Big Think Interview with Richard Haass
Richard Haass: I’m Richard Harass and I’m president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Question: When are wars necessary?
Richard Haass: Generically, wars in necessity are wars were I think the vital interest of the nation are at stake in which there are no viable alternatives to the use of force.
For example, diplomacy doesn’t look appealing or attractive or it’s been shown to be unsuccessful, sanctions aren’t going to do the trick and living with the certain situation is deemed to be unacceptable.
A war of choice is very different. A war of choice usually has two qualities.
One is that the interest at stake tend to be less than vital and secondly there are in fact other policies that are available. It could be diplomacy or it could be simply tolerating a situation or it could be sanctions or what have you.
And just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that war of choices are per se undesirable or wrong or bad but simply they are just that, they are wars of choice and they only make sense if you believe that the cause and benefits not only line up to the benefit or greater than the cause but also that the cause and benefits of using military force make more sense than using alternative foreign policies.
Question: What were the unnecessary wars in American history?
Richard Haass: One of the most obvious one that many people will recall is Vietnam. Vietnam was not a war of choice the United States had to fight. It was clearly not central. I would argue to the overall balance say between the United States and the Soviet Union and the United States invested a great deal in large part because it exaggerated the stakes that were in fact there. So, that’s the most obvious contemporary war of choice.
More recently you have wars like Kosovo and Bosnia, where again the United States did not have to intervene. The interests at stake were important arguably. There were some strategic interest, there were some humanitarian interest more than anything else but no vital national interests were at stake, so those are the obvious wars of choice. The most obvious war of necessity other than the one I wrote about the first Iraq War, I would say is the Korean War in 1950, when the North Koreans went across the 38th parallel and before that World War 2.
Question: Why was the second Iraq war unnecessary?
Richard Haass: Well, two things.
One is I didn’t think that Saddam Hussein say in 2001, 2002, 2003 had done anything that’s particularly new, that was particularly threatening to the United States or another way of putting it, I did not think the status quo that the [George W.] Bush administration inherited in 2001 was per se unacceptable or intolerable. I thought that Saddam Hussein, to use Colin Powell’s phrase at that time, was in something of a box. He had lost control over most of the North of his country. You had US and Coalition aircraft flying over the North and over the South. He was really limited in his way over his own country. We thought mostly he had some biological and some chemical weapons. He had not been able to rebuild his conventional military after it got decimated in the previous war after he invaded Kuwait.
We did not think of get anything in the way of nuclear weapons. We did not think he was in anyway associated with the terrorist, so we simply didn’t think he represented a vital threat to US interest in the region rather he was quite diminished.
Secondly, there was a sanction’s regime an extensive sanction’s regime that was in placed and though it had eroded to some extent and clearly money was reaching Saddam Hussein that should not have been and the like. That I believe there were options to shore up the sanctions regime not to make it air tight, not to make it impermeable but again I thought we could have improved it so that again it would have not eliminated the threat but it would’ve contained the threat. So essentially I believe the containment of Saddam Hussein was a viable, perfectly adequate option.
Question: What alternatives to the war did you know of at the time?
Richard Haass: There weren’t a great deal of conversations. There are only a few that I recall.
Looking a little bit at the whole question of sanctions in a fairly desultory way the one move that Colin Powell promoted was called Smart Sanctions and if you recall at that time the United States was coming under tremendous criticism in the Arab world, also from the left, in this country and around Europe because the sanctions were alleged to be hurting innocent Iraqis. It wasn’t true in my view.
The sanctions had all sorts of humanitarian exceptions and if there was any suffering that was going on in Iraq it was because Saddam Hussein was causing the suffering but wanted the sanctions to be blamed for it. It was part of his strategy to undermine international support for the sanctions but Powell’s idea was essentially to challenge him that game.
So the whole idea of Smart Sanctions was to make it possible for Saddam Hussein to import a far larger range of goods and services that would not have military consequences to essentially take away from him the argument that sanctions were somehow causing suffering leading to disease and so forth on the part of Iraqis and we thought that if we could do that, then that would have the effect in the part of rebuilding regional and global support for sanctions. That was probably the principal set of conversations about Saddam Hussein.
Question: Is Afghanistan a necessary war?
Richard Haass: You asked the question about Afghanistan, he [Barack Obama] is also embarking of what I would call something of a war of choice in Afghanistan.
Taking a step back for a second, the [George W.] Bush administration, after doing very little in Afghanistan initially post -9/11, it’s rather it got more and more inflated about Afghanistan, so you had the Bush administration talking about bringing democracy to Afghanistan, but the Bush administration never resourced that policy.
So the Obama administration has come in, an interestingly enough, it increased the resources you’re seeing more combat troops, more trainers and it decreased the rhetoric that now has no longer talking about democracy. But instead it’s talking about building a self sustaining Afghan government.
But, they’re also talking about taking the fight to the Taliban. Essentially what Mr. Obama is doing is making the United States now a protagonist in Afghanistan’s civil war and what they’re hoping is that the United States can weaken the Taliban and then provide time and space for the Afghan Government to build up its capacities so we can deal with the Taliban and it can deal with Al Qaeda.
I would call this something of a war of choice. The United State could have more modest goals in Afghanistan it could also have more modest meanings if it was only going after Al Qaeda. But the Obama administration has, it has made two interesting foreign policy decisions so far. One is to establish the timelines in Iraq, and the other is the build up in Afghanistan, both are significant decisions.
The phrase war of choice is a neutral phrase. It’s a description. All I’m trying to do is distinguish it from a war of necessity but the United States, you can argue whether we have a vital national interest in Afghanistan. We have a vital national interest in seeing that Afghanistan is not used as a terrorist platform following 9/11 but I don’t think we have a vital national interest in the quality of Afghan society so the United States might then say well, we’re just going to limit ourselves to going after the terrorist when we see them.
We’re mainly going to use; whatever mix of military intelligence, and other foreign policy tools we’ll put together. All I’m trying to say is in Afghanistan, the United States has come up with a particular mixed of tools and it’s decided that it’s going to basically to take the Taliban on along with the Afghan government in the civil war, that’s a war of choice.
Now, I’m prepared to say it’s a defensible choice and it’s worth trying. I am a little bit sceptical whether it will succeed and my prediction is that roughly a year or year and a half from now the Obama administration is going to have to make some additional choices.
And if I’m wrong and things are going very well in Afghanistan, one choice will be whether we stick with it or whether we even increase our ambitions. For example, should democracy building become war of the [IB]? A more likely future is were things are not going well in Afghanistan, we put in extra troops and the general situation in the country is not improving and the question then is, what do we do. Do we put in more resources or do we perhaps dial down our goals and that could be a very intense foreign policy debate roughly in a year.
Question: Did George W. Bush have a grudge against Saddam Hussein?
Richard Haass: I don't believe that. I think one or two of the people in the administration had a thing about Iraq and it was mentioned from time to time and Paul O’Neal if you may recall in his memoir talked about how Iraq was mentioned early on and people around, the Secretary of Defense Mr.Rumsfeld, including the Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, people around the Vice President Dick Cheney, did mention Iraq intermittently but there was no intensity to it and there was no real opportunity to move with it.
It’s an interesting historical debate whether this administration would’ve gradually found the way over time to do what it did visibly Iraq hadn’t not been for 9/11. It’s possible but it would’ve taken longer and it would’ve been far more difficult to galvanize the support within the administration and beyond. But again, coming back to your basic point pre- 9/11, Iraq was simply not high up on the radar screen.
Question: Did the Bush administration have good intentions when invading Iraq?
Richard Haass: What people felt was the importance of doing this for various principles. It was not in anyway to spread religion. What I believed that motivated George W. Bush had nothing to do with religion in the proselytizing sense or anything like that. What it had to do more than anything else I believe was that he thought that after 9/11 that the United States needed to make a powerful statement to the world.
To use another phrase that Richard Nixon made famous in another context that the United States was not going to be a pitiful helpless giant and for George [W.] Bush and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice and others, the accomplishment of ousting the Taliban and liberating Afghanistan did not take care of that, it did not send the message that they wanted to. It simply wasn’t big enough.
The way I put it in the book is it didn’t scratch the itch and they came to the conclusion they needed to do something of greater weight and greater significance and that was Iraq and they wanted to take Iraq which had been a thorn in the side of the United States and other countries for sometime and they believed they could oust Saddam Hussein. They believed they can transform Iraq into a functioning democracy and they thought by so doing so, they would not only send the powerful message to the world that the United States was not to be trifled with but that they could then use Iraq as a model that would then go on to lead to political change throughout the Middle East and essentially this would become a transforming historical event and ultimately development. That’s what this is about.
Question: Was Bush or Cheney calling the shots on Iraq?
Richard Haass: I've also thought that Dick Cheney was quite conservative. People forget that because he’s such a moderate man in his manner and in the way in his bearing and the way he conducts himself, but he’s extraordinarily conservative. Now, in the previous Bush administration when Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defence, he was also quite conservative and he and I had our differences at that time. Once you saw me walking around the Pentagon going over bombing plans, being briefed on it and he complained to the National Security Adviser and the President about it. We had our differences when Israel was struck by Iraqi missiles.
In the early days of the war, Dick Cheney wanted the United States to essentially give Israel the green light to retaliate, and I argued against it and I prevailed, but the difference in the previous Bush Administration is Dick Cheney was the odd man out. You had Dick and then you had George Herbert Walker Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Jim Baker--these were all traditional centrists--and Dick Cheney was essentially outnumbered and largely went along and he actually also agreed with the policy.
If you recall Dick Cheney, even afterwards publically defended the decision not “to March on Baghdad” when people would criticize it. Dick Cheney in this administration, rather than being the outlier, was very much at the core along with Don Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, George [W.] Bush and there was Colin Powell, my boss, who was the outlier.
So I believe that Dick Cheney was in the position where he could put forward his more conservative use and rather than being isolated. He was then right in the center of decision-making, and again, as I've said after 9/11, his boss, the President, wanted to do bold things. So, Iraq was... the idea of putting Iraq at the top of the American foreign policy agenda was something that [George W.] Bush was very open to because Bush was looking to do something big and bold and Iraq seemed to present to him and others the best option for so doing.
Question: Did you clash with Bush over Afghanistan?
Richard Haass: No.
But I believe after 9/11 the United States had a window to get more involved in Afghanistan then it did. I advocated publicly. It ended up being a front page story in the New York Times. So I advocated at the National Security Council meeting with the president, the vice president, and others that the United States should do more. I thought there was a real moment after the ouster of the Taliban where the United States if we have put in not hundreds of thousands of force but maybe 25,000 forces and I believe we could’ve gotten an equal amount from the Europeans I mean, as they have ultimately done in Afghanistan as we see now where they have 30 odd thousand forces. I believed then that 50,000 forces, US and European together, could have made a real difference.
We could’ve filled that vacuum in and then might have been a receptivity then where we could have done some serious nation building in Afghanistan, so the deterioration that we are now dealing with would’ve come about. I can’t prove that obviously in retrospect and even then arguing in 2001, 2002 I couldn’t prove it then. I couldn’t guarantee that if people did what I was advocating, it would succeed but I did predict that if we don't do it, this sort of thing that we now have to deal with would come about. Ignoring it or doing the minimum would almost shortly lead to an Afghanistan that will essentially begin to look like a failed state again and that’s exactly what we have.
Question: Why were the foreign policies of Bush 41 and Bush 43 so different?
Richard Haass: I mean he’d speak to his son a lot but I believed for two reasons one is the father-son relationship, fathers tend to give their sons some space. Secondly, ex-presidents has an unwritten role that ex-presidents give the incumbent a little bit of a space. I think in this case there was a third thing though and it’s obvious that there was some awkwardness because the policies of the father and the son were so very different. George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president, he represented a traditional what I would call realist school of American foreign policy.
There was a foreign policy of multilateralism, of diplomacy, of limited ambitions, of working with international institutions. His son represented a very different foreign policy of transformational, ambitious almost radical foreign policy, unilateralism, a heavy dose, a much heavier dose or reliance on the military force, of real suspicion of international arrangements, you saw it with the international criminal court, you saw it around with climate change, you saw it with the United Nation so in some ways, they represented the fault line of the American foreign policy debate – the former president, the older president representing the more traditional realist school that the principal purpose of American foreign policy essentially ought to be to shape the foreign policies of others and his [son] representing the radical and more Wilsonian school, the idealist school with the principal purpose of American foreign policy ought to be to reshape the internal nature of others.
And this debate has been going on for more than a hundred years in the United States and it’s just fascinating to me that the two sides of the debates are so exemplified by a father and son and it manifested itself in these two wars with Iraq. This is... these are textbook case studies that define the basic fault line of the American foreign policy debate.
Question: Should Bush administration officials be prosecuted over torture?
Richard Haass: No. I wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal the other day essentially arguing that we should not criminalize the policy debate. I read all the memos that have been released by the various justice department officials and what they did in the way the legal reasoning sometimes do almost like accountants. They were basically saying the following forms of activity are not explicitly illegal or excluded under domestic or international statute. I don’t necessarily agree with the reasoning, it was certainly aggressive legal reasoning but it seems to me it’s not the sort of thing that gets into the realm of criminality, it’s simply aggressive advocacy.
What’s more they don’t set the policy, they were simply arguing the policy and then it was up to the president and the cabinet and others to make a decision about what was going to be allowed or not. So I think this whole debate about whether the prosecutor criminalize those involved is really misguided. What we ought to have a debate in this country is about the pros and cons of certain types of interrogation techniques.
That’s a legitimate debate about what the benefits potentially are and reasonable people seem to disagree on that and what the cause are and clearly this cause reputing in the United States, there’s moral issues and again there’s real basic questions about the efficacy of these techniques whether they actually do provide usable, valuable, information but I don’t see this as illegal issue.
I see this as a policy issue and for the Congress and the United States I don’t think we need years of distraction or trying to find scapegoats or alleged criminal activity. I would think we need a policy debates and we need to get on with it because this country faces an array of challenges that borders on the unprecedented.
I also think that someone who’s been in and out of government in my career, it’s not a smarter healthy thing to do, to criminalize advocacy, that people are going to be making arguments in government and sometimes it maybe quite assured of or aggressive or outside the box, well fine that’s why you set up processes to vet these things that’s why you need a discipline rigorous national security council process.
Question: Where does Pakistan fall in the matrix of U.S. foreign policy?
Richard Haass: I would say Pakistan ought to be near the top of the foreign policy heap. It’s probably the most worrisome and difficult foreign policy challenge or national security challenge facing the administration. You’ve got plus or minus a hundred nuclear weapons, you have the headquarters, so to speak, of the world’s principal terrorist organizations. You’ve got a government that is unable, unwilling or both, when it comes to controlling its own territory. You’ve got a government that to some extent is not a government, it’s not in control of itself, or to add it all up you’ve got a tremendous gap or disparity between US interest on one hand which are enormous and US influence, on the other hand, which is quite limited. And anytime you have a gap between interest and influence, you’re obviously in an uncomfortable and dangerous situation and that’s where the US is with Pakistan.
It also holds the key to some extent with Afghanistan so getting the Pakistanis to deal with this growing, what you might call Talibanization of their society which is bad for Pakistan’s future as well as Afghanistan to something we could urge but we can’t force and we can’t do it for them so we do the odd Predator attack which to some extent helps to some extent alienates the society.
The real question is whether we can build up relevant Pakistani capabilities because most of them military capability is quite honestly are irrelevant to the challenge they face. They’re based upon some, I think, largely non-existing Indian threat rather than the real threats the Pakistani’s faced.
And it’s also not clear to me they have the will. There are large parts to Pakistani establishment that don’t agree. The Taliban represent an existential threat to their country or their society.
So I don’t see the United States doing in Pakistan anything like it’s doing in Afghanistan. I don’t see any broad commitment or ground troops, this is the country of a 175 million people, we’re not going to do that.
But, I can imagine a war of necessity arising in the context of Pakistani state failure. I can imagine the President of the United States conceivably ordering Special Forces or air strikes to deal with terrorist. Or I can imagine a president of the United States ordering Special Forces in or air strikes to deal with nuclear materials. So, it’s not inconceivable to me that sometime during Mr. Obama’s presidency, if 4 or 8 years, we could see something of a discreet you might call it war of necessity feasibly Pakistan.
A Pakistani government rather than growing is facing real economic problems is going to be that much wears off in dealing with its internal political and security challenges.
Question: Is China a military threat to the United States?
Richard Haass: I don’t see it. I believe that the Chinese are preoccupied with employment, with the success of their economy. They know they’re an underdeveloped country. I don’t believe the strategic culture of China is also heavily; I don’t believe it’s an imperialist global challenge. I don’t believe the Chinese for example are going to attack Taiwan because again what the Chinese know they need are literally decades of stability so they can grow their economy. They still have hundreds of millions of people to move from rural areas into urban areas.
They know just how underdeveloped they are, now if you’re asking me 50 years from now, 75 years from now, could a matured China take a different direction? Yeah, I can see that conceivably. I’m not predicting it but I can imagine it and the one thing that worries me about China’s political trajectory is that… is what will motivate its people.
I worry that the principal motive in China in down the road again, we’re talking in decades or longer here, could be nationalism. And that would be unhealthy. and that’s the reason that I believe it’s important that China gradually open up politically that China can’t simply be a culture based on materialism, I don’t believe socialism or communism are going to be it’s motives so I do believe in its greater political participation.
But if I were US Defense Planner, a lot of things will keep me up at night, and we’ve talked about some of that like Pakistan, like Afghanistan, like Iraq, like Iran, like North Korea. China would not be on the top 10 of that list.
Question: What are your contributions to U.S. foreign policy?
Haass: Sure. For President Bush, the first, the 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush, I spent all 4 years of his presidency on the staff for the National Security Council. Technically, I was the special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and South Asian Affairs, what that boiled down to is I was his and Brent Scowcroft, who is national security adviser, I was his and Brent Scowcroft’s principal adviser on the part of the world and included North Africa, the Middle East, the Israeli-Arab situation, the so called Persian Gulf and all the way through Afghanistan, India and Pakistan through South Asia. So, I did that for all 4 years.
The second president Bush, the 43rd president, George W., I was in the administration only for 2 and a half years, from January 2001 through June 2003 and there I had two hats.
I was the director of the policy planning staff for the secretary of state for Colin Powell and the second hat I was a roving ambassador for the administration where I was assigned specific missions. The two most prominent that I was assigned was first after 9/11, I was made the US Coordinator for the future of Afghanistan and then even before that early on in the administration, I became the US Envoy to the Northern Ireland peace process.
Question: How did you first get involved in politics?
Haass: Well, for outsiders to be frank, it’s rare. For careerist and I'm not a careerist, I'm not a career foreign service officer or career military or career intelligence. For careerist, that’s the norm. You serve and as administrations come and go it essentially doesn’t matter for the most part.
For someone such as myself, who’s an outsider, I'm trained as an academic, I've worked for one democratic president, for Jimmy Carter at the Pentagon, but I worked for Ronald Reagan and I work for both presidents Bush but I also worked for democratic senator years before. For outsiders I would think I'm more of the exception. By and large outsiders come in as political appointees, they tend to have a political alignment usually for democrat obviously or republican.
I'm pretty sensuous I think by most accounts. I'm a registered republican but I think I was brought in not because of my political affiliation but rather simply because people in the position of authority be it say Brent Scowcroft under Bush 41 or Colin Powell under Bush 43, knew me well and simply wanted me to work with them.
Question: Why did you support the first Iraq war?
Richard Haass: I thought it was right then and I thought it was right now. I remember the conversations in late February 1991 which was at the... when the battlefield phase of the war was ending and the president and Brent Scowcroft all of us, Jim Baker, Bob Gates, Dick Cheney, everybody was comfortable with stopping and the concern was that if we went on towards Baghdad or if we intervene in the various rebellions, the so called [IB], that sprung up in the south and the north, exactly the kinds of scenarios that we didn’t saw in this more recent Iraq War would happen and I remember saying to people that I fear that more Americans would die in that phase of the war than had died in the entire liberation of Kuwait and there were simply no... but there were simply no interest in marching on, it wasn’t the deal we cut with the Congress, it wasn’t the deal we cut with the international community. Militarily, Colin Powell who was then the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, talked about what a nightmare it was going to be on the ground logistically and coordinating with various Iraqi forces.
I remember him standing by the easel giving the briefing in the oval office about that. So, for all those reasons George Herbert Walker Bush wanted to keep things limited, wanted to essentially stop and not have the United States get bugged down in that type of a scenario.
The idea was to keep it limited and we thought that we could bank a lot of goodwill and use that to, among other things, go on and perhaps promote a peace process between Israelis and Arab which in fact happen, which was the Madrid Peace Conference several months later. The one assumption that was flawed and that was wrong, is that we thought Saddam Hussein would likely fall. We believed that he would be ousted by his own people for having led them into a failed war.
That proved wrong but I think what prove right though was the idea that keeping Iraq intact was a smart idea because that way Iraq could continue to balance Iran and we still believe at that point that Iran lead by this radical modus and the rest was much greater threat to the Middle East and one of the ironic results of the more recent Iraq war is that Iraq is the great strategic victim and no longer has to worry about Iraq instead it is Iran that has tremendous influence not simply in Iraq but throughout the Middle East with Hamas, with Hezbollah and so forth. So, we were playing balance of power politics in the first Iraq War and then in the second Iraq War, the Bush Administration of George W. did not play balance of power politics and the result is they led to an imbalance of power that favoured Iran.
Question: Should you have tried harder to stop the second Iraq war?
Richard Haass: That’s something I asked myself a lot and I wrote more memos that I can count. Making the case, both that we had viable alternatives to go into a war but also about if we were going to go to war how to do it in a smart way and if we were going to do... and then if we’re going to go to war we had to plan for an aftermath and how to do that in a smart way. And my frustration is that unfortunately, everything I recommended at every phase was ignored or rejected. It’s not so much that I wished that I had argued harder, I wished I had more opportunities to argue without.
I've been in government a lot in my life and you never win them all, you don't expect to but you really do want your day in court, you want your chance and what was so frustrating to me about this administration, the second Bush administration, is I essentially felt that people with my views never got their day in court. That there was international Security Council process that guaranteed that diverging views would really have their chance and that things would be argued out.
No, I have no illusions that even if I had every chance in the world the things would’ve been fundamentally different. I don't think it would’ve happen giving more people were the center of this administration was after 9/11 and given the, I thought, faithful decision by the National Security Adviser, by Condoleezza Rice and by the President to put responsibility for the Iraqi aftermath in the hands of the Defense Department. I thought that was a terrible decision. It’s a little bit like playing tennis and having someone not just be your opponent but calling all the lines and I thought the Pentagon should have over site of the security dimension of things but should not have over sited the overall policy that all state in the White House, that’s interesting several years later, it was ultimately moved to the White House where it should’ve been or it should have been all along.
So I have tremendous frustrations with the policy, obviously I disagreed with it. I had frustrations with how the intelligence wasn’t listened to but again I don't believe given the political balance or imbalance of this administration that I would have prevailed regardless of what opportunities I was given, I was given to make my case.
Question: What do you think of Obama’s plan to withdrawal from Iraq?
Richard Haass: I just come back from Iraq. I was there about 2 weeks ago.
My own view is that the various timelines of getting the United States out of [Iraq city] say by this summer ceasing all combat operations by Europe this summer and beginning all US forces out of Iraq over the next 2 and a half or so years.
I believe that there’s no way those timelines can be met and have Iraq not once again really descend into a lot more disorder. I simply do not believe that Iraq, the Iraqi police and military forces will be able and willing to take on those kinds of responsibilities. I don't believe that the Iraqi, Iraqi society has reached the point where we could be a self-sustaining orderly place without American forces there.
So, my hope and my prediction is, that sometime after next January‘s Iraqi national elections, the new Iraqi prime minister, and the president of the United States, are going to have to work out a new arrangement. So, essentially the reductions or draw downs in US forces will move more slowly.
And secondly we will keep some kind of residual force in Iraq that where there will not be a withdrawal. For my view is if we stick slavishly or automatically to this timelines, I don’t believe Iraq would be ready for the responsibilities that it would inherit if and when we left.
Question: Was “The Surge” the beginning of the end of the Iraq war?
Richard Haass: Well, not exactly.
The surge which really consisted of several pieces - there was the increase in US combat forces, there was the change of strategy, which is probably even more significant, away from offensive so called kinetic combat operations much more into a traditional counter insurgency strategy of clearing out the enemy, and then providing security to the citizenry, there was the diplomatic part of it of buying off a lot of the Sunni tribesmen and fighters, who had been directly or indirectly supporting radicalism and terrorism.
So all of these came together and indeed it was probably the most orderly decision making process of George W. Bush’s presidency and it showed. We’re a large outside disciplined force that it adapted its tactics and strategy, in this case to counter insurgency, could make a real difference.
In retrospect I think it was a smart thing to do. The problem now is whether we can use the time and space that the surge have created to help the Iraqis build up a self-sustaining police and military capability. And the jury is out. And I would simply say that probably the best we can hope for with Iraq is a somewhat messy future, not a future that looks like civil war, but it also won’t be a shining city on the hill.
And my view is that the best way to keep a floor under Iraq’s future, so it looks okay, is probably by keeping a residual American force for years to come or even longer. Now, this could become a fateful set of decisions for the Obama administration. It’s ironic that Barack Obama run against Iraq, said it was a terrible war of choice. He is going to probably face some fateful choices with Iraq about whether to continue with his timelines and then if he does, my fear is that then things will begin to unravel and any could face again some terrible decisions about whether to recommit US forces into a messy situation.
Question: How do you grade Obama on Iran?
Richard Haass: Well, he’s doing things that I support. I believe in diplomacy, I don’t believe in talking to…that talking to Iran somehow constitutes a concession or a favour. I think he’s right to drop the preconditions. What matters in the negotiation is not so much where you begin but where you end. So, I think all that is to the good. The problem is that he faces an extraordinarily difficult situation where the Iranians have gotten quite far, they’ve obviously already produced a large amount of low-enriched uranium.
If they were to put it back in their centrifuges and reinforce those centrifuges they could produce the basic stuff of a nuclear device and they would have to weaponize it. So my hunch is he is offering to change American foreign policy at a time when the Iranians are already pretty far down the path of having produced a raw material for a nuclear weapon and it’s not clear to me that the pace of the diplomacy can match the pace of technology and what’s slowing diplomacy down even more is the upcoming Iranian election.
But I think he’s right to try this because the two alternatives to negotiating a shilling, an acceptable shilling on the Iranian program one that we could conceivably live with.
The two alternatives are not attractive. The idea of using military force against Iran is unbelievably unattractive option because it’s not clear whether what would accomplish and it’s also clear the Iranians will retaliate in some expensive ways.
It also would drive the price of oil up dramatically, it’s something we don’t need. And it’s not at all attractive to live with in Iranian nuclear capability given Iran’s retorect, given its support for terrorism and giving that old place the Middle East on hair trigger and giving that other countries in the region could well follow suit and as bad as Middle East is right today, one can imagine a situation that will grow worse to say Iran, Israel, and half a dozen Arab countries over the next 25 years had nuclear capabilities so that would be a nightmare. So, I believe the president is exactly right to try to negotiate our way out of this.
I don’t think though negotiations can be expected to solve this if by solution you mean, come up with an Iran that is not rich in Uranium. My own hunch is that we would have to be prepared potentially to allow Iran to have an amount of Uranium. We could talk about the amount of Uranium, they’ve got the production capacity but it will depend upon I believe the level of inspections. We would have to be able to convince ourselves to a high degree that this is was all they had and what they had was not the sort of stuff that was so called weapon’s grade but rather it was the shortest stuff that you would need for a reactor to produce electricity.
Now, I would feel better if Iraq had the means and place to produce electricity and they don’t. So again you’ve got to be wildly suspicious but so far at least they haven’t cross that red line, they’ve not taken the so called low-enriched Uranium up to high enrichment but if they do, then Barack Obama could face one of the fateful days of his presidency considering that the Israeli’s might decide that isn’t tolerable or he himself might be pressured to declare it intolerable and then act upon it.
Question: Who is the Dick Cheney of the Obama administration?
Richard Haass: It’s a good question and after less than 4 months, it’s a little bit hard to tell. But, this is a president who obviously listens carefully to his own counsel. He’s got people like Bob Gates as the Secretary Defense who is I believe a lot of influence, he’s got a retired general as his national security adviser in the person of Jim Jones, you’ve got someone like David Petraeus, the Central Commander who obviously has tremendous influence both still over Iraq but also over the conflict in Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mike Mullen, is probably spending more time in Pakistan these days than he is in Washington, you’ve got a Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is active plus you got any numbers of special envoys.
I would think the difference with the Bush administration is you actually have more players here that you don’t have necessarily any single person who might have quite the weight say of Dick Cheney but what you have is a large number of people and the real challenge with the administration I would think will be coordinating all these people and making tradeoffs because in addition to Iraq, Afghanistan, you do have the challenge in Pakistan, you do have the challenge coming because of Iran’s nuclear program and you’ve got all the issues that arise from everything with dealing with great powers, to North Korea, to the global economy, to climate change, to swine flu so it’s an enormously crowded foreign policy inbox and determining tradeoffs, priorities, sequencing, and so forth is going to be a real challenge for the administration.
Question: Will a worldwide recession breed new wars?
Richard Haass: When you look around the world, the deteriorating economy could cause massive problems in terms of state failure throughout parts of Africa. I also worry about the absence of economic growth, what it would mean for countries say like China and its potential stability. I think also the lack of trade, the fact the trade is now contracting around the world rather growing has I think unfortunate not just economic consequences but political consequences.
The only upside I can see on the economic side finally off is the fact that some of the energy depending economies which are essentially cash cropped economy like around in Venezuela to some extent Russia are going to have that luxury of enormous treasuries and as a result in the case of Russia they may actually have to develop a real economy which wouldn’t be bad news.
And in the case of places like Iran or Venezuela, they won’t have all these extra resources to cause mischief and indeed to the contrary they may have to be more responsible to their own citizens for the delivery of essential services and a standard of living but by and large those are the exceptions and I think the struggling world economy you’ll see the growth of friction within and between states because of it and it’s not an immediate crisis but over time it could be a real drag if you will on global stability.
Question: What advice do you have for effective leadership?
Richard Haass: Actually it’s the same book, pretty much. The Power To Persuade was the first edition then we reissued a second edition which probably had 10% new material and changed the title so, they’re essentially a similar book.
Two things, one was teaching at the Kennedy School of Government and I couldn’t find the book that I felt told students who were thinking of careers in government but also can and I’ll get to this second but also in the private set. I couldn’t find the book I really liked and I had a lot of experience myself working in government.
What I wanted to do was to produce a book that will help people figure out what it is they wanted to accomplish and figure out how to accomplish it and the model I came up with was a compass that everybody had to think about their north which is their bosses, their south their staff, their east their colleagues and their west which who are those outside their organization but they still had to interact with. How they had a work off for those four directions of their compass to help them figure out what it was they could accomplish and to help pave the way to accomplishing it and that was essentially the model or the structure.
And I interviewed a lot of people and looked at a lot of people and essentially said, what explains why some intelligent people succeed and others fail and I wrote it mainly at the time for people going in to government but I’ve increasingly concluded that it makes just as much sense for people who are running a fortune of 500 companies because when you look at what the worlds these people now run or operate in, it looks an awful lot like a political world. They’re facing all this independent constituencies. They’re under the glare of 24/7 media and a constant new cycle. They’ve got to deal with unions, they’ve got to deal with competition globally and domestically, they’ve got to deal with environmental groups and citizen groups and state legislatures and Washington D.C.
So, if I say, I mean the major financial institutions, so you’re the head of an automobile company but pretty much anything else these days you are operating in an unbelievably crowded, complicated, competitive space. So the age… if it ever existed, when the CEO could live in some kind of splendid isolation and issue commands and have those commands followed faithfully. Those days simply don’t exist so, again I looked at the life of a CEO or someone who wants to be a CEO and I looked at the life of someone who is either a cabinet chief or assistant secretary in some cabinet department in Washington and increasingly the kinds of political challenges they face to figure out what their agenda is more important to get, to translate an agenda into reality. The world’s look awfully similar to me and that’s what I tried to do is come up with tools that would help people navigate extraordinarily challenging political environments which increasingly you find yourself in.
Question: How do you define loyalty?
Richard Haass: One notion, I will give you one if you want to which was just most of us are not the boss. So, I talked about loyalty and to me loyalty has 2 dimensions, one is to speak truth to power. So, wherever you are that one of things you owe it to your conscience, you owe it to your career but you owe it your boss is to tell your boss not what he or she wants to hear but what they need to hear and you need to be creatively also just need to be intellectually honest and if you disagree you need to disagree in here as well.
The other half of loyalty of though, of what you owe boss is when your boss makes a decision and it doesn’t necessarily go your way, you’ve got to live with it. You can’t undermine it, you can’t be disloyal and you don’t want to resign every time you don’t have your way.
It’s something I actually write about it in the Iraq book because I had to live with the question of whether to stay or resign when decisions didn’t go my way and my view is, it either has to be a very big decision that doesn’t go your way and those are rare unfortunately in life or it has to be the accumulation of a large number of medium size decisions that don’t go your way and you say, “Hey, this isn’t the right place for me.” But otherwise, it seems to me you essentially part of what you owe your boss loyalty up is a willingness to work with them.
If you’ve been heard out and even if it goes against you that you don’t essentially pick up your marbles and go home. I mentioned this because on my experience most people often do it either. A lot of people are afraid to speak truth to power because they fear there’s going to be retribution or retaliation. And secondly, if they don’t get the decision they want, one way or another they sabotage it. They’re not enthusiastic or they don’t do all that they could and should and not professional about implementing it. I also say, while we’re on it, there’s also loyalty down from North to South with bosses or their subordinates and it seems to me you owe them their day in court, a chance to make the arguments. If you go against them, I think you owe it to them an explanation as to why and if you do those things I think you’re more likely to get the sort of behaviour you want from your staff.
Recorded on: May 08, 2009
A conversation with a creator of US foreign policy from Administrations Carter to Bush Jr.
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