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Who's in the Video
Dr. Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a position he has held since July 2003.  He is the author or editor of eleven books on American[…]

Richard Haass candidly reflects on his active political career.

Question: What are your contributions to U.S. foreign policy?


Richard 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?


Richard 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.


Recorded on: May 08, 2009