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At the end of 2015, is U.S. national security better off?

From a national security perspective, is the U.S. better off than it was a year ago? Judy Woodruff gets reflections on the year in foreign affairs from former State Department officials Wendy Sherman and Richard Haass.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, is the U.S. better off from a national security perspective than it was a year ago?

    For that, we get the views of two people with extensive foreign policy making experience.

    Wendy Sherman was undersecretary of state for political affairs during the Obama administration. She was the lead U.S. negotiator to the Iran nuclear talks, and is now an adviser to the Hillary Clinton campaign. And Richard Haass served in both Bush administrations. He's now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

    And we welcome you both to the program.

    Wendy Sherman, let me start with you that.

    That fundamental question, is the U.S. better off today from a national security perspective?

  • WENDY SHERMAN, Former State Department Official:

    You know, Judy, I think, in many ways, we are, with one glaring exception, and that is ISIL and the terrorist threat. And that's a glaring exception because it's created such anxiety, and understandably so, among the American people.

    But our economy is in better shape. We have stopped Iran from having a nuclear weapon. We have improved our relationships with Cuba, which is having a knock-on effect on Venezuela. We have created some development opportunities, and we have also agreed on TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with 12 countries in Asia, which is very critical to our economic future.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And I want to touch on a number of those, Richard Haass, but the big picture, is the U.S. better off?

  • RICHARD HAASS, Former State Department Official:

    Sad to say, I would say not, in part because of the things that have actually happened — and Wendy mentioned them — the biggest one, the Middle East, dwarfs the other in the immediate effects, and it also added to such things as a resurgent global terrorism, as well as the refugee flood in Europe.

    And most of the things on the good side are still to come. I hope TPP becomes a reality, but that depends upon Congress in 2016. Paris, the climate change agreement is more promise than reality.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Dealing with the Islamic State, Iraq, Syria, how has the administration done?

  • RICHARD HAASS:

    I was critical of the previous administration, even though I was part of it, for what it did in 2003 in launching the Iraq War, and I think that added to the region's instability.

    And I think what — largely what Mr. Obama has not done, in particular in Syria, but also elsewhere in not following up in Libya after removing the regime, in initially saying all U.S. forces were going to have to get out of Afghanistan and taking U.S. forces out of Iraq. In many ways, an overreaction to the previous American administration, and all this coupled with the pathologies, if you will, of the region itself have left the Middle East overall in some ways in terrible shape.

    I have compared it to the 30 Years War that decimated Europe in the 17th century.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Wendy Sherman, like the 30 Years War?

  • WENDY SHERMAN:

    I think we have to say that President Obama has all the right elements in place.

    What we need to do — what he's trying to do is pick up the pace of those elements, so whether that's a military effort. And, today, we see the Iraqi army going into Ramadi, which is very important, to take that back from ISIL. We have picked up the pace on foreign fighters, on financing, on attacking oil depots that ISIL holds on to, looking at recruitment, dealing with social media, and the diplomatic effort.

    We just saw U.N. Security Council come together for the first time in a long time to agree on a diplomatic way forward. So we have got the elements in place, but we have to pick up the pace of getting the job done.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Richard Haass, Afghanistan is a very different place. But we also know that ISIS has some presence there. How do you judge the — the president has now said he's going to keep U.S. troops there longer than he had said earlier. How do you see Afghanistan going?

  • RICHARD HAASS:

    Not very well, in large part because, as you say, ISIS has put down a toehold. You still have the Taliban. They still enjoy a sanctuary in Western Pakistan, which has really undermined the U.S. effort for more than a decade now.

    Plus, you got to deal with all the ethnic fault lines of Afghanistan's own politics and society. And I think again we hurt ourselves by raising questions about the duration of the American commitment. But I will be honest with you, Judy. Even without such questions, Afghanistan is just one of the wrong places in the world to get overly ambitious about.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You want to comment?

  • WENDY SHERMAN:

    Well, I think the comment here is that we should feel good that Ashraf Ghani and his CEO, vice president, Abdullah Abdullah, have kept it together, that there is a political process in place, that there is a fight that's going on.

    But this is a very tough long-term effort, not only in Afghanistan and the Middle East, but throughout the world, because, besides ISIL, we have — still have al-Qaida, AQAP, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and we have got to make efforts on all of these places all over the would, but we can't forget the good that's happening, as well as the bad.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, Wendy Sherman, you worked, as we said, for a long time on this Iran nuclear deal. We're now in a different phase of that, but, at this point, how is it going?

  • WENDY SHERMAN:

    Well, we're getting to implementation of the deal.

    And we're being very tough about it. Iran made specific commitments in this agreement. And they have got to follow through on all of those commitments. So I think we are hopeful the deal will ensure that Iran cannot get a nuclear weapon, not for 10 years, not for 15 years, but forever.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Richard Haass, the Iran deal?

  • RICHARD HAASS:

    I agree in part with what Wendy said, but also disagree.

    Where I think it does make things better is for the next 10 or 15 years. It significantly reduces Iranian capabilities in the nuclear area. At the same time, on the other side of the ledger, it gives Iran access to far more resources than it otherwise would have access to, to pursue a foreign policy that in many cases is inimical to our own interests.

    And I actually think the biggest questions come after the 10- and 15-year time limits and dealing with centrifuges and enriched uranium. And I just don't think Wendy or anyone else can say that we're for sure or confident that Iran can't have a nuclear weapon at that point. The quantitative and qualitative limits come off and we just have to hope that the inspections and our willingness to react, if indeed we see Iran moving toward a nuclear weapon again, that that's enough.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, I realize I'm asking you both to deal with some very big questions in a short period of time, but, Richard Haass, what about — and I don't want to lump them together, but what about Russia and China? These are two big countries, very different challenges they pose to the United States. But where do you see the U.S. headed with these two?

  • RICHARD HAASS:

    Difficult relationships with both, Judy.

    What we're seeing in some ways is the revival of elements of great power politics. And in both cases, you have leaders, which worries me, who are quite unconstrained by bureaucratic or organizational factors. They each have tremendous freedom of action.

    Russia has seems to have moved somewhat its focus from playing around in Ukraine to the Middle East, and we will just have to see whether over time they're willing to play a responsible role in taking on ISIS. So far, we have not seen much of any of that. China continues to try to become more of a regional power, and I think, there, the administration was right to do the overflights, to do the freedom of navigation cruises, to push back against China and to reassure our allies, in particular Japan.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Wendy Sherman, Russia, China?

  • WENDY SHERMAN:

    I think these are going to be very difficult relationships, as Richard says. This is all about really wary engagement. These are important powers.

    They each have roles, not only regionally, but in the world. They're both permanent members of the Security Council. They both have veto power in the Security Council. So we're going to have to deal with them, work with them where we can, on climate with China, on the Iran deal, and hopefully on Syria with both Russia and China.

    And where we can't, where Russia invaded, Ukraine took — tried to take Crimea permanently into its own orbit, we are going to have to be as tough as we are. And we invoked new sanctions today yet again on Russia because of what they have done in Ukraine, so wary engagement.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Finally, and very quickly, we're going into a presidential election year. What do each of you believe you are most hopeful about and most worried about going into this year.

    Wendy Sherman?

  • WENDY SHERMAN:

    The American people are really hopeful folks, and even though they are concerned about this terrorism threat, the vast majority of people want to proceed forward.

    They want this economy to improve. They want the gap between the rich and the poor to diminish. They want to make sure they're safe and secure, but they want their kids to have a better future. And that's what they want to be focused on. So I just hope that the rhetoric of this campaign doesn't go out ahead of where the American people really are and what they hope for.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Richard Haass, finally, 2016?

  • RICHARD HAASS:

    Most hopeful that we can get passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Even more than the economics of that, Judy, it's strategically essential, if America is going to once again look to be reliable and predictable.

    What I'm most worried about, there, it's a long list, beginning obviously with the Middle East, but also the levels of growth around the world and then always the possibility of a surprise. We have not mentioned North Korea. We haven't mentioned Pakistan. We haven't really talked much about the possibility of domestic terrorism.

    So, there's a lot of clouds over the 2016 horizon, unfortunately.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, Richard Haass, Wendy Sherman, tackling the whole world for us, thank you both.

  • WENDY SHERMAN:

    Thank you.

  • RICHARD HAASS:

    Thank you.

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