those books. And so we’re going to be focusing on one of those outstanding books this afternoon. And I would really be negligent if I didn’t really thank the people who are responsible for the CFR Campus Program. Start with Vice President Irina Faskianos and her outstanding staff. So, Irina. (Cheers, applause.) And my friend, Richard Haass, who has been at the Council on Foreign Relations as president for 15 years, breaking all records for his previous employment I believe—right, Richard? (Laughter.)
HAASS: The Xi Jinping approach to the Council. (Laughter.)
CALDWELL: It’s either a comment on Richard or the Council. I’m not sure which. (Laughter.) But the CFR Campus Program would not exist without the strong support and the initiative of Richard, and so I think we all owe Richard a thanks for his very strong support over the last 15 years. (Applause.)
So this afternoon’s program is going to focus on Richard’s latest book. And we have given you at your seats some of the educational materials, discussion questions, as well as a link to a Vice News program that was based on Richard’s book. And I’ve used both these discussion questions, the book, as well as the Vice program in classes with really wonderful success. So I’d recommend you take a look at that.
Lastly, I want to introduce and thank Kori Schake for being here this afternoon to facilitate our discussion. Kori is current the deputy director-general at the Institute for Strategic Studies in London. She has a—international studies, sorry. Oh, International Institute. Sorry. You can mark my grade down half a point. (Laughter.) She has service in the State Department, the Defense Department, the National Security Council. And, Kori, we’re not focusing on your book this afternoon, but Kori has a new book out as of November entitled Safe Passages from Harvard University Press. So maybe next year we’ll focus on that, Kori.
So with that, let me turn this over to Kori Schake. (Applause.)
SCHAKE: So it is such a joy to be in a room with so many members of the Council on Foreign Relations today to all of us focus our sharp-shooting skills on Richard, which is what we’ve all been waiting for. (Laughter.) Richard Haass has been, as Dan said, our fearless leader in the Council on Foreign Relations for 15 years. And if we had as a group tried to genetically engineer the ideal director of the Council on Foreign Relations, we would come up with what we actually have, which is somebody who has worked in every major element of foreign policymaking in the United States.
He was a staffer for the Senate. He worked in the Pentagon. He worked in the State Department. He worked in the White House. He has written quite a number of trenchant and important books about American foreign policy. Moreover, he puts us all to shame by the titles he picks for them, which are so crisp and sharp, my favorite of which is Reluctant Sheriff. But—and so we are very fortunate to have Richard at the helm of our institution, and also today to be here to have an argument with all of us about A World in Disarray—both the book of that title that he chose and also the fact that we are a world in disarray right now.
So, Richard, I want to start by asking you talk a little bit about why you wrote this book different from other books you’ve written. It has a different feel to it, more accessible, more broad. Why did you do it this way?
HAASS: We call this the Passover question. Why is this book different from all others? (Laughter.) First of all, it’s great to be here. Thank you for braving the rain. And the reason I corrected Professor Caldwell on the way of where Kori works, I’m so old—as is Laurie Freeman—when we met 45 years ago—(laughter)—it was—it was then still the Institute for Strategic Studies. And only subsequently did it get the extra I. (Laughter.) That’s why we’re sensitive to the—but Laurie and I were both students of Alice Sterboken and Michael Howard back at Oxford. And he has been now for half a century, I think, one of the most creative, consistent, and depressingly prolific writers—
SCHAKE: Here, here.
HAASS: —in our field. So it’s great to see him, even though he can’t be a member of the Council on Foreign Relations by reason of citizenship.
Why did I write this book? And thanks for asking. I mean, the short answer is I was worried. And I think it’s just important to point out, lest we forget, history did not begin 15 months ago. This book was completely before the 45th president was elected, much less took office. I didn’t know. And when you run for president, you can choose just about anything you want. You can choose your running mate. You have a lot of control over your platform. You can choose what you say. You can even choose what you tweet. What you—what you can’t do is choose the inbox that greets you in late January when you—and so that’s what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about this inbox. And whoever was going to be the 45th president was going to be taking over and inheriting this inbox roughly a generation, 25 years or so, since the end of the Cold War.
And when the Cold War came to an end, I was at the White House working for George H.W. Bush, for 41. And an awful lot of optimism about new world order and the like. And when you looked at the—those 25 years, it was hard to argue that the state of the world, however you measured it, got better—with all due respect to Mr. Pinker and others. I find it very hard to argue that as a structure in the Hedley Bull sense of world order, that it was better. I thought just the opposite. So what I wanted to in some ways do is explain how we got from where—that position of some optimism to where we did arrive, why—where we were, why things did deteriorate, and what the new person needed to be aware of.
And then, since I worked in government a lot, as Kori pointed out, I never think it’s enough just to assess or criticize or be bleak. Then I wanted to lay out the elements of what I thought was a necessary approach to refashioning America’s approach to the world, because in part—again, whoever was going to be the 45th president in my view was taking over from a 43rd president who tried to do too much and overshot, and a 44th president who in many cases tried to do too little and undershot. And I was trying to come up with what I thought was an approach that made more sense, again, for the world he or she was going to inherit.
SCHAKE: One of the things I especially liked about the book is that it’s a book that people who are not experts on foreign policy, who don’t spend their days the way the people in this room spend our days, keeping really informed and having policy-relevant ideas about what to do about it. So I like that aspect of the book. I wonder if you could reflect—and I’m looking at you, Dan Drezner, author of The Ideas Industry—I wonder, Richard, if you could reflect a little bit about how elites and foreign policy have been talked about in the last two years of our political realm and where you think books like this one—which are serious and high-minded, but designed to be accessible—fit in this crucial time about expertise and what it means.
HAASS: Well, it’s an important question. And thank you for raising it, Kori. I think one of the lessons of the last couple years—and Donald Trump has reinforced it, but again many of these things were in train beforehand if you look back at the campaign and—is that there’s fewer givens about this, speaking about the United States, this country’s relationship with the world. We don’t cover it in terms of media as thoroughly or thoughtfully as we once did. We don’t teach it very well.
And that’s not a criticism of many of the people in this room, but you can graduate from just about any institution in this country and manage to know nothing about the world if you navigate your course requirements in a creative way. Virtually every quality institution in this country that has offering that if students avail themselves of them they would emerge with some of the fundamental understanding that would serve them well, be it as a citizen, as someone who could work in these fields, be globally competitive economically and so forth. But the fact is, most students don’t take advantage of those offerings and are not required to. Distribution requirements, shall we say, are a little bit too flexible.
But the result is that we are graduating a lot of people who I would say are functionally globally illiterate. And they’re also illiterate in other fields, so don’t feel special. (Laughter, applause.) Just as true is civics and other things. And so my sense is that we now have to operate—and by we, I mean in particular all us here—almost at multiple levels. I think there continues to be a need for an elite conversation. And I’m not uncomfortable with that world. I was born in Brooklyn, I worked hard, and I wanted to become a member of the elite. And I think we need to have an elite conversation about—which can assume certain things about American foreign policy and knowledge about the world. But one of the lessons—whether it’s the Brexit vote, not just in our country, or what was said about TPP. And the only thing Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump agreed on was their opposition to TPP.
What I think we also have to have is a broader debate and conversation about American foreign policy that brings more Americans in. And to have that larger conversation, you can’t assume as much. You can’t talk in jargon. You can’t assume all sorts of historical familiarity. But you’ve got to go back to basics. Intellectually, by the way, I find this exciting. This is—again, at the risk of dating myself—my first decade or two in this field, in the ’70s and ’80s, so much was spent doing things like thinking about INF agreements and how many warheads on how many launchers. And that was about an eighth-order conversation. This is first-order stuff. What ought to be the structure of the international system? What are the responsibilities of various actors in the system? How do we account for the fact that many of the actors are not states? How do we account for the fact that institutions created 70 years ago are no longer adequate to deal with the stresses and challenges they’re—that they’re facing?
So this is a—this is a first-order—intellectually, this is as rich of a moment as any of us could hope for. The bad news is, it’s as rich of a moment as many of us should be worried about, because there’s a sense that history is happening, that very little is now locked in or certain. So for me, I think it forces someone like me—and I think many of us in this room—almost to operate at two levels. So you continue—and I see Gideon Rose here—we continue to have the insider debate to some extent in places like Foreign Affairs and so forth. But we also need to have a larger conversation. So when I wrote the first third of this book, I assumed that people had never taken a post-17th century history course. Didn’t understand any of the basis or the mechanics of how international relations happened, how they worked, and so forth. And forward—just as an aside—my next two books are both going to be primers. One about what you need to know about the world, which is essentially an introduction to national relations, but at a level of people who are flute majors or computer majors, not IR majors.
I’m not worried about IR majors. By self-selection they’re already largely there, and they’re in very good hands, looking around this room. I’m worried about people who are not IR majors. And the other book I’ll write will be an introduction to foreign policy. Again, I’m interested in the 99.9 percent of American students who if they go to four-year schools are not IR majors. And I’m interested in the, what is it, the 60 or 70 percent, I think it is, of Americans who don’t go to—who don’t graduate from four-year schools. And how do we get them up to speed as citizens, so they can make informed decisions, so they can hold their elected representatives accountable. That is increasingly our challenge. And just to tie it together to what Professor Caldwell began, that’s the motivation for what Irina, Caroline Netchvolodoff, and others are doing at the Council. That is why this nearly 100-year-old elite institution has basically decided: We’re going to roll up our sleeves and try to be a resource for high school students, for college and university students, for lifelong learners, to get them up to speech about this country’s relationship with the world.
SCHAKE: So one of my favorite cartoons about this crisis of the humanity—the crisis of knowledge about the world. In the first frame of the cartoon it shows a scientist in a lab. And it says: Science can show you how to replicate the dinosaurs. And in the second frame of the cartoon it shows that scientist being chased by a dinosaur. And the caption is: Social sciences can tell you why that might not be a good idea. (Laughter.) And—
HAASS: They can probably quantify why it’s not a good idea.
SCHAKE: (Laughs.) What I noticed when I was teaching at Stanford is that the combined effects of the excitement of the science and engineering of the information age revolution, coupled with the long shadow of the 2008 financial crisis, is causing students to choose what they view as much more practical, and therefore less broad, less general, foci of study.
HAASS: Absolutely. I wasn’t going to pick on Stanford, but since you raised it I will. (Laughter.) The origin of this entire project was with a Stanford computer sciences major. We were fishing one day off of Nantucket—I’m not a fisherman. I just happened to be that day. And he told me what he was. And he was about to be a senior. And I said, that’s interesting. Well, besides your computer stuff, how many economics courses have you had? And he said, none. And I thought, well, OK. Well, then, how many courses about international subjects have you had? None. And it went on through the curriculum. And that’s where this began.
And I said, yes, it’s great that talented—the most talented young people are computer literate and can code. But they’ve got to—we need—as a society, we need to know—and would-be employers need to know that people have other fundamental skillsets and have been exposed, again, whether it’s civics or international issues or so forth. So that’s what—that’s what got me going on this. So thank you, Stanford.
SCHAKE: The area—(laughter)—the area of American foreign policy that is most obdurately uninformed by either economics or foreign policy seems to be trade policy. As you mentioned—
HAASS: Whatever gave you that idea, Kori? (Laughter.)
SCHAKE: As you mentioned, the failure of both political parties across a decade to make the case to Americans about how the economy’s changing and what role trade plays in that. Talk a little bit about how you dealt with that in the book, because I really liked that section.
HAASS: I think you’re right. And I think it shows—it’s an example of the law of intensity in politics, that those who perceive themselves as having lost out because of a certain phenomenon feel it with an intensity that those who benefit broadly from a certain phenomena do not. And in virtually—in many debates, whether it’s the entitlement debate, the gun control debate, the trade debate—those who perceive themselves as having a lot at stake, even though their numbers may be smaller, because they bring to their political action a great degree of intensity, will outweigh much larger numbers.
So those who believe the argument that they lost their job because of trade-related—you know, trade competition, particularly unfair competition—and some of them may well have—that they have a far outsized voice, as opposed to the many more numerically who have benefitted from free trade. We have benefitted economically from consumer choice, from lower prices, lower inflation, those who benefit from the export-oriented jobs. But a lot of those do not bring to the political marketplace equivalent intensity. So it’s very hard. Also, there’s the reality that a lot of the—particularly in more recent years—a lot of the jobs lost have more to do with productivity improvements, technology introductions. And by the way, that situation’s only going to get worse.
Just as an aside and a pitch for ourselves, next week we’re publishing our next task force about the future of new technologies—AI, robotics, autonomous vehicles—and its implications for American society, the economy, and national security, led by Penny Pritzker and John Engler, and has a whole set of proposals about how to—about education and training, consequences about things like what we need to do in the area of portability and safety net, what we need to do to reduce licensing and credentialing requirements since mobility in this country has really diminished significantly in recent decades. So it’s actually a really rich piece of work about this—what I think will be a growing and lasting issue.
And, look, it’s only—it’s come to a head—again, it was a problem before this administration. But it came to a head. I think the—you know, the president’s inaugural used the word “protectionism.” America first and the like is part and parcel of that. One of the first official acts of the 45th president was to take the United States out of the TPP process, despite what I would argue were both its strategic and its economic promise. Look, I spoke—and as well I spoke to candidate Trump during the campaign. And I knew him from years before as well. And this is something that he just believes 100 percent, that over the decades America’s trading relationship have been to our detriment. He doesn’t see the strategic or economic upside. He perceives the intense downside.
And what we’re seeing played out, as we sit here today and as we’ve seen the last couple of days, are what he believes is necessary in order to deal with it. And I think it’s wrong. And we could have a long conversation, which we won’t, about why I don’t think the approaches are sound. And, you know, don’t get me wrong, it’s not as though China hasn’t gamed the system in certain ways. It has. And I think it raises questions about the trajectory of China’s WTO membership, and whether it was too generous either at the beginning or along the way. It wasn’t disciplined enough. And that’s fair enough. But one could buy into that analysis in hindsight, or even at the time if you were prescient. It doesn’t make—it doesn’t argue for what it is we’re doing. It’s not going to reclaim lost intellectual property. It’s not going to insulate us from the effects of lost access to markets. It’s not going to shield us if China decides to slow the rate at which it purchases American debt.
So but I do think—this is one of the areas—I mean, I think immigration policy’s another. It’s been very hard to make the case—it’s not a one-sided argument, but it’s a net argument. And I think we’ve got do better at educating so people understand the upside as well as the downside. And then as a public policy person, there have got to be prescriptive policies for helping those who have reason to be resentful, because indeed their situation has worsened because of, in this case, trading.
SCHAKE: One of my very favorite parts of the book is where you talk about kind of the turbulence that the World in Disarray is becoming more volatile, and that American policy choices are in fact increasing that volatility. I love the way you talk in the book about the value of stability, especially from the U.S. as the hegemon. Can you talk a little bit about the opportunity costs of the approach of kind of countercyclical policies that are accelerating the disarray?
HAASS: Sure. Like, when you look at the last 70 years, I would say the United States has done pretty well for the most part in terms of, you know, how it has benefitted from the general direction of history. Just as an aside, the three—what I would argue are the three biggest foreign policy mistakes—but, take a step back, try to be more careful. Mr. Trump’s other deeply held view is that the costs and burdens of American leadership are far greater than the benefits. Again, I don’t think that’s true. But what’s interesting is the three most expensive, and I believe flawed pieces of American foreign policy over the last 70 years, were all self-initiated. One was the decision in Korea to go north of the 38th parallel after South Korea was liberated. Secondly, was Vietnam. And third was the 2003 Iraq War.
None of those were the result of alliance obligations in any strict sense. All those, again, were—to use a—to go back to another book of mine, Wars of Choice.
SCHAKE: Wars of Choice.
HAASS: Yes. And they all—they all were—and they all were, and history, I believe, has already said so and will continue to say so, were ill-advised strategic decisions. That is just what they are. The—and I think what this shows is that acts of commission can get us into trouble. I think to some extent the Obama years also show some of the dangers of acts of omission. And the Middle East, in many ways, suffers from both—both from some of the choices of the 43rd president and 44th president. Mr. Obama was a combination of acts of commission that were flawed—I would argue things like Libya, going in—and then not following up. He had it coming and going in the Middle East.
But to take a step back, when you look at the world—and one of the reasons the—if this is not responsive, interrupt me, Kori—but the 45th president was going to inherit such a tough inbox was that you had all sorts of things coming together at once. You had all sorts of entities in the world suddenly having access to all sorts of power—state and nonstate groups, the al-Qaidas, the ISISes and others, but also as we see now North Korea, Iran, other countries with power. You had a revival of great power rivalry, most pronounced with Russia, but also with China. You had the failure of post-World War II institutions to keep pace with challenges. Globalization was winning the race between global—between the challenges of globalization and global arrangements. So you had all of these things.
And then you had a United States in particular that had grown somewhat wary or weary, choose your word, of global leadership, and particularly after Iraq and Afghanistan. I think intervention fatigue was a—and is a real reality. And coming back to your systemic comment, one of the lessons of history is international systems that are not self-regulating. But if one were studying—if science were required in school, they would learn about entropy. And international systems essentially are prone to disorder if left on their own. The closest petri dish we have of that is the Middle East in many ways.
So that is where—you know, that, I think, is where—so what we’ve seen at every level, at the global level where arrangements haven’t kept pace, at the regional level particularly in the Middle East but also to some extent in Europe and Asia, at the great power level. And we can argue—have a conversation about how things came to that pass. And then lastly, a United States that is increasingly in disarray, for the reasons we talked about. A lack of political and intellectual consensus about America’s role in the world, its relationship with the world. Add to that a level of political dysfunction, which is a euphemism for Washington. (Laughter.) And it’s no—it’s no secret that we are where we are.
I mean, quite honestly, it’s worse than I thought it would be. But the basic—the basic arrows were out there. This was going to be a difficult phase of history, of tremendous adjustment, no matter what. And I believe the United States has accelerated or intensified that. But it was going to be difficult for these structural reasons regardless. And now—we’ve now added to it.
SCHAKE: So my last question, before throwing the floor open to the membership—is—so start to get your questions ready, my friends. My last question is, of all of the areas of potential conflict, the big problems that you see the nation facing for reasons structural and also simply events, what’s the one that worries you most that we’re going to get wrong? (Laughter.)
HAASS: It’s like being asked which of your children you love most. (Laughter.) There’s so—it’s so difficult to choose. Let me answer it two ways. Sorry. One is the obvious things. And I would say on the current plate, you know, if I was looking at it through the prism of U.S. foreign policy, and we were talking about at our table here, I worry a lot about the Middle East and about Iran. I actually think as difficult as the North Korea issue is—and we can talk about it—for all the obvious reasons, there is an element of constraint because you’ve got a North Korea which has some level of nuclear capabilities and some level of long-range missile capabilities. Bit of uncertainty, but they obviously have elements of both. You’ve got Russia and China involved. You’ve got Japan and South Korea obviously intimately involved. All these other players, I believe, introduce an element of caution. It may not be determinate. I’m not saying that. This administration’s been described many ways. Cautious may not be among them. It introduces an element of cautious given the players and the capabilities that could be brought to bear.
The situation in the Middle East, particularly involving Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, to some extent Turkey and others, I see far fewer brakes. There’s not—because even though have a degree of—you know, China’s not involved. Europe’s not involved. Even Russian involvement is relatively modest and more limited, focused on Syria. So what you have here is a medium power, Iran, with several other—another medium—I guess you could say Israel for sure, Turkey we could argue what it is, Saudi Arabia whatever it is, and the United States. But the potential for miscalculation, I would think, is much greater there. So I actually worry. In fact, I worry a lot. You know, it’s what you expect from a guy who writes books with words like “disarray” in the title.
But I worry—if you were going to give me a kind of handicapping for the next year, I would put that high on the list. Bless you. The other thing that worries me in the specific short run is still the India-Pakistani relationship. I’ve always felt this was in some ways one of the least structured nuclear—not just nuclear, but medium-power relationships in the world. There’s very little going on between them that’s good. So that seems to me—it’s been going on that way for so long that we tend to discount it, part of the woodwork. But Pakistan in particular—the potential for there to be a terrorist attack in India, and response, and then Katie bar the door, I think is a lot more than the—than the world tends to acknowledge.
The other set of issues that give me pause are issues that are—they’re not seen as immediate, so there’s not urgency. And when there’s not urgency, there tends not to be action. And then what happens is you wait until the point that they become urgent. The problem is, by the time they become urgent it’s too late to do a lot about them. And any conceivably good choice that might have existed has evaporated. And I would put climate change in that—in that bucket. I would put issues like dealing with American debt in that—in that bucket. So I don’t know if you want to call it strategic complacency or whatever phase you want to use, but I worry that there’s—it’s almost like demography.
You can see—it’s like supertankers. You can see these things, where they are, and where they’re going. And the problem is, like a supertanker, you can’t turn it on a dime. And the problem is, we can see these long-term problems—and they’re enormous in their consequence. But we’re not reacting, as if we could turn on a dime if and when they suddenly become immediate or urgent. I don’t think we’re going to have those options. But whatever options we have are going to be wildly unattractive. Not that they’re great now, but, boy, we’re going to look back with regret on what we didn’t do when we had some time to do it. So that worries me.
SCHAKE: The one in that category that keeps me up at night is the possibility that we are so aggressive in our use of secondary sanctions because of the prominence of the dollar in international trade that we are actually incentivizing the creation of a SWIFT network that excludes—that isn’t dollar-based, or the risks of creation of an international financial system in which the dollar is not at the core.
HAASS: I think—again, with Dan here, I’m a little bit—I’ll be careful, because he knows more about—he’s forgotten more about this than I know. But, look, I think people either don’t understand or take for granted the dollar’s role, and what advantages that confers upon us. I mean, imagine we had our debt situation and the dollar were not the reserve currency? It’s different.
HAASS: And so I don’t know. But my guess is—I don’t—it’s a question of when and not if we move to a world that is not as dollar dominant. And what I don’t know is exactly what we shift to, whether it’s some version of, you know, the bitcoins in the world or Chinese currencies, some combination. And what I—and more important, in some ways, than what we transition to, is how we transition, whether it’s orderly or not. But my own hunch is we’re sowing the seeds of it by not thinking it through. I think even years ago, when we—I mean—I mean, what Nixon did, back when he took dollar and moved—he separated dollar and gold had an impact. I think when we did some of the quantitative easing for domestic purposes, and we weren’t necessarily thinking about the international repercussions of it.
We can’t just manage the dollar—and the issues you’re talking about, for sanctions—as if it were only an American preoccupation. It’s something that has global—everyone has—is affected by it. So we’ve got to have a larger approach to managing the—of consultations, at least, if others are not going to think much more about bringing about alternatives. And I don’t think we’ve approached the management of the dollar in a sufficiently consultative, shall we say, way.
SCHAKE: So, my friends, it is now my delight to invite you into conversation with Richard. Won’t you please fire your questions at him. I will choose people. I should remind you, however, something I neglected to do at the start of this, which is that Richard has been on the record all this time and will be on the record.
HAASS: Who knew? (Laughter.)
SCHAKE: Will be on the record for the Q&A as well. OK.
HAASS: It’s funny, you know, when you’re in government you’re always careful about going off the record, and all that. When you’re out of government, you speak on the record all the time but nobody cares. (Laughter.)
SCHAKE: OK. First question. Yeah. Please state your name and your affiliation.
Q: Thank you. I’m—oh, thank you. Jennifer Brinkerhoff, Elliot School of International Affairs, George Washington University.
You alluded a little bit in one of your kind of flippant remarks that Washington was the problem with dysfunctions. I would love to hear from you: How can Washington be a solution, especially at a time when the State Department is being gutted and we’re really worried about not just today but the next generation? Thank you.
HAASS: First of all, I have banned from any of the fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations the use of the word “solution.” Very little gets solved. If you’re really, really good, and really, really lucky, you manage well. You don’t solve a lot.
Second of all, when it comes to foreign policy, I think we have to accept that most—if this were The Federalist Papers, you would basically say most of the energy and initiative lie with the executive. It’s not a level playing field when it comes to the design and conduct of American foreign policy. And actually, over the years I’ve argued for that. I’ve not just made the analytical case, I’ve made the prescriptive case for that. It’s harder when you disagree with the foreign policies in the executive branch to do that.
But in any case, the system is biased. And it’s both through the vagueness of the Constitution and the—and the practice and the precedent that have built up about the use of military force, what we’re—and also, Congress has granted tremendous authorities to the executive branch. Again, we have a workshop later today with tariffs and so forth. There’s tremendous discretion. Now, Congress has now added to it—it’s interesting. All that’s gone on recently or could go on about Iran and about North Korea, about trade, I don’t see a lot of hearings about it.
To me, one of the most powerful things that Congress does is not just legislation, it’s hearings. My first experience in Washington was the summer of ’74. And Fulbright was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And the hearings he did about Vietnam, turning the Senate Foreign Relations Committee into a classroom about the war, was a powerful educational and political instrument in shape—getting people more aware of the flaws, contradictions, questions about our polices. I don’t see people doing that. So, to me, that’s a—if you will—as H.R. McMaster might put it, a dereliction of duty. And what’s going on.
I’m less worried about the State Department, because I have real confidence that the new secretary of state—assuming, as I do, Mr. Pompeo will be readily confirmed—he understands—if you watched what he did at the CIA, and how he brought back retired CIA professionals and introduced certain traditions—reintroduced certain traditions there, I am confident he will do similar things at the State Department. It will take time, because Mr. Tillerson’s legacy will be unfortunate and a lasting one. But we can—that’s is—that is recoverable. But by and large, I don’t think that public opinion or Congress can preclude the administration—any administration from doing a lot.
They could do more things. They could pass AUMs about uses of military force. If they wanted to pass prohibitions it would be an interesting test against what John Bolton argued recently in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. John Bolton confused and conflated the use of military force in a preventive mode and a preemptive mode. But if the administration—if Congress wanted to say: You cannot use military force in a preventive mode against a gathering threat, allowed the administration the option, as it should, to use military force against an imminent threat or in a preemptive mode, that would be an interesting test case. I don’t see anybody moving in that direction.
So I don’t think—I mean, when I wrote the afterward for the paperback of this book, and I looked at all this, and I basically asked the question: What could do—who could do more to reign in, I thought, an errant administration? Congress is the most likely candidate, but essentially—particularly under Republican leadership—I said, we’re not—we’re not going to do it. We’re just not going to get to the table. I think mayors and governors can do something in certain areas, like climate. The United States may actually come interestingly close to meeting its Paris obligations by being—even though it’s an outsider. That’s really interesting. What mayors, governors, firms are doing, what the state is doing.
So in—but, you know, California can’t, probably, have its own North Korea policy—(laughter)—or its own Iran policy. So in certain areas, states, firms, and so forth can make a real difference. But I think in some of the meat and potatoes of foreign policy, administrations and presidents still have enormous discretion.
SCHAKE: Peter, next up.
Q: Thank you. Peter Schwartz from Salesforce.
I want to go to the world order question. If we go back to the 1930s, we were a world of interest and alliances and conflict. We built the system of institutions and laws that preserved peace and prosperity for half a century. Now that’s breaking down. One of your colleagues has just written a book, just published, Madeline Albright, Fascism: A Warning. So I’d like you to speculate on two scenarios. What’s the scenario for reestablishing a world of laws and institutions? And what’s the scenario where Madeline is right, and we ought to be concerned that fascism actually is a real threat?
HAASS: Well, I’ll take the second one first. I think fascism is a bit strong, but I think illiberalism, as Fareed Zakaria would put it, or, you know, others have written, you know, about the democratic—the issue of Foreign Affairs that’s coming out in a couple of days is about just this, that we’re seeing it in many—the most obvious is China, Russia, Turkey, Philippines, several Eastern European countries, and, sad to say, our own. We’re seeing various degrees of illiberalism pushing against independent institutions.
But that, seems to me, less—how do I put it—I think—I can imagine pushback in various domestic situations, including around—I think there’s some particular challenges. I think social media, which some people originally welcomed as a boon for democratic societies, in many cases has been more of a bust. It’s harder to form community now in our society. We have narrow-casting rather than broad. All these things. I think it’s become tough. But I—so I think it’ll be uneven around the world. In places in Latin America it’s still moving in the right direction—places like Argentina, parts of Africa it’s moving in the right.
So my hunch is it’s—all things being equal, if you add it all up, yes, there’s been something of a correction in the degree of global liberalness. And the liberal world order is not as liberal as it was. But I think there it’ll be more cyclical. Globally, I’m more worried about the system. I am more worried about systemic changes which are not easily reversed, and that’s for all the reasons I mentioned, all this capacity and lots of hands, the failure of institutions to keep up, and take cyber. It’s virtually—it’s the Wild West out there. The arrival of great power competition. American now reticence to play a leading role. We see the breakdown of order in the Middle East. We’ve got real challenge coming up obviously in South Asia and East Asia. We’ve got the Venezuela—you know, Venezuela’s, what, losing about 100,000 people a month in terms of refugees. One out of every hundred persons in the world is either internally displaced or a refugee now.
So I worry more there about the ability to reassert—and I worry about just the capacity issue. Also, there’s not a consensus. I worry about the lack of intellectual consensus. I mean, the one part of the book Kori didn’t mention is—and now it looks idealistic, and I didn’t think it was idealistic when I wrote it, which is sad. But I thought it was just real—I thought it was realism for modern times. I thought it was realism for the age of globalization, that we need an approach to international order that isn’t just about sovereign rights, but it’s about sovereign obligations. How do I deal with things in my own territory that can cause harm to others? And my incentive for doing it is I don’t want things going in in their territory that could cause harm to me—terrorists, hackers, infectious disease outbreaks, proliferation, whatever.
So we actually need to use—to use 19th century language—we need elements of a concert. We need elements. We need greater international cohesion and consensus. And we actually have less. And that’s what worries me. Reversing that, particularly in an age of populism, nationalism, all this, that’s my reason for structural pessimism.
SCHAKE: I do think one of the really important questions of our time is whether liberal order is sustainable without a hegemon, and in particular without America as an active proponent of that.
HAASS: Well, there’s no one else who—it takes a liberal hegemon with liberal partners. And there’s no other would-be liberal hegemon. I’m not really sure there’s an alternative hegemon. I actually think—one of the other words I never use is “superpower.” I think that suggests a degree of not just concentrated power, but the ability to translate that kind of power into a systemic influence. And if I’m right, we’ve entered an era of history where no—there’s not going to be a hegemon of that scale. It’s going to be a—again, a messier world. And I would have used that word in my title, but you can’t get people like you to assign books with the word “messy” in it, because it’s not—(laughter)—it’s not intellectually elegant, so.
SCHAKE: Next question.
Q: Thank you, Dr. Haass. My name is Banafsheh Keynoush. I am a geopolitical consultant. And I happen to have a book on Iran and Saudi Arabia.
My question is, if we’ve reached a point where we can rationalize and indeed implement an engagement with North Korea, how can we foresee a role for ourselves where we can also equally rationalize and implement and engagement with Iran, regardless of the nature of the regime there, because that engagement is called for and required? Thank you.
HAASS: Well, the answer is we did. The JCPOA was one manifestation of it. I was heavily involved with Iran in my last government job. After 9/11 one of the hats I was given—President Bush 43 asked me to be the U.S. coordinator for the future of Afghanistan. And I spent many months, no pun intended, cobbling together—but not bad—(laughter)—
SCHAKE: (Laughs.) Boo.
HAASS: Bu-dum-dum. Hey, you got to bring the Catskills here every once in a while. (Laughter.) A government in Iraq, including their foreign minister played a very helpful role in that process. Look, so I think the possibilities are there, despite the nature of this regime, which is an extraordinarily complicated regime too, because you really have to use plural when you describe governmental authorities. It is also, I believe—I mean, some of those authorities are imperial in their ambitions. I do not believe that Iran in some ways is a status quo or content power.
Look, I would—I mean, I was quite critical of the JCPOA as negotiated. That said, it’s the only nuclear agreement we’ve got. I would accept that, but to try to negotiate—first working with the Europeans and then expanding it—a follow-on agreement. Then I would approach Iran on that, from a position of some degree of consensus. I would try to find ways to push back against Iran regionally. I would have a dialogue with Iran about any of these—I’d be talking to Iran about Yemen. I’d be talking to Iran about Afghanistan. I never—I never thought that diplomacy was somehow a favor you bestow on others, that this is a gift that you have to earn.
HAASS: Why isn’t it a tool of national security? Why aren’t we talking to Iran? Again, it’s not a gift. We advance our—it’s one of the ways we advance our interests as best we—the idea that we’re willing to talk to North Korea but not Iran, explain to me the thinking behind that. And what I think makes it so interesting—and I’m not an expert in this. Now I’ve said more than I know. But given the political dynamics within Iran, why would we want to introduce a confrontational moment with Iran that would potentially get in the way of this dynamic beginning to pay itself out? I believe that what happened in Iran was really interesting. And I see someone here about China. I see my friend (mentioned ?) here.
But I actually thought, if I were a Chinese leader watching what was going on in Iran, that would have made me nervous. Because that wasn’t—the Green Revolution was more like an Iranian Tiananmen Square. What happened several months ago in Iran was much more of a systemic threat, and a systemic challenge. And if I were China, that would be what would worry me about China. And it might be that it did worry them. And it might be one of the many kind of calculations that led to where we are in China. But I would do nothing now that would interfere with this dynamic beginning to gain some foothold in Iran.
So I would talk with anyone. And it doesn’t—and if had to find ways of pushing back against Iran with sanctions or other tools, so be it. But the idea that we would have a nondiplomat—that our foreign policy towards this country would not include diplomacy, I just don’t understand.
SCHAKE: Just one additional thing. The more Iran is isolated, the more that assists the government of Iran in controlling access. So a little bit of economic opportunity, assisting IRGC and the government in power, a lot of it reduces that.
HAASS: I agree. I think that’s—it’s a good—I mean, I’ve written about sanctions, and as have others. But the political and economic sanctions, the unintended consequences part, and whether you give regimes too much of a sway over the political and economic marketplace if you shut things down, I don’t think that issue has received enough attention.
SCHAKE: Next up.
Q: Thank you. My name is Bruce Parrott. I’m from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Thank you for a very thought-provoking presentation and for explaining the enlarged role of the Council on Foreign Relations. I think this emphasis on outreach is extremely important.
HAASS: Thank you.
Q: The question I have goes back to your Stanford computer science major. If you had asked that person, how many courses in American history or American literature have you had, I’d venture to guess the answer would also have been none. But to really understand our relations with the outside world, we have to understand ourselves. And that seems to me—it may not be the precise role of the International Studies Association but understanding the interaction between our images of the outside world and the outside world’s images of us is extremely important.
HAASS: Well, I think that—you know, you said it more elegantly and eloquently than I could. Richard Pipes years ago wrote a book about the Soviet Union. And he wrote about political culture. And I can’t remember the exact name, but political culture’s a powerful thing—whether it’s understanding our own, understanding how others perceive it to be, or understanding the political culture of others. So I’m with you entirely. And, you know, look, I went to Oberlin. I’m an old—I’m a believer in liberal arts education. Where I part ways with the Oberlins and others is I actually believe there ought to be a core curriculum, in part to ensure that young men and women—that we know that they would be exposed to, you know, basics with civics and basic about the world. You know, so they’re globally literate. Yes, they need some basics with, you know, critical thinking and writing and science and computers, no doubt. Obviously about history, economics.
But that, to me, is—you know, I believe in that. And I think that it ought to—I don’t think we ought to leave it up to great books. I’m not a believer that St. Johns has the answer. But I do believe there is a case for an undergraduate core curriculum. You know, again, whether it’s to fulfill citizenship, to understand the world for the reasons you said. And I actually think that’s a challenge to a lot of campuses, because we bestow these degrees. And in many cases, I don’t think—and I think I’d actually go farther. At the risk of losing half of you in this room, I think colleges and universities ought to say: Look, this may not be for everybody. But we believe this is what is required. And there’s still a bit of flexibility, but this is a—maybe not 100 percent of your undergraduates. Maybe it’s 30 percent or whatever it is of your undergraduate experience. But we believe that you need to be exposed to this even if you’re not—even if you don’t. But if you don’t, and you really feel strongly about it, this might not be the best campus for you. I think schools should—many more schools should be willing to do that.
SCHAKE: Next up.
Q: My name is Anita Weiss.
HAASS: You may wait for the microphone.
Q: Oh, I’m a professor. I don’t need a microphone. (Laughter, applause.) Anyhow, Anita Weiss, University of Oregon. I am a sociologist with an expertise on Pakistan.
And I appreciated your comments before about the importance and really overlooking that a lot of people give to the Pakistan-India conflict. But I was surprised that you skirted—you’ve skirted over the issue a lot of China and China’s role. And China—I mean, you kind of vaguely referred to it. And people have sort of been asking it. But, I mean, the influence of China on India and Pakistan, the influence of China even on Iran with those gas pipelines. And so I’m wondering in this whole scenario that you’re seeing—and you were saying we’re entering into an arena where the world has no hegemon. But I’m wondering, do you really believe that? Or are we entering into a—I know so many people from Pakistan who are studying abroad now in China in ways that they used to study in the U.S. So I’m just wondering, do you not see China injecting itself into that position and emerging as that? Or what role do you see China playing in what we’re moving into?
HAASS: There’s several China scholars in this room, so I shall be uncharacteristically modest. (Laughter.) I see—look, I see China being more—having more power. And I see China translating that power into greater influence and activism. That doesn’t translate into hegemony. China can’t be a hegemon for multiple reasons. One is the system will push back. I don’t believe anyone can be. Second of all, China cares most not about its external behavior, it cares most about maintaining the authority of the Communist Party and domestic audiences. Most Chinese I know do not take for granted the cohesion and integrity of the country, territorially or politically. And all else will have to serve that. I do not believe in certain ways Chinese doctrine, historical precedents are consistent with what would be a 21st century hegemon.
I also think, and I agree with people like Ken Rogoff and others, that a lot of outsiders looking at China underestimate some of China’s own challenges. Shall we—shall we—I don’t think Xi Jinping does, which is why he did what he did. But I think outsiders do. So I—and I watch what China’s doing geoeconomically with One Belt, One Road. And I understand—so China is going to become—is going to have a larger footprint. But I still think there’s limits because of the nature of some other countries. In Japan, look at all the countries with which China has issues, shall we say—India. India basically said: You can take your One Belt, One Road somewhere else, thank you very much. You’re not bringing it here. So India is very comfortable pushing back against China.
I think the biggest question to some extent is what we do in Asia. And it gets at the question of how long is Mr. Trump—is it four year, eight year—whether his successor isn’t somewhat more—reverts to the elements, say, of the pivot of the Asia, and so forth—you know, I just don’t know—maintains the American alliance structure, and so forth. But, so, no, I think China will be one of the major powers of the 21st century, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t find words like “superpower” or “hegemon” to be helpful.
SCHAKE: The great Dan Drezner.
HAASS: Increasingly a star of Morning Joe. (Laughter.)
Q: Hi. I’m Dan Drezner. I’m a star of Morning Joe. (Laughter.) I also teach at Tufts University. (Laughter.)
Richard, you talked before about the notion that you have faith in elites, that you wanted to be an elite, you know, in that sense. And to some extent, let’s face it, if you’re in this room you probably qualify into that category. But you can also argue that part of the reason the United States is where it is now is because of an increasing distrust of elites for a variety of miscues, which would include, by the way, foreign policy. As you say, Iraq is one of the three biggest, you know, mistakes. Libya certainly did not go well. I hear there was a financial crisis 10 years ago. My question is, what is that you think that CFR can do to restore the kind of trust that I think was—has dissipated in this country in foreign policy elites?
SCHAKE: Slow and over the plate, Richard. Take a swing. (Laughter.)
HAASS: I’m not so sure of that. You think it’s slow and over the plate, but at the last minute—
Q: It’s a slider.
HAASS: It’s a slider.
SCHAKE: It’s got a great—it’s got a great kick.
HAASS: It’s a slider. Well, look, I think, again, we’ve got to operate in multiple time horizons at multiple levels. So there’s no—again, I won’t use the word solution. But I think we can help. We do it in several ways. One is by the training of talent. We probably had—something several of you should think about—you know, the, what, 500-600 international affairs fellows over the years who have come through the Council. It’s a great way for government people to get some time out. But more important, people who have never served in government to get an experience in. It’s a great way to—so it’s a way of training. Many people who—including several people working in this administration, many who have worked in previous ones, were fellows at the Council. You get intellectually trained, kind of the old Kissinger cliché, you build up your intellectual capital, you get in. Hopefully you’re better, you’re more considered, your judgement’s more tempered as a result.
The magazine that Gideon Rose and his colleagues produce, seems to me, is set apart as accessible, smart conversation about America’s role in the world, about the nature of the world. What we’re doing with the whole educational initiative is training a next generation of people. You—the reason people like me write the book—kind of books I do, the reason people like you write the kind of books you do, and several other people in this room, is you want to have a serious, informed conversation. So part of it’s stylistically. I think you admit where you’ve made mistakes. And I think you’ve got to fess up. And that’s why I said what I said about Korea going north of the 38th, about Vietnam, about Iraq 2003. I think you’ve got to explain a lot more. I think we’ve got to assert less and explain more about—can’t just say protectionism’s bad, isolationism’s bad, unilateralism’s bad. I think we’ve lost the right to do that.
I think what we’ve now got to do is take people along with us. We got to make the case. Don’t assume it. Make it. And if it’s that strong of an argument, then subject it to that kind of conversation, to that kind of—I think we’ve got to take what we’ve got out into a larger form, and not just talk to ourselves. I mean, the Council’s only 5,000 members. So that leaves about 320 million people, plus or minus. (Laughter.) So let’s not kid ourselves. We have to got to have a larger conversation on terms that others can participate in the conversation. And I think, you know, a really honest analysis—look, it takes—it’s a question of tone sometimes. Of style. It’s making things accessible. It’s making them interesting. And I think it’s something you gradually earn it—you earn it back.
So it’s not going to be a quick thing. But I think you—we’ve got to chip at it. And it’s the reason, by the way, I’m trying to expand the amount of work we do that deals with, quote-unquote, domestic issues so people see the relevance, whether it’s this work thing or we had a task force on the quality of K-12 education that Joel Klein and Condi Rice ran. It’s making the—why this matters. I think you got to first hook people on why it matters, and then once they know the why it matters and why it’s relevant to them, then I think you can also help explain the issue. And you’ve got to do it in a way, quite honestly, that’s not loaded.
I don’t think we can ever cook the books in the arguments. I think we’ve got to make clear what the stakes are, what’s the full array of choices, what we see as the pros and cons. It’s one of the reasons we put out so much stuff that doesn’t have recommendations. But we put out a lot of stuff that’s simply educational. It’s almost like: Here’s the issue. Here’s the stakes. Here’s the choices. Here’s the considerations. OK, now you take over from here. It’s not that we’ve got all the answers.
I think it’s—so I think it’s that kind of stuff. And I think gradually you can—you can do it. But I think we’ve dug ourselves in a hole. You know, whether it’s the financial mishandling, whether it’s the recent wars. I think people are, to some extent, mistrustful of elites for good reason. And I think it explains the rise of populism in the United States, why the Democratic Party is skewing to the left, the Republican Party has skewed in the direction it has. Not the old right but, if you will, a new kind of right, or a populist right. And I think this is the price we pay when elites get arrogant or make mistakes or stop—or are entrusted to do big things which have widespread consequences and get it wrong.
SCHAKE: I know there are lots of other questions, but that seems to me the absolute perfect grace note on which to end this conversation about A World in Disarray, and about all of us as elites, about people who care about issues of America in the world, engaged on those issues with our fellow Americans and others.
Thank you so much for making time to come celebrate Richard Haass. (Applause.)
HAASS: Thank you.
MS. : Dr. Haass will be signing books at the exhibition hall if you want to make your way over, from 1:45 to 2:15 pm.
SCHAKE: OK, hold on a minute folks, I forgot the most important thing I was supposed to tell you, which is that between now and 2:15 in room 600 of the ISA exhibit hall Richard Haass is going to be signing and giving away 100 free copies of the book. Go get ‘em!
MS. : Thank you, Kori. (Laughs.)