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How a former diplomat makes sense of ‘A World in Disarray’

April 17, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT
In the new book "A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order," a former American diplomat takes a candid look at the state of international affairs. Margaret Warner talks to Richard Haass about what’s happened to the world since the end of the Cold War, and the challenges facing President Trump now.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now a former American diplomat takes a candid look at the state of international affairs today.

It’s the latest addition to the NewsHour Bookshelf.

Margaret Warner is back with that.

MARGARET WARNER: President Trump has discovered in his first 100 days that the world is as messy and menacing to U.S. interests as he contended during the campaign, and much more difficult for Washington to manage.

This is the product of forces driving the world apart for nearly three decades since the end of the Cold War.

That’s the theme of a new book by Richard Haass, “A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.”

President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Haass served in senior foreign policy positions in the administrations of both Presidents Bush.

And, Richard Haass, welcome.

RICHARD HAASS, Author, “A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order”: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: So, as you and I both recall, at the end of the Cold War, we in the West had this surge of optimism; a new era of international cooperation was at hand.

Instead, you write in your book, we’re seeing a declining sense of order. Was that inevitable?

RICHARD HAASS: Turns out not. Very little about history is inevitable.

In part, though, we reflect, at the end of the Cold War, you had two centers of power controlling things. Now we have any numbers of players on the field, lots of capacity in lots of hands.

The United States, to some extent, has arguably made things worse, both by things we have done, the 2003 Iraq War, possibly going into Libya, and things we haven’t done, not responding to Syria’s chemical weapons use four years ago, not following up the Libya invasion.

And then you have globalization, the fact that so much is traveling, the quantity and the speed across borders, and the world simply hasn’t caught up. If anything, the gap is getting larger. So, all this makes for a world in disarray.

MARGARET WARNER: In disarray.

You write at one point in the book, I think close to the end, that — and, as you just said, action has consequences, but so does inaction. And you counsel against drift.

So, with that in mind, I mean, what could President Trump do that’s new about the conflict in Syria?

RICHARD HAASS: Well, I think he has to avoid both too much and too little.

To simply wash our hands of it, we have seen, would be a mistake. We saw the refugee flows into Europe. You have got all sorts of terrorists. On the other hand, we’re not going to transform Syria into a democracy anytime soon. We’re not going to be able to get rid of the government of Bashar al-Assad anytime soon.

So, what I would do is focus on going after ISIS. We’re going to liberate some territory. Let’s make sure we can, with others, make sure any liberated territory remains safe, so people can go back there. We don’t want to have a situation where we win the battle and lose the war.

And we want to slowly begin a diplomatic process, work with the U.N., and even with Russia, however strained that relationship is, to begin the process of saying, how do we move Syria towards a government that it can live in peace with its own people?

MARGARET WARNER: At the nub of a lot of the crises that are confronting this new president, let’s take Syria, Ukraine, North Korea, it seems to me, what you really have are tensions between ourselves and two newly assertive powers, old powers, Russia and China.

Are we moving to a tripolar world, in which these three countries will all have client states? Or is it even messier than that?

RICHARD HAASS: On one level, it’s messier than that, because globalization is a problem. We have medium states, the Irans, the North Koreas. You have groups like ISIS.

I’m actually, though, not that worried about what you suggest, Margaret. I think Russia is a one-dimensional power, largely military force, obviously cyber too. They do things in the Middle East and in Europe. But we can also push back. We can strengthen NATO.

I think Mr. Putin is not going to use large amounts of military force if he realizes it’s going to be costly and potentially unpopular back at home.

China’s not a revolutionary power in many ways like, say, Russia. China’s integrated in the region and in the world economically. It doesn’t much like the North Koreans. I think the real question is what they’re prepared to do about it.

But I actually think that China could something of a partner of the United States. And, by the way, we should hope so. It’s a very different 21st century if the United States and China can work together.

MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, every past president, at least the last two, have been talking about getting China to do more on North Korea. What leverage does the new president have that the others didn’t?

RICHARD HAASS: Well, China doesn’t want to see the United States use military force there, and no other president until Donald Trump faced a very stark reality, that, on his watch, China — North Korea is going to be able to put nuclear weapons on missiles that can reach the United States, and threaten the lives of millions of Americans.

This now — this thing has drifted since the presidency, what, of Bill Clinton. This is a very different situation. This is an urgency now, and China has to know that simply allowing things to drift is no longer a viable option.

What I don’t know, Margaret, is how much of the leverage they deny they have that you and I know they really have are they prepared to use.

MARGARET WARNER: Another place in this book, you make the comment that, really, at the turn of the 20th to 21st centuries — quote — “The great powers were not so great anymore.”

Do you think Americans realize that? Do you think this is something that — kind of a new world order, or just sort of that we have to get used to?

RICHARD HAASS: I’m not sure we realize it, but it’s real, and in part because there’s so many things going on out there that we can’t control.

But, also, look at what we have done in things like Iraq and Afghanistan, those massive interventions, and even those two places, we couldn’t control. So, there ought to be a bit of humility.

But I do think you have also put your finger on a big, big issue, which is, what is the relationship the United States and the world? We can’t control things. We’re still the single most important country. What we do and don’t do, what — how we define success in the world, more than anything else, will make a difference, because we know the world left to its own devices doesn’t sort itself out.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think the American public, though, is ready to continue shouldering that responsibility?

RICHARD HAASS: I’m concerned that we’re not. I think there’s a degree of fatigue after Iraq and after Afghanistan.

I think there’s some misunderstanding about how much it costs for us. If you look at the inaugural speech, the president talked about it. But what we’re spending on defense is only a fraction of what we spent during the Cold War. We can have our cake and eat it.

We can have the guns we need, we can have the butter, we can have the domestic policy we need. We have got to understand that what we do in the world is not only good for the world; it’s good for us. It’s not a form of philanthropy; it’s a form of national security.

MARGARET WARNER: And that’s a case any president has to make.

RICHARD HAASS: Has to make.

MARGARET WARNER: Richard Haass, thank you so much.

RICHARD HAASS: Thank you.

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