A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order

Mar 3, 2017

Concerned about where the world is heading? Don't miss this measured and comprehensive overview from Richard Haas, in which he lays out the global situation facing President Trump and what may lie ahead. Topics include the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Russia, NATO, the UN, and the main factor behind job losses.


JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to thank you all for beginning your day with us.

Our guest is Richard Haass, and he will be discussing his latest book, entitled A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order. Although this book was written before this present administration came into being, the title and its contents could not be more timely.

Mr. Haass is known to many of you not only as the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, but if you're up at the crack of dawn you've seen him on MSNBC's Morning Joe. Clarification: he's the one that is the most consistently calm, reasoned, and insightful when discussing international issues. For more about his illustrious career, please take a moment to read his bio, which was handed out when you checked in.

At a time of uncertainties, when most of us are on edge, hearing from one of America's most respected foreign policy experts is a welcome opportunity to not only engage but to learn from someone who has had years of experience working in the foreign policy-making establishment while thinking about America and its place in the world. We are delighted to welcome him back to this podium.

In many conversations throughout the United States and around the globe, concern about our country's foreign policy priorities and the execution of these policies are issues being raised more and more frequently. Amid the tumult, world leaders, especially our allies, are wondering whether we will be there for them, resulting in the repositioning of their thinking to deal with the new world disorder that the incoming president seems to foster. As in times past, times present tell us that it is not only ideas but the people in positions of power who matter too.

While none of us can predict the future, most of us would agree that what has guided us in the past has for the most part run its course. If we are leaving the old world order for another, it is important to understand the risks and consequences of our actions. A World in Disarray provides a historical context to explain how we arrived at a place with so many worrisome developments, an assessment about why it matters, and most importantly what steps need to be taken both domestically and internationally to tackle the many challenges ahead.

But before we enter what President Trump declared last evening, a "new chapter of American greatness," and relinquish our global leadership in order to "make America great again," please join me in welcoming a person who can make America think again, our guest today, Richard Haass.


RICHARD HAASS: Thank you, Joanne. Good morning, everybody. It's good to be back. Anything with the word "Carnegie" in front of it, I feel close to, in part because of Vartan Gregorian, in part because in my youth I worked at the Carnegie Endowment for a year back in Washington.

We'll get to last night's speech. Because of what we don't know about last night's speech, it is one of the reasons it's a little bit hard to talk about whether it was an exception or the new rule. It was different in tone. The foreign policy aspect was pretty modest last night. So it's hard to know exactly what to make of it, but we can talk about that.

But let's just spend a few minutes taking a step back and talking a little bit about what this president inherited, how we got to that point, what he has done so far, and just some of the issues. I won't go on too long. There is a lot of talent and a lot of old friends in this room, so I will not filibuster, as tempting as it is.

I think the basic argument I have is that whoever was elected—and I didn't know when I wrote this book who was going to be elected—he or she was going to inherit a tough inbox. Presidents can choose just about anything—they can choose their vice president, they can choose their cabinet, they can choose their policies. The only thing they can't choose is their inbox. That greets you on day one.

In this case, I think the argument that it was a difficult inbox is not all that hard to make. If you think about it, the Middle East by most measures has unraveled in many places. We can talk about it in whatever detail you'd like. The analogy I've used is the Thirty Years' War, which for those of you who weren't around in the 17th century, was a prolonged political-religious struggle within and across borders, and I actually think that's a lot of what we're seeing in the Middle East. We have civil wars, we have proxy wars, and we have great power intervention. Borders are increasingly not respected. There is a real gap between either what Mr. Sykes and Picot drew up and what now exists or between what Messrs. Rand McNally depict and what now exists. I think a lot of that will go on for quite a while.

I think there are any number of fault lines, whether it is Sunni/Shia, Iran/Saudi, Iran/Sunni/Arab/Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Israeli/Palestinian, non-state actors versus states, Russia/Iran/United States, Turkey/Kurdish—you name it. This is going to percolate, and exactly what to do, but also what not to do, I think is an interesting issue.

Europe: When I last spoke at Carnegie—I can't remember how many years ago—I talked about a similar topic. I probably wouldn't have mentioned Europe except in the positive sense. It came as close to Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man-land as any other part of the world. The biggest issues were things like what is the dividing line between supernational authority and national capitals, regulatory issues coming out of Brussels, and so forth.

Suddenly you've had the return of history to Europe—nationalism, populism, the refugee crisis, Brexit, Russian aggression in Ukraine—and suddenly the entire European project, I would argue, is up for grabs. The consequences of that are enormous. I actually think the European project was one of the great creative pieces of contemporary statecraft. I don't take it for granted, and I think actually it's in play in some ways that at least I didn't—maybe some of you could imagine—have the imagination to see it coming five years ago. I'll circle back a little bit to how we got here.

Asia: You've got structural challenges like China's rise and you've got immediate challenges like North Korea. It'll probably happen during Donald Trump's term as president—I don't know if it's his first term or his only term—but the day will come, all things left to their own devices, when North Korea will be able to take nuclear warheads, master sufficiently the reentry technology, shrink the warheads, and put them on ballistic missiles with sufficient accuracy and range that can reach the continental United States. The question is: If we can't head it off, what then? I don't know about you, but the idea of deterrence with this, I guess you'd say, amazing military mind who became a four-star general at the age of 29 does not fill me with great comfort. The issue is: Will we allow that to come to pass, and if it were to come to pass, what then?

And then, at the global level there are any number of issues: from cyberspace, to proliferation, to terrorism, to climate, to you-name-it—all the stuff that crosses borders in great velocity and great volume, and there is a gap between global arrangements to contend with it and the scale of the challenge.

To me one of the most overused phrases—the other day I wrote an article about 13 phrases that ought to be banned from the lexicon, and one of them was "international community." The reason is there isn't much of one. It's invoked all the time as though it were a reality—"Well, the international community is not going to stand for that." Well, guess what? The international community stands for just about everything. And the reason is because there isn't much in the way of an international community. If there were, things like responsibility to protect (R2P) wouldn't just be a slogan, it would be a reality and a policy. But it's just a slogan. You can talk about the responsibility to protect until the cows come home. The fact is one of the great interventions of the Syrian Civil War—they weren't humanitarian interventions; they were Russian and Iranian interventions which made a bad situation horrible. So we can talk about international community, but let's get real. In most cases it doesn't exist. It's aspirational rather than actual.

So this is kind of the situation. I think it's a pretty tough inbox. There may not be any one big thing as consequential or as traumatic as, say, the Cold War, but there are a lot of things. I think that is the reality that faces us. Plus the arrows aren't great. If you are looking at the world of 2017, as opposed to, say, the world of a generation ago when the Cold War ended, I would say it's far worse.

One of the things I did when I wrote the book, I went back to a speech I had a large hand in, which was President Bush's—the father—speech before Congress when he spoke about the new world order. I didn't write that paragraph because I was not quite as optimistic as he and Brent Scowcroft were. But if you read that language, the optimism, and you contrast it with today, it really is a contrast. It is kind of interesting to me. How did we get to what in history is really a moment, in 25 years, from that kind of optimism to where we are today?

I don't think you can simply say it was a case of too much optimism. I think there are reasons. Some of the reasons are structural, and we have had certain things. One I alluded to was globalization, and globalization has progressed to a degree and at a rate that just simply has outpaced us. It just has outpaced us. It has outpaced us intellectually, things like cyberspace. You would say, "Well, what ought to be the rules of cyberspace?" That's a big challenge. How do you structure this new technology? Seventy years ago, 60 years ago, we had the same intellectual challenge with nuclear weapons: When new technology comes about, how do you structure it, regulate it, deterrence theory, arms control? We haven't had the equivalent intellectual creativity with cyber. And then, even where the ideas exist, we can't get people to buy into them. So there's globalization.

I think just the structural trend of more capacity in more hands. Scientists would probably call it "entropy." But it's the idea that systems rather than coming together spread apart. Because of technology, because again of globalization, more and more entities—or actors, or players, whatever word you like, state and non-state alike, benign and malign—have real capacity.

In the old days, you could have a Congress of Vienna and you have a couple of diplomats representing a couple of countries. You get those four or five characters in the room, you've got a big chunk of what matters. Now you'd have to have an enormous room because there would be all sorts of states and non-state actors, and you would have corporations, forces. This is a world where power has been disseminated and diffused, and it just makes it harder to corral, harder to do anything. You have the stuff of history, rising countries, and all that, the Chinas of the world, cranky countries in the case of Russia. But history doesn't stop just because one era ends. History never stops.

I would simply say that you have on one hand all the structural stuff, all the dynamics of history. But I think on top of that two things have been added to the brew that have made things messy, and a lot of them have to do with my own country, with the United States.

One is stuff we did, acts of commission if you like. That would be probably beginning with the Iraq War, which destabilized in some ways the old order of the Middle East; what I called a "war of choice," and I think it was an unfortunate choice, and it was implemented in unfortunate ways, the lack in particular of an aftermath, which poisoned or contributed to the poisoning of Sunni/Shia tensions and removed the constraint on Iranian power that was Iraq. That set certain things in action, that act of commission.

I think more recent to that you had additional acts of commission. Things like the intervention in Libya, which I do not believe was warranted. I'm happy to argue that, but I do not believe it was warranted if you go through a detailed timeline. Again, upsetting of the old order without anything clear taking its place, in many cases saying things like, "So-and-so must go," including Mr. Assad, but then not matching the rhetoric with policy. Any time in the foreign policy business you allow a gap to grow up between your rhetorical goals and the means you're prepared to bring to bear you are asking for a lot of trouble, and we found it repeatedly in the Middle East.

Other acts of commission. Things like ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq prematurely. Indeed, after Iraq had to a large extent been re-stabilized because of the Arab Awakening and the surge, Mr. Obama made what I think was the profoundly unfortunate decision to yank American forces out of there and to put American forces in Afghanistan on an arbitrary timetable rather than on a conditions-based trajectory.

Probably I would add to the acts of commission, though actually you could say it's omission also, the decision not to go ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which raised fundamental questions about not just American reliability and predictability, but also removed one of the big planks of the post-World War II era, which was the free trade plank or foundation stone.

And then all the acts of omission: beginning with Mr. Obama in Syria, the "red line," any other numbers of times when we could have arguably done things; not following up the Libya invasion with anything to replace the admittedly flawed, but at least old order. We could go around the world, but you get the idea.

The reason it is so important to focus on the United States is simply because the United States has played a unique role in the international system. The international system is not self-organizing; if anything, it's been American-led. When the United States either does things that I believe were ill-advised or history will show to have been ill-advised, or the United States doesn't do things and the act of omission will be seen to be ill-advised, there is no one or thing there to take its place. It is not a self-organizing system and there's nobody else who is willing and able to play this role. So the alternative to an American-led order is not a somebody-else-led order; it's a nobody-else-led disorder, and that is what we are increasingly seeing in big chunks of the world.

I think what has also added to it has been the American campaign, the transition, and the first six weeks of the administration. We can talk about it in whatever level of detail you want. But I think what was said repeatedly and policies that have been adopted have shaken people up. Essentially—and I should have a nickel for every time somebody mentioned it to me—"This is not the United States I thought I knew." Things that people thought they could assume they can no longer assume. Things that people thought were givens are not necessarily any longer givens.

What I believe this has meant, in particular for friends and allies of the United States, is that it has shaken them up because they have made the strategic decision to place a lot of their security in the American basket and they feel less certain that the United States will be there for them in any and all circumstances.

I think what we've done in some cases has been the foreign policy equivalent of the Obamacare debate, the Affordable Care Act debate, which is a little bit of repeal but not much in the way of replace. The new administration has raised questions about traditional American policies but has not made it clear what would go in their stead, and I think that has been something of the patterns of raising questions about alliances or in many cases raising questions about traditional policies.

Even when it has gone back to the original policy, the mere fact that the questions could have been raised has thrown people for a loop. Because again it reinforces the sense that what we thought we could take for granted we can no longer take for granted. This president has a bias in foreign policy which again has contributed to it.

I think there is a disruption bias. The default option is one of change. The president's view of foreign policy in many cases is that the United States has spent a lot more on foreign policy than it has derived in the way of benefit, or to use investments—we're in New York—that our return on investment hasn't justified what we've done. Even last night again he talked about the great costs of American foreign policy, the trillions of dollars spent. What is interesting is that the examples he is using, by the way, are not costs that were associated with American alliance commitments; they were the costs that were associated with ambitious wars of overreach. But I just put that in as an aside.

But also he doesn't talk a lot about the benefits of foreign policy, both the things that happen, the stability that has been derived; or the things that haven't happened, for example, the kinds of conflicts and proliferation that might happen if the United States were not there. I think it's a fairly one-sided accounting.

If you add up everything we've spent on foreign policy, it's big numbers, but not in terms of share of gross domestic product (GDP). Even with the president's proposed increase on defense spending, $600 billion, which is a lot of money by any measurement, it's only about 3.2, 3.3 percent of GDP, which is far less than the Cold War average of what we spent on defense, and we did just fine economically throughout the Cold War, so in no way would that level of defense—we can increase it by $150 billion and we still wouldn't reach Cold War levels of percentage of GDP devoted to defense. We can have both guns and butter. Indeed, we need to have both guns and butter.

To the extent we've spent poorly on foreign policy or a lot on foreign policy, it hasn't precluded us from doing things we need to do at home. To put it another way, you can say the Iraq War was a colossal mistake and we spent trillions of dollars we shouldn't have spent. Okay. But you can't blame the Iraq War for the 2008 financial crisis. None of the generals forced us to deregulate derivatives.

So this blaming of foreign policy for what ails us domestically—or you can't blame what we did in Afghanistan for the fact that LaGuardia Airport—I spent hours on the runway last night. Again, it just doesn't work that way. I worry a little bit about where the thinking is on that. But again, I think it has reinforced this sense of uncertainty.

You've also obviously had in this country and throughout Europe a real pushback against globalization. There are a lot of people who, for whatever reason, have not benefited. We have greater inequality in our society as we have had much less upward mobility. Real wages have stagnated for a generation. Large slices of societies are not benefiting.

Two interesting things to read: one just came out in the current issue of Commentary by Nick Eberstadt, "Our Miserable 21st Century," an important essay; and then, in J. D. Vance's book, Hillbilly Elegy, you realize there are large chunks of societies that are not benefiting as they should; and, more important, they don't have the education and training, so the future will be bleak unless something is done to interrupt that cycle.

You add up that and you see the pushback—particularly in Europe and to some extent here—against immigration, and you get a sense where a lot of the old consensus about economic openness is no longer there. You're seeing increased bias toward closed-ness to trade and closed-ness to people.

But anyhow, that is where we are in the world. So I think it's a difficult world. A lot of the trends are concerning. I don't think all of this was inevitable. Some of it was structural, but a lot of it was through consequences of policy. The good news there is if people in policy helped to get us where we are, people in policy can help improve things. Not everything is baked into the cake. Not everything by any means is preordained.

Last night doesn't clarify a lot about where we are. I think there is still a real bias against trade, which I think is unfortunate. I think trade is being scapegoated. The real problem to me increasingly—it's not the problem, it's the challenge of innovation. Most of the academic literature suggests more than 80 percent of job loss is not trade-related but is innovation-related. So we can shut down all the trade agreements we want, but we can't shut down productivity increases. What is going to happen?

I think the big debate that all societies, developed and undeveloped, need to have is how to deal with productivity, with job disappearance. If driverless vehicles are a reality in a generation, that's millions of jobs that are going to disappear. Existing people are going to be thrown out of work, and people who would have gone into those jobs will not be going into those jobs because those jobs won't exist anymore. There will be new jobs that artificial intelligence and other things will produce, but the characteristics of those jobs and the educational and training requirements of those jobs will not be one-for-one replacements of existing jobs. So then the mismatch between the educational training system and the job availability actually grows. I think a real conversation for every country in the world is how do we deal with that dynamic challenge, and we haven't even begun that conversation.

So we could shut down the country to immigration, we could shut down the country to trade, but that gap will get larger. So we need a serious national conversation about how to deal with that, and I don't yet see that happening. But that is one of the essentials.

I think we need serious conversations about how to deal with North Korea, with the proliferation challenge there. What is it we're prepared to do to head it off? What do we do if we can't head it off? I think there are serious questions about how to integrate China, although I am quite optimistic on what can be done there.

I think the challenge of how to deal with Russia—Russia is much more challenging than China. China is basically a member of the international system economically, politically. Russia is not to a large extent. Russia is much more of a spoiler. What do we do there? How do we push back against that? Under what terms could we try to bring Russia in? It's a serious conversation that we can elaborate on, but I think that is a structural challenge.

In the Middle East, what is realistic in the Middle East? Or put another way, how do you avoid the twin dangers of trying to do too much and too little in the Middle East? Okay, so we can't transform the Middle East to make everybody a Jeffersonian democrat. We probably can't make all the countries whole and the borders firm. On the other hand, we can't wash our hands of it. So what is right-sizing a Middle East policy? What is a realistic Middle East policy at this time, given what we can realistically expect to accomplish? Interesting conversation.

Globally, how do we set the terms for dealing with global issues? To put it another way, how do we build some reality of international community—in cyber, with R2P, with refugees? My argument in the book is this ought to be one of the basic ideas and that essentially the existing international order, which I call "1.0," is one based on sovereignty, that essentially we shouldn't use force to erase borders or change them, and we've respected what goes on in one another's countries pretty much as their prerogatives alone.

My argument increasingly is you can't do that, not for the old argument about human rights—not that I'm against human rights—but rather for the reason that nothing stays local anymore. Just about everything gets on the conveyor belt to globalization. So whether it's hackers, infectious disease outbreaks, or stuff related to climate change, what we used to think of as local and the prerogatives of countries, now in one way or another because of globalization will come back and affect us. So if what goes on in your country doesn't just affect you but affects me too, how do we set up an international system that takes that into account?

My argument is that ought to be the compass of foreign policy. What ought to be the not just rights but obligations of sovereign entities, of states, and how do we create consensus around the rules and norms, and how do we then institutionalize them in arrangements that buttress them? That is the conversation I think we need to have if we are not to be overwhelmed by all the things that globalization coughs up, because again these things won't sort themselves out. We can't deal with them individually; we've got to deal with them collectively. But we don't have the institutions. Even more importantly, we don't have the ideas and the consensus around them.

So I feel some urgency to sort that out, or again—I don't want my sequel to be A World in Chaos. I specifically looked at words like "chaos" and "anarchy" and said, "That's way too negative." But again, if I'm right and things aren't self-sorting, I can't preclude that in a generation. So the challenge it seems to me for people in a room such as this is: how do we preclude that outcome, and more important, how do we hopefully build a better outcome where again this phrase "international community" is not just a slogan but is increasingly a reality?

Why don't I stop there? That's 25 minutes, which is about right. Anything I've either talked about or haven't talked about, let's go for it.


QUESTION: Harald Braun. I'm the German ambassador to the United Nations.

RICHARD HAASS: Harald is a colleague of mine for more decades than either one of us want to talk about.

QUESTIONER [Harald Braun]: To return the compliment, Richard, there are few individuals around these days who are able to get their arms around the many problems that we are faced with and who command both the fundamentals of foreign policy and are able to feed them with concrete examples, as you have just done. I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the Carnegie Council and to Joanne Myers for making events like these possible.

I have two questions. My first question concerns the president's speech yesterday and the State Department budget. Richard, you are amongst many other things a State Department insider. If the announcement that the president made last night will come true, increase of the defense budget without increasing taxes, that means cutting other budgets, and the State Department seems to be a target for budget cuts. I heard figures like 30 percent. Senator Graham commented on this by saying "dead on arrival." But there will be cuts.

What will the State Department look like, and what will the president's inbox look like, which tends to fill up with international things, if really the State Department budget will be cut in a significant way?

My second question goes back to an earlier book of yours where you described the United States in the 1990s as the "reluctant sheriff." My question is: Is the sheriff still there, and what adjective would you use for the sheriff today? Thank you.

RICHARD HAASS: Okay. Let's come to the first one.

Just to give people a sense of the numbers, the president is talking about increasing American defense spending from roughly $550 billion to $600 billion, roughly a 9-10 percent increase. That amount in real terms, roughly $50 billion, is essentially equal to or slightly more than the entire State Department budget if you add up diplomacy and foreign aid, just to give you a sense of magnitude.

The president's budget, I think, is unfortunate not because of the increase in defense. I'm actually prepared to argue on behalf of a defense increase. If you add up what the United States has to face in the world—the possibility of renewed Russian aggression in Europe, and the remilitarization of NATO has to be a priority; we have to deal with North Korea; we have to deal with a more assertive China in the South China Sea and elsewhere; all the continuing issues in the Middle East and Africa, which is essentially an open-ended counterterrorist effort which is going to go on for a generation. Words like "extinguishing" and "exterminating" ought to be banned from the lexicon. It's not going to happen. This is ongoing. This is baked into the cake.

You've got cyber. You've got new domains—the Arctic: we're just issuing a report in a couple of weeks for the need for everything from icebreakers to other stuff for that new physical domain. You've got all the personnel issues.

Could you take care of a lot of this if money could be spent more wisely? Yes. But that's not going to happen, given the politics of defense spending and the rest. So the fact that a significant degree of waste and inefficiency is institutionalized because of the way Congress and others mandate that money is spent, I think there is a pretty good case for increasing the defense budget.

What there is zero case for is increasing it at the expense of things like the State Department budget. That is part of national security. So, okay, we can spend more on defense and we could obliterate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Mosul and we could gradually force ISIS to give up its position in Raqqa. Then what? What happens the day after? Who do you hand it off to? And how do you persuade young people not to become recruits for ISIS the day after that?

So that's where the State Department comes in and a lot of other—and that's where assistance, development, diplomacy, all these things count. So the idea of choosing one dimension of national security—defense—and ignoring other aspects of national security makes no sense.

Also, the other part of the budget. If you look at the U.S. budget—let me see if I have my numbers right—it's about a $4 trillion budget: 15 percent is roughly defense, 15 percent is discretionary domestic, and what is everything else? So what would be cut?

Well, discretionary domestic would be cut under the president's budget. Well, that's kind of like investment. That's our seed corn. That is investment in the—because everything else, what's everything else? Everything else is stuff like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and disability. It's entitlement programs. And then you have wonderful uses of money, like interest on the debt, which is only going to go up because rates are going up and the amount of debt is going up.

The only place you can really—Willie Sutton used to rob banks for the good reason "that's where the money is." If you want to cut the budget and not have the deficit and the debt go through the roof, the place you've got to do it is entitlements, because interest on the debt you can't do anything about it and it is going up because rates are going to go up; defense—we have real costs; discretionary domestic is investment in your future. The only place you can make intelligent cuts—and if that's off limits because of a political guarantee, then debt is going to balloon.

When debt balloons, (1) it gets more expensive because there's more debt to finance—even if rates didn't go up, but they will—so it is a vicious cycle, not a virtuous cycle. And (2), it makes us much more vulnerable to the machinations of markets. People at some point are going to say, "Gee, we're only going to continue to finance greater amounts of American debt if rates go up." Well, you never want to put the Federal Reserve in the position where they've got to raise rates not to cool an overheated economy but to attract financing, because then you over-cool an economy. Again, it's a vicious circle, not a virtuous circle. We're moving in that direction.

And this is a big part of our national security. So it's a mistake to equate national security with what you spend on defense. It is a dimension of it; it is not the totality of it. So I think this makes no sense. Other than that, I'm really foursquare behind it.

The Reluctant Sheriff is a book I wrote years and years ago. I kind of like the title myself. I applied it to Bill Clinton. In this book I just wrote, A World in Disarray, I recant it, I said, "I should have saved it, and the title The Reluctant Sheriff should have applied to Barack Obama." He was much more of a reluctant sheriff than Bill Clinton because he was faced with big choices and I think his entire strategic mindset was to retrench. I think that was the principal strategic objective of the Obama presidency, and I think history will be quite critical of him for what he did, and more importantly what he didn't do, in the realm of foreign policy.

Mr. Trump is different. He's got both elements, if you will, of reluctance and elements of assertiveness. It is almost like the same way he is in terms of domestic politics. He is not a Republican; he's not a Democrat. There are big government dimensions. He can be mercantilist in his interventions on trade policy with individual companies. Small-government conservatives, among other things, would not fence off and protect entitlements because you can't have small government if you protect entitlements. So he is much more eclectic. He can also be more unilateralist in some ways. He might be intermittently assertive.

But I find, at least so far, other than a bias to question existing arrangements, I think the default option of Mr. Trump's foreign policy is disruption. I'm not very sympathetic to that because I'm more of a preserver. I kind of think a lot of what we have has worked pretty well. It needs to be tweaked; I'm not saying everything is perfect. But I don't think the bias ought to be disruption. I think the bias ought to be preservation and tweaking rather than disruption and see what happens next.

So I don't know. I think it's too soon to start writing about whether he's a reluctant sheriff, because he can be both intermittently a reluctant sheriff and a pretty active sheriff. My guess is it could be very eclectic, but I don't think we have enough evidence yet after five or six weeks.

Remember, there hasn't been anything like a real crisis. All the issues of foreign policy so far have been self-generated because of things that have been said, and in some cases recanted. He'll have real crises at some point.

But also, this spring you have the G7, G8, G20, just the normal cycle of stuff, NATO. Between now and the end of July I think we'll probably have a slightly—

Also, one more point. There is no administration yet when it comes to national security. The other day I got in a little bit of trouble. For those of you who are movie fans, I described the secretary of state as "the Macaulay Culkin of foreign policy"—Home Alone. There's nobody there.

Same thing for the secretary of defense, and even the National Security Council (NSC), you have very few of the traditional appointees. The entire generation, just about, of Republican foreign policy hands, is precluded because they signed these letters saying they oppose Mr. Trump. My guess is you will not have an administration that is up and running for six more months.

Now Steve Hadley, who I was with yesterday, was in a far more organized administration, George W. Bush's, and he said even then you couldn't have a full-fledged deputies committee, the second-level committee, until about May. The reason is you have to identify all the people to bring in at the deputy and undersecretary level; they've got to get security clearances if they don't have them; they then have to get hearings through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or the Armed Services Committee; then they have to get into their jobs. That takes a matter of months.

So, at best, you're probably talking May. In this case, we're so far behind schedule, I think we're probably looking at July or September before you have the basis of an interagency process.

QUESTION: Susan Gitelson. Thank you for raising so many provocative questions.

But just to follow up on this, who is going to be running our foreign policy when you have a president without a background in foreign policy and you have a secretary of state without a background in foreign policy? As you were pointing out, most of the second-level people, those who have experience, have had to resign, and so forth. So who is going to be running our foreign policy, and on what basis?

RICHARD HAASS: The short answer is you probably won't get a singular answer. What we know is you'll have a president; you've got a vice president; he'll have his small staff because vice presidents now have their own mini-national security staff; you have the national security staff.

But then you have two other centers at least, if not three, of White House decision-making. You've got Steve Bannon in the Special Initiatives Group, whatever that means. What we don't know is what they're going to do. And to what extent is that a parallel system or is that plugged into the National Security Council system? I don't know. You've got Jared Kushner, the son-in-law, and he's got a large role. Again, is that a parallel system or is that integrated into the formal system?

We then don't know the relationship between the center, which is the White House, and the periphery. So far at least it has been a rough start for somebody like Rex Tillerson, who doesn't have governing experience. He has a lot of international experience, but he hasn't been able to get a staff, and his budget just got decimated. Not good. No staff, no budget. Not a good start.

So the answer is we don't know. What I don't know is if this is kind of a shakedown period and in six months we're going to have a fairly traditional national security apparatus where National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster is primus inter pares and everything kind of gets funneled and channeled through that, or whether this is going to look more like a situation where you have multiple centers of decision-making that kind of parallel one another —you're never quite sure where authority resides, what's the last word, which is a lot messier and more ad hoc. I don't know the answer to that. I know what my preference is for.

Let me suggest one other thing, that where you end up initially may not actually be where you end up. No administration is ready for its first crisis and no administration after its first crisis runs things exactly the way they did before the crisis. So it's quite possible this will be a kind of loosey-goosey arrangement. There will be a crisis, because there always is, and then things will have to get a little bit more formalized. Possibly.

The honest answer is I don't know. No one can know. But what you have is an entire senior level of people who don't have experience for the most part governing. And even a lot of the people in the national security space don't have experience in the interagency national security space; most of the people are military, so they haven't done a lot of the stuff at the interagency table. So I think there's a fairly steep learning curve. I'm just not smart enough to say exactly when they'll sort of reach a certain point and what that point will look like, but my guess is it may evolve several times.

QUESTION: Warren Hoge, International Peace Institute.

Richard, I hope that "American exceptionalism" is not one of the phrases you've banned from the lexicon. As a matter of fact, from reading your books and hearing you speak, I think you actually believe that America has been exceptional in the sense that word is used.

RICHARD HAASS: I think you're exceptional, Warren.

QUESTIONER [Warren Hoge]: My question is: Do you think America will remain exceptional in that sense; and, if not, are we then going to become a nation sort of seeking situational alliances to do good in a way we can do good?

RICHARD HAASS: I like American exceptionalism. But I like it when others point it out; I don't like it when we point it out. I never liked the idea of calling ourselves the "indispensable nation" or anything. It ought to be a judgment that others reach. So we shouldn't be talking about it. Maybe that reflects all those years in England, but it just never sits well with me.

Second of all, we're exceptional potentially in two ways. One is by who we are and the other is by what we do.

The who-we-are thing I think has taken a hit. If one looks at the campaign and other things, it's actually a version of what Joe Nye would call "soft power." But I think reputationally we've taken something of a hit. Not just the campaign, but 2008, the financial mismanagement, how we conducted the Iraq War, a lot of things, what we've done in the world and all that and how we've done it; what we've done here at home and how we've done it. So I think if there were a share of stock called "Admiration for USA, LLC," I think that stock would have taken something of a correction.

The best way to deal with it is to be, as Ronald Reagan might say, a "shining city on a hill": get things right here, and show, for example, that we take the lead in coming up with social and economic measures to deal with economic security amidst great technological innovation. If we can handle some of those challenges, admiration for us will properly go up. That's just a challenge that we've constantly got to deal with.

In terms of overseas, again it's what we do and how we do it. Things like "America First" are not good with that because it suggests that we're going to have a very narrow view of our role in the world. It to me gets it backwards. See, in the old days we wanted the world first in many cases, not as an act of philanthropy, but because we understood that our fate was inextricably linked to the world's fate. That was the lesson of the first half of the 20th century: when we didn't make that connection, not just the world but we paid an enormous price for it. "America First" it seems to me is way too narrow and constricted a lens through which to operate. It also sends a terrible message of constant calculation: "What's in it for us?" I think if everyone else wakes up every day and makes similar calculations, that's a much more atomized world where it's much more difficult to get collective things done. So yes, I'm uneasy with some of these formulations.

The president is on to something when he says he's the president of the United States. What was that riff the other day when he spoke to the conservative group? "There's no global anthem, there's no global"—again, one of my 13 banned phrases is "global citizen." There's no such thing as a global citizen. Citizenship is something that is conferred on a national, domestic basis. I get that.

On the other hand, we have a major stake in what goes on in the world, and that's the part that's missing. He's not connecting that dot. I understand where he's coming from, but it can't degenerate into a narrow, self-interested isolationism or protectionism, and I think that's the risk.

So we'll see. But I think last night didn't give us a lot of indications, although there was some nice language on NATO. The inaugural set some themes that I'm very uncomfortable with.

My guess is—coming back to the previous question—there are different power centers within this administration. There are some competing ideologies about America's role in the world and about the priority that ought to be accorded to foreign policy, and my guess is that the president himself might be of multiple minds about them. So my guess is this is going to be something we're going to see playing out over time.

QUESTION: Good morning. Ib Petersen. I'm the ambassador of Denmark to the United Nations. Thank you very much for a very inspiring presentation.

Coming from the United Nations and having a few colleagues here—I hope the rest will excuse—you mentioned the distrust or the disruption policy when it comes to international organizations. You also mentioned in the beginning the need for someone to take the lead and also we need some instruments to take the lead. Seventy-one years ago, the United States thought up the United Nations as a major element in that. How is it today? I don't think we heard the president mention the United Nations yesterday. It is difficult to see. We have a new U.S. colleague who is working, I think, very seriously. But where do you see this administration going when it comes to the United Nations?

One element of that is also a number of people have pointed out that if the United States withdraws from the United Nations there will be, for instance, China ready to step in and perhaps take their role.

RICHARD HAASS: I'll give you my view of the United Nations and then I'll give you my prediction about this administration.

In my view the United Nations is one forum for multilateralism. In and of itself, it totally depends upon the degree of great power agreement. The United Nations was designed, as you all know, not to be an instrument of one major power against another, but it was meant to be a venue where the major powers could talk and when they agreed they could act in concert.

So when they act in concert, like they could after Saddam invaded Kuwait, the United Nations could be quite an effective place. And when they disagree, as they did in the Balkans or as they did more recently in Syria, the United Nations is a pretty useless place.

I don't criticize the United Nations for when they can't do anything. As someone pointed out, to criticize the United Nations for what it can't do, say, during the Balkans or Syria, is like criticizing Madison Square Garden for the fact that the Knicks are inept. The United Nations is just the building.

What you do then is you work around it. In the case of the Balkans, the United States and its European partners did it through NATO. In the case of Syria, Iran and Russia, they did it themselves. It wasn't exactly R2P, it wasn't exactly that form of humanitarian intervention, but it was intervention. It got half of what you wanted, just the wrong half.

I think we'll continue to use it as a talking place. It'll be one forum for internationalism. The fact that you have somebody like Nikki Haley there I think is good, in the sense that she has some domestic political standing. Also, she is sitting in on the cabinet, so she'll be able to represent them.

But I would think that this president's view of multilateralism tends to be negative, that in the trade sphere that we get taken advantage of. Now, that won't be fought out through the United Nations. That's already TPP, NAFTA, maybe the World Trade Organization (WTO). By the way, I think it would be a big mistake—I think one of the great accomplishments of the WTO is it gives you the dispute resolution mechanism. To go back to things like Special 301-type unilateral sanctions seems to me nuts. But what do I know?

On other issues they will be pressing allies to do more. Last night there was bragging about NATO. We will see where they come out on things like climate. My guess is it'll be very one by one by one. But there will be a certain critical bias just because there's a suspicion that multilateralism—take trade again: multilateral trade agreements are bad; bilateral trade agreements are good. I don't see it that way, but again I wasn't elected, he was. My guess is there will be a kind of consistent skepticism, but it will still be case by case.

You may have a symbolic-type thing where we walk away from the human rights mechanisms. Those are pretty cynical places. When you look at the countries that sit on some of those councils, it's hard to respect them. The real issue is always: Is it better, for all their flaws, to participate in them and say your case, or is it better to walk away?

I think history suggests it's usually slightly better to be part of it. When we walk away, bad things happen in UNSCO (United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process) and things like that. So my instincts are, however flawed these places are, go to them, say they're flawed, say what you think they ought to do, rather than wash your hands of them and hope they're going to get better by themselves. That's a recurring debate.

We'll stay in the United Nations. I think we might just be selective where we participate either in this or that panel or in paying for this or that operation.

QUESTION: Hi there. First of all, thank you very much for your remarks this morning. They were very incisive.

I wanted to have you say something about sort of right-wing anger in the world and its impact and whether the United States is part of this. So we have everything from Brexit, to uncertainty in France with the election coming up, also the election in Germany coming up, all these questions. Then we have Austria, Hungary, Poland. And of course in this country we've had this tremendous anger against the so-called "liberal elite." Maybe some of those sitting here today would count in that category. First of all, what's your thought about that? In other words, is the United States' turn, as reflected in Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon and so on, part of a global trend?

And then also, do you see some way to have a kind of a liberal theme coming back into American policy?

RICHARD HAASS: I think in a lot of the developed countries, particularly in the United States and Europe, it is against a backdrop, not just of historically low levels of economic growth, but wildly uneven participation in economic growth. So the fact that in this country, for example, you've had 15 to 20 years of wage stagnation—and the president went through some of the statistics last night—you've had large segments of the population out of the workforce for a long time with no prospects of returning.

I think those are situations which are going to create populism or looking for explanations. And the explanations tend to often degenerate into scapegoating—trade, immigration—and that's what we've seen, immigration particularly in the United States and Europe. Immigration was probably the determining issue in the Brexit vote, even though the immigration statistics are relatively modest, but so be it.

So to me what that suggests is the importance of finding higher levels of economic growth and greater levels of economic participation. If you manage to do that I think a lot of the populism and nationalism will calm, and if you don't manage to do that things will get worse.

What worries me is again the challenge, given the pace of technological innovation. The challenge is enormous, and I don't think we're even remotely ready for it. There are a lot of good ideas out there about training and education. So it's not hopeless, but it's a real challenge.

And there are other things. Certain institutions have to right themselves. I think for the European Union there are certain questions about transparency and democratic deficits and over-regulation that the European Union has to deal with. I think in this country we were too ambitious in certain foreign policy undertakings and the elites got way, way, way out of touch with the people in places like Iraq and some of the American responses to the Arab Spring, and we spend too much. I think political dysfunction has had a real cost in this country, so lots of things weren't getting done.

So yes, I think there are lots of things that can be done, should be done. What I'm not good at is predicting that they will be done. But right now at least in this country you've got a president and the same party in control of both branches of Congress, so they've got a chance. They have got a chance. If they want to introduce a degree of deregulation, corporate tax reform, individual tax reform, infrastructure spending, they think they can improve health care, well, no one's going to stop them. They've got the opportunities to do those things, and they're going to be judged on it. So we'll see.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for your remarks. I'm Helena Finn, former U.S. diplomat, vice president of the American Council on Germany.

I'd like to ask you to elaborate a bit more on the European project. You used the word "preservation." How do you see this evolving? I think many of us would work on the assumption that this has been an enormously positive thing for the United States.

RICHARD HAASS: To me there are two big aspects of post-World War II Europe: There is the security and there is the integration side.

The security side, which is essentially the NATO side, I think there it's kind of known what needs to be done. I think we need to reintroduce military forces—as has been begun—into parts of NATO Europe. You never want to have gaps between commitments and capabilities. We've allowed those gaps to grow. So there is that side.

I think the Europeans, it's not so much—yes, they need to spend more on defense. More important, they need to spend what they spend on defense in a more integrated way. There is way too much national duplication and replication and not enough of a real European defense effort. I actually think there's an opportunity here to get some of that right, which would be good.

I think there's got to be a diplomatic dimension with Russia. But I think on the security side, we don't need to reinvent the wheel. In a funny sort of way, after NATO went through a whole generation of out-of-area, finding a raison d'être for itself—well, this is kind of like the old raison d'être. We're back to in-area and we've got to do certain things. Okay. So I actually think that side is okay.

I think the EU side is more of a question, in part because the European Union got remote from its own base, got way too detached, bureaucratic, democratic deficits. The idea that you had a common monetary policy without a common fiscal policy was structurally incoherent. That is an easier flaw, shall we say, to note than it is to do anything about at this point. Again, elites got out of control, I think, in where they took Europe.

You have the refugee problem, which exacerbated, and you've had years of low growth which have created—so this is a tougher one. I actually think it's tougher. We'll see what happens in certain elections and negotiations.

In France, if someone like Macron comes in—and I think there's a decent chance he will; I'm hoping he does—and if Merkel survives—in fact, the way the calendar works, if Macron comes in and he and Merkel start thinking about—even before the German election—what they can possibly do, I think there is a real opportunity there.

I think you need in some ways to have once again a positive vision of where you want to take Europe and deal with some of these challenges. I think the only way to deal with the refugee issue has got to be at the source. By the time people get there it's too late. We'll see what happens. The Europeans have to integrate better to deal with the security problem because, by the way, the problem is going to get worse. As ISIS gets hammered in Mosul and Raqqa, the pressure on Europe is going to grow, not diminish.

I think probably Europe is going to have to move toward, rather than a "one size fits all"—I don't know if it's de jure or de facto—multiple ways of thinking of the relationship between capitals and Brussels. I think that will be the future, multiple-speed—whether a Eurozone, a non-Eurozone—essentially a little bit more a la carte. Even though people don't like it, I think that is going to be the way to do it. That's the only way I think, given the range of countries.

But I think that's a big agenda now. I actually think it's a big intellectual agenda to get creative about what does Europe look like. If I were a European leader, I'd be thinking about the same issues I've talked about here, about employment and all that. But I'd be thinking very hard about what is probably a more flexible Europe going forward rather than one that is only one way and wildly ambitious. I would actually have more off-ramps and more modest ways of associating with Brussels. I realize that goes against a certain orthodoxy, but I think that's the only way to make it viable.

JOANNE MYERS: We know that you met with Trump before he took office. We can only hope that Trump will meet with you again. So thank you for a wonderful morning. Thank you.

RICHARD HAASS: Thank you all.

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