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Policy Perspectives: Richard Haass

June 12, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now, the foreign policy thoughts of Richard Haass. He’s leaving his job as chief of policy planning at the state department, the department’s key position on policy. He will become head of the Council on Foreign Relations next month. He worked in the first Bush white house as the national security staffer in charge of the Middle East, and he has written nine books on foreign policy. Mr. Haass, welcome.


JIM LEHRER: On Iraq, which we were just hearing about, neither the war nor the peace seems to be quite over, does it?

RICHARD HAASS: Fair enough. Certainly the peace is not over and I think we have to plan to stay in serious size for a long amount of time. In terms of the war, we’re way past the phase of formal combat but we’re in the in-between gray area where it’s neither war nor peace, but obviously it’s very dangerous.

JIM LEHRER: We had Ahmad Chalabi on this program last night, opposition leader, who said that there was a risk now that the United States is being seen more as an occupier than a liberator because of the way things are going on the ground. It was just referred to by Ivan Watson. What’s your view of that?

RICHARD HAASS: It’s one of those dilemmas. I don’t think anyone can give you a really neat or easy answer. That said, we clearly have been liberators. And what we’ve got to do is constantly show the Iraqi people that life is getting better– economically, politically, they’re getting more involved on a regular basis.

And I think so long as the trends are going in a direction, where Iraqis feel the standard of living is going up, where law and order is returning and where perhaps, most important, they have a gradually increasing political say over their own lives, I think it will be seen as a presence rather than an occupation.

JIM LEHRER: Chalabi questioned whether or not involvement of the Iraqis is moving quickly enough to give the Iraqis a feeling that they are in charge of their futures.

RICHARD HAASS: That’s one of the tough ones. If you go too fast, I think you bring about a situation where you could have all sorts of internecine fighting, even political chaos. Obviously you don’t want to do that. If you go too slow, as some Iraqis are suggesting, then you do run into the charges of occupation.

That’s one of the Goldilocks problems, and clearly Jerry Bremer, our man on the ground, is trying to get that balance right. It’s not an easy thing and I think we have to expect that he is going to be criticized for either going too fast or too slow. That might tell you that he may have it about right.

JIM LEHRER: Do you feel that things are going about the way… are going about right, going about the way we Americans should have expected them to be going at this stage?

RICHARD HAASS: It’s a little bit glib or facile for me to say that everything is going exactly as I predicted it, so I’ll resist the temptation to do that. But I think it is fair to say that a lot of people thought that the aftermath was likely to be as tough, if not tougher, than the military phase itself. That’s proving to be the case. I think afterwards initially in a funny sort of way we were victims of our own success. Things went so fast in the war that we weren’t perhaps quite as ready as we might have been in retrospect for the aftermath.

Also what we were preparing for immediately if you recall was a major humanitarian crisis. Well thank God, it never really materialized. We didn’t have millions of refugees or internally displaced persons, but as a result there was something of a short-term mismatch between what we were readying ourselves for and what actually we had to deal with on the ground. I think what you’ve seen over the last few weeks, again under Jerry Bremer, is a readjustment of the U.S. presence.

So my own view is, yes, things are going in the right direction. But it will be perhaps more difficult and take longer and be a little bit more expensive than a lot of people had anticipated.

JIM LEHRER: One more Iraq question and then we’ll go to the Middle East. How involved were you in going over the intelligence information prewar about weapons of mass destruction, and what is your state of mind now about the fact that none have been found?

RICHARD HAASS: I was involved. Just recently I actually reread a lot of the intelligence, just in some ways to refresh my own memory. And what comes through is what a consensus there was about the chemical and biological capabilities of the Iraqis. There was no dissent on that. That was something that bridged administrations, bridged people throughout this administration.

Where there perhaps were some differences were over the degree of nuclear capability, over the terrorist links, and so forth. But on chemical and biological capabilities there was really no debate, no dissent, so right now I think the likely explanation is still that we are probably going to find considerably more than we found in addition to those two trailers. It is though possible the Iraqis may have destroyed some. I don’t know.

But perhaps there’s a logic there that maybe the Iraqis thought that if the inspectors found something, that could have been a trigger for war. So it’s possible they have destroyed it. That said, there could have been some misestimate. And I think that’s one of the things we have to figure out.

JIM LEHRER: But you, Richard Haass, based on what you looked at before the war, were you personally convinced there were weapons of mass destruction on the ground that could in some ways jeopardize the security not only of the area, but our interests as well?

RICHARD HAASS: Yes, sir. I had no doubt about the chemical and biological. And I think the key factor in my own thinking was, were we prepared to live with the uncertainty over what Iraq might do with it? Did we want to live in a world where Iraq could use it or where Iraq could hand it off to terrorists? And for me that was the strongest set of arguments on the side of the ledger that argued for going to war.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. On the Middle East — what has this violence of the last few days done to the road map?

RICHARD HAASS: It set it back in the sense that obviously it’s not what anyone wanted to see. But that said, it’s not totally unanticipated. We knew there would be violence. There always has been in the past. Alas, there will be again in the future. And there are people in the Palestinian side, groups like Hamas, who are fundamentally uninterested in a two-state solution. So it’s something to be anticipated.

JIM LEHRER: So what can be done about Hamas? Who can stop this?

RICHARD HAASS: I think the key thing there that you’re probably never going to satisfy them politically, indeed, you wouldn’t want to satisfy them politically…


RICHARD HAASS: The goals of many people, in groups like Hamas, is a one-state solution, and that state isn’t Israel. It’s a Palestinian state that’s based upon probably Islamic precepts.

JIM LEHRER: So there’s no way to negotiate with Hamas. That’s what you’re saying. Forget that?

RICHARD HAASS: I agree with that. That’s an important point. There are some groups out there you can negotiate with. You have to decide whether there are terms you can live with. But groups like Hamas, they have political agendas that I would suggest are beyond negotiation. And for them, and as a result there’s not a political answer — there’s got to be an intelligence, a law enforcement, and a military answer. The key there though, I would think, is not what Israelis can do to Hamas, but it’s enhancing Palestinian capacities so Palestinians can take on Hamas.

JIM LEHRER: Why don’t we help the Palestinians take on Hamas, militarily or in a security way, if that’s what’s needed?

RICHARD HAASS: We are. And that’s a long, slow process of building up capacities and capabilities. It’s something the CIA has been involved with, the American government has been involved with. And it’s going to take time. But I think that is, if there’s an answer here, that is the answer, is to get the Palestinians themselves to be able to be in a position where they can take them on militarily against the backdrop.

And let me just add one other thing; politically the Palestinian leadership is able to show that moderation is paying, that life is getting better, and that helps to de-legitimize and marginalize groups like Hamas.

JIM LEHRER: Is it your position that Israel is completely blameless in this escalation of the violence?

RICHARD HAASS: I’m uncomfortable with words like blameless. I think what we have to do and what really Israelis have to think about is not simply at times whether they have the right to retaliate, but I think what Israelis have to ask themselves, is that the wisest course of action? If Israelis retaliate, if they use military options they have got to ask themselves the day after, will they be better off?

Sometimes that kind of an intellectual calculation might persuade Israelis to hold back, that maybe what the wiser course in some cases would be to allow the Palestinian leadership the time and the space they need to take on groups like Hamas and some of the other outsiders so foreign policy can’t simply be about rights. It’s also got to be about smarts.

JIM LEHRER: So I take it that they should show more restraint in your opinion.

RICHARD HAASS: They’ve got to make decisions. All I’m saying is that on occasion they have to ask themselves at the end of the day if they use military force, will they in fact be better off? I’m not convinced that always they will.

JIM LEHRER: What about the specific approach of targeting for assassination the leaders of Hamas and other organizations?

RICHARD HAASS: Well, again I think what we’ve seen in recent days is how that can backfire on you. It’s not easily accomplished. You sometimes do cause so-called collateral damage, innocent men, women, and children can be killed. You can provide new incentives for people to act.

So again, as in any use of force, the Israeli leadership has to ask themselves, will it on balance enhance Israeli security or perhaps sometimes restraint, as difficult as it is politically-and let me be honest with you, sitting here it’s easy for someone like me to counsel restraint. I know how hard it has to be for someone like Ariel Sharon. On the other hand, what leadership and statesmanship is about at times is showing restraint if in the long run that will enhance your country’s security.

JIM LEHRER: After the summit in Jordan last week, everybody said on this program and elsewhere in the world that okay, President Bush is now engaged and this is a new major development and there’s hope because of that. Now there’s been this violence the last two or three days, and there have been no reports that the president has picked up the phone and done…he made a few statements, but is he truly engaged as much as he should be?

RICHARD HAASS: I think so. You don’t want to have the president necessarily on TV every night, on the phone every day. You don’t want to reduce the impact of it. But, yes, he’s involved, the secretary of state, my immediate boss, Mr. Powell, is heavily involved. I think you’re going to see diplomatic contacts in the next few days between the United States and the players. The so-called monitoring group is heading towards the region in the next 24 hours.

JIM LEHRER: That’s John Wolf’s operation, State Department official, right?

RICHARD HAASS: Exactly right. So we are engaged. Let me just say, we’re in this for the long haul. The fact that there’s been a setback over the last few days should not lead anyone to think that somehow we’re moving away from the road map. It’s the only game in town. It’s the best game in town. The president’s engaged. The administration is engaged. And I would suggest people are engaged to a degree that perhaps they never were before.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of the administration, there have been reports after reports after reports of conflicts between…within the administration between your folks at the State Department or I should say Secretary Powell’s folks at the State Department and Secretary Rumsfeld’s folks at the Defense Department. What’s the fact?

RICHARD HAASS: That there’s gambling going on? You’re shocked? Of course there’s disputes in administrations. This is my fourth administration. I’d be nervous if there weren’t disputes. The president clearly needs to hear a range of views and when the issue comes up, he is obviously comfortable with the range of views. He’s got some pretty strong personalities sitting around the table. But what matters at the end of the day is that he and Condi Rice, as the national security advisor, are able to hear people out, come up to a position that either represents a compromise or maybe the views of one individual and then implement the policy.

JIM LEHRER: Is it correct to say that Rumsfeld is winning more than Powell?

RICHARD HAASS: I’ll leave that to historians. This is the fifth or sixth inning of this administration, of this term. I think some policies reflect more perhaps what Mr. Rumsfeld might want, some reflect more what Mr. Powell might want. The only common thing is they all reflect what the president wants. This idea of who is up, who is down, I don’t really think it works that way because the president gets his information from so many sources, not just from these two secretaries.

JIM LEHRER: Just for the record, did any of this have anything to do with your decision to leave?

RICHARD HAASS: No. I mean, again as I said, it’s my fourth administration. I’m used to battles. I’ve got the opportunity to help lead what I think is the premier organization out there in the private sector, the Council on Foreign Relations. So for me it’s an extraordinary opportunity to stay involved in foreign policy, but from another vantage point.

JIM LEHRER: Do you feel…do you go to this new job with a feeling of mission and if so, what is it?

RICHARD HAASS: I do have a feeling of mission. This is one of those creative moments in American history. It’s now what — a decade-and-a-half almost since the end of the Cold war. It’s almost two years since 9/11; it’s a few months since the end of the Iraq war. A lot is up for grabs. It is a truly important, but also creative, time for how the United States should use all of its power. We’ve got this tremendous opportunity to shape the world, but how do we do it? How do we use the instruments? What kind of partnerships do we forge in the world? So for me, someone who has been involved in this field now for what, twenty-thirty years, it’s a real opportunity to help people think through the answers to some of these questions, but also to help build larger public interest and support for an engaged United States. So, yes, I do feel something of a mission.

JIM LEHRER: Good luck to you and thank you very much.