Transcript: Richard Haass on “Intelligence Matters”
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“Intelligence Matters” is a weekly podcast about national security and policy hosted by former CIA acting director and CBS News national security contributor Michael Morell. Each week, users can listen to conversations between Morell and some of the world’s leading intelligence and national security officials and experts. The podcast, which launched in 2017, was previously produced in partnership with The Cipher Brief, a website dedicated to national security topics.
INTELLIGENCE MATTERS – RICHARD HAASS
CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL
PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS, JAMIE BENSON
Richard, welcome to Intelligence Matters. You know, I think you’re one of the most knowledgeable people in our country on foreign policy and national security. So I think it’s terrific for our listeners to get to hear your thoughts on a whole range of issues.
Well, I would describe you the same way. So possibly (LAUGH) both of us are right. Or the other possibility–
–we’re both wrong. (LAUGH)
–is neither one of us is right.
So Richard, I’d love to start with some strategic questions and then take you on a tour of the world, if that’s okay.
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So first strategic question is I would love to hear how you would tell the story of the arc of American foreign policy, from the end of World War II to where we are today. What’s changed? If it’s changed, why has it changed? What were the big muscle movements, inflection points, et cetera? How do you think about that?
How many days do we have for the answer?
Yeah, I know. So probably about two minutes here.
Dean Acheson, who was the American Secretary of State after World War II, under Truman, you know, wrote his memoir. And he immodestly, but probably accurately, described it as present at the creation. The United States emerged from World War II as first among not just
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equals, but unequals in the capacity department, and essentially put into place institutions, relationships to try to structure the post-World War II world, and in part succeeded, various international institutions, and so forth.
But there was a second set of structure or order that came into being, which was the Cold War. So for four decades after World War II, you had this American-led world, largely of anti-communist countries, some of which were democracies, alliances, international institutions that coexisted with a Cold War world, that had its own rules, and in many ways also structured international relations.
That lasted, as I said, for four decades, till roughly 1989, 1990. And for the last three decades, the last 30 years, we have been first again, first among unequals in many ways. But we’ve had to contend
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with everything from the rise of China, the alienation of the former Soviet Union, of Russia, the dispersion of power around the world, proliferation to places like North Korea, before that Pakistan, India and so forth, the rise of all sorts of new technologies that, again, put capacity in lots of hands, social media, what have you.
And I think what’s new in recent years is that, until a couple years ago, I would say certainly to the Trump administration, most American presidents, if I can use a sporting metaphor, Mike, operated within the 40 yards lines. From Truman through Obama might’ve been on the right side of the field, might’ve been on the left side of the field. But basically bought into this post-World War II order of American leadership, alliances, international institutions.
00:03:13;12 I think with Barack Obama you saw some questions of moving
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away from it, simply because he thought the costs were too high. Began to dial it back. And under Mr. Trump there’s been a major acceleration. He’s really the first president who’s an outlier.
So rather than being part of the Truman through Obama line, he represents something different. Doesn’t believe in free trade. Questions the value of alliances. Questions the value of multilateralism. Quite honestly, based on my own conversations with him, questions the foreign policy proposition, that American leadership in the world is worth it.
So he represents a departure. And just to end up, I think the real question, going forward, is he the aberration? And then we come back to something like what we’ve seen? Or does it turn out that the last 70, 75 years is the aberration, and that history begins to resemble more what it looked like before World War II. That’s the big question.
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So what do you think the answer to that question is? Is he the aberration? Or does he represent something that’s more fundamental to what’s going on in American politics and how Americans think about this?
I know what I hope the answer is obviously, that we continue to carry out most, if not all of our traditional role. I fear that’s not gonna be the case. I think that Trumpism is alive and well in the country. He’s as much a reflection as he is a cause.
And I think the post-Trump Republican Party can carry on many of these features. Not all, but many. And we’re seeing elements of it in the Democratic Party. If you watch the Democratic debates– you know, I work at the Council on Foreign Relations.
We sent a questionnaire to all the Democratic candidates. Gave ’em a dozen questions. If you read the answers on
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Afghanistan, you read the answers on trade, there’s surprising overlap between most of the Democrats and elements of Mr. Trump.
And, again, I think they’re reflecting the intervention fatigue felt in this country after Iraq and Afghanistan, understandably. I think they’re also reflecting of frustrations. Things haven’t been as good at home. The stagnation in middle class incomes. And there’s a tendency to scapegoat foreign policy, scapegoat trade and so forth.
So my concern is that, even after Donald Trump, even if it’s less extreme, that the next decade or even longer of American foreign policy may still represent a significant pulling back from the sort of role that we’ve played for 70 years, and I believe served us well.
So if you were standing in front of a group of Americans who believe
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all of what you just said, or pieces of what you just said, how would you make an argument to them of why American leadership is so important?
I’m glad you asked me that. Two ways. One is I would explain the connection between what happens in the world and the quality of life in the United States. I think most Americans see foreign policy as foreign. I would make the argument that foreign policy is anything but foreign.
We learned it the hard way on 9/11. We learn it every day, whether we realize it or not, economically. If a Zika epidemic breaks out in parts of Africa, it could reach the United States. Refugees. Climate change. What I would try to do, first of all, is make the case that foreign policy matters, that you can’t separate how we do as a society and as an economy from what happens in the world. That would be point one.
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And then point two, I would make the case that what we need to do– the good news is it’s affordable. If you look at the level of national security spending during the Cold War, it was at a level that was roughly the share of GDP, the share of our economy that it represented, was roughly twice what it is now.
And we did pretty well then. So my argument would be we have to act in the world out of self-interest. And the good news is we can afford to do what we need to do. Probably if that didn’t convince them, I’d made one other argument, that our shortcomings at home, which are real, whether it’s infrastructure or opportunity, public education, healthcare, that those things do not come– they’re not because of what we spend on foreign policy.
You can blame foreign policy for a lot. But you can’t blame foreign policy for the fact that we spend twice the
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average of other developed countries on healthcare. And the last I check, we’re not twice as healthy. And we don’t live twice as long.
We spend a lot on public education. We just don’t get our money’s worth. So we need to fix what’s going on at home. One of my previous books, at the risk of plugging a previous book, was called Foreign Policy Begins at Home. There’s lots of things we can and should do. We’re just not doing it. And the fault doesn’t lie in our foreign policy. The fault lies in our domestic politics.
And if we can fix those things, not only can we make the country stronger from a national security perspective, but we can also make the public more willing to let the U.S. lead in the world.
Amen. And it’s one of the reasons we do have to sort things out at home. Because my concern is it’s not just that we
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won’t have the resources if we don’t sort things out. We won’t have the bandwidth. If we are divided as a society, if we’re divided politically, we’re not gonna be able to come together to deal with what– we’re gonna also be simply too distracted. People are gonna say, “That’s a luxury. We gotta fix what’s wrong here at home.” Again, it’s another argument why it’s essential we get it right here at home.
Okay, so with all that as backdrop, let’s kind of go around the world. And I’d love to start with China, which I think is the big enchilada here, particularly over the long term
I think that’s a mixed metaphor, calling China–
It is. It is–
–the big enchilada.
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–it is. It is. So what do you see as our national interest, with regard to a rising China? How should we think about that? And then how should we position ourselves, given what we need to achieve here, given those interests?
I think the operative word here is rising China. China’s rising. So the foreign policy of the United States should not be, and won’t succeed if it turns out to be, to prevent China’s rise. What we wanna do is to encourage China, as it does gain further capacity, to use that capacity in constructive ways.
We wanna shape what China does in the world and how it does it. If you will, the principal focus of American foreign policy, when it comes to China, oughta be the foreign policy of China. And that means to garner their help in dealing with North Korea, to discourage any adventurism on their part when it
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comes to Taiwan or the South China Sea and so forth.
We ought to try to shape what China does and where we can, great. Where we can’t, we then have to think about how to respond. And a side part of that is that we can’t expect foreign policy to give us all the answers. And by that I mean if we’re worried about, say, what China’s doing when it come to 5G, the answer can’t be, “Let’s try to stop China.”
How about we do more? How about we do better? And that’s about why don’t we increase the amount of federal spending on basic R&D? Why don’t we do certain regulatory things that would open up certain capacities for the civilian sector? Why don’t we do something different on immigration, to get more talent in or to stay in this country? So it’s important not to ask too much of our China policy for creating a context in which we successfully deal with
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So based on what you said, and I don’t wanna put words in your mouth, but based on what you just said, I would assume that you don’t think we’re in the right place at the moment–
And I don’t think–
–with regard to how we’re dealing with China.
The short answer is I don’t think we’re in the right place. We may have been too optimistic about bringing China in as a partner, to use the phrase, a responsible stakeholder, to integrate them into our world. I think we were right to let them in, for example, into the WTO.
I don’t think we monitored their behavior closely enough. But I worry now we’re overshooting. Foreign policy has
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pendulums, like everything else. And I think now the pendulum is swinging too far the other way, to talk about a cold war blithely, either the inevitability of one, the reality of one.
That could happen. But nobody should welcome that. A 21st century defined by a U.S./Chinese cold war will be a much worse century. It would make it far more difficult for us other cooperate on regional or global challenges. It increases what we have to spend on defense.
It increases the odds that, at some point, the cold war will be hot. So we ought to, if we can, avoid it. Now obviously it takes two to avoid it. So I want a relationship with China where we try to influence their behavior, but we also protect the possibility and reality of limited areas of cooperation. So we’re going to have a relationship that’s gonna have multiple
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personalities. But that ought to be our goal.
So what would your conversation be with them, if you were trying to convince them of having this thing come out in the right place?
The conversation I would have with China, indeed it’s a conversation I have had with China, when I ran the policy planning staff at the State Department, my opposite number was the gentleman who happens to be China’s foreign minister right now, Wang Yi.
And the other person I worked most closely with is China’s ambassador to the United States. And this was the conversation we had all the time. What sort of an international system do we wanna bring about? What is a post-Cold War international system?
How do we deal with global challenges, from terrorism to proliferation to modernizing international
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financial arrangements to dealing with climate to dealing with global health? I wanna bring China into a set of relationships. That’d be the conversation.
And I would make the argument why it’s in their interest to do so. It’s not a favor they do for us. This is not an only good for America world. This is a world that they also would benefit from. And I’d also make clear, if they decide not to do that, not only will they pay a price, but if they act in ways that we believe are contrary to our interests, they will leave us no recourse but to push back, whether it’s with Taiwan or the South China Sea or on certain trade– you know, in the area of trade, if they adopt behaviors that we think are simply unfair or inimical to our interests.
So basically lay out the menu. They’re gonna have to make decisions. Now implicit in this, let me say one other point. And I apologize for going on so long. I think we
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should show concern about what China does at home. But I don’t think that can or should be the first thing in our relationship.
I don’t think we will succeed. And this is where I worked for Bush 41. You know, at the time of Tiananmen, I was in the White House. And I think the feeling was we criticized them for what they did. We sanctioned them for what [they] did. But we also protected a larger relationship. And I think that ought to be our navigation, going forward.
So Richard, let’s stick with East Asia. North Korea. No administration has been able to deal successfully with North Korea’s strategic weapons program, its nuclear weapons and its long range missiles.
How do you think about the threat from North Korea? Is it bigger than what I just said, right? And how do you assess perhaps how the Obama administration approached
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it? And how do you assess President Trump’s novel approach? And what might you do differently?
Well, you’re right. The policy towards North Korea has been a rare case of continuity (LAUGH) in American foreign policy. That’s the good news. The bad news is successive administrations have failed to accomplish —
Every single one.
Every single one. North Korea continues to pose a significant conventional military threat to the Republic of Korea, to South Korea. But obviously what’s new and different is the nuclear and missile threat. You know, this president, President Trump, came in and tried to shake things up.
And he did it with his threats. And he did it with tighter sanctions. And he did it with his openness to diplomacy. And
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in principle that was good. I think, essentially, he teed it up well, where there’s been a failure is after that. And I think this denuclearization or nothing approach is misguided.
Well, I believe we ought to keep to denuclearization as a long-term goal. But we ought to be open to lesser interim arrangements. We will reduce the degree of the sanctions we put on you in exchange for certain limits on your capacities.
Because what’s happened is, by having all or nothing diplomacy, we now have nothing. And since then, since the president’s been on his (UNINTEL), North Korea is far more capable in the missile realm, as well as in the nuclear realm. This isn’t working.
You know, as bad as it is not, Mike, I mean, just say North Korea now has an estimated, what, 30, maybe 35, whatever, nuclear warheads, imagine a day — in five or ten
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years — where they could have 130. And of greater quality, on missiles with greater accuracy.
We do not want to get to the point where North Korea represents an existential threat to the United States. The president keeps saying he’s a patient man. He shouldn’t be patient here. He should feel urgency. So the goal of the United States ought to be to cap North Korea’s capacities as a first step, and then see how we can roll them back, those capacities. So I believe, again, he was right to get their attention. But he’s been wrong in how he’s done things since.
Yeah. I think he can actually use the relationship he’s built, right, to push, to get to those negotiations that you’re talking about.
I believe he could, too. I don’t understand this insistence on our way or the highway. It’s simply not working. And
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the North Koreans have also figured out that they don’t face a threat of military force. A war on the Korean peninsula would be horrific, as you know better than most.
And the sanctions are deteriorating. China, Russia and others are working around them. And that’s the history of sanctions. You know, I’ve done several studies of sanctions. They rarely, if ever, accomplish big things. And over time what they accomplish tends to go diminish. And we’re seeing that with North Korea. So, again, time is not our friend here.
Okay, Richard, let’s jump to the Middle East and Iran. And I put the Middle East in there specifically because I wanted to start by asking you what our interests are in the region, and then how you see Iran threatening those interests.
Okay. Well, it’s a good place to start. I would say our interests in the region, in no particular– one is still
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energy resources. We may be energy sufficient. We are not energy independent. And people keep confusing those two words.
But the energy in the Middle East is still critical for the world economy. And what happens with the world economy affects us. So, again, no one should use the phrase energy independent. So we still have an interest in the production of Middle Eastern energy, oil and gas and its ability to reach its consumers.
We have a real concern about terrorism, not seeing that terrorism gains a footing, whether their goals are local or global. We have an interest obviously in proliferation and preventing it. Right now there’s one country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons. That’s Israel. We don’t want to see a second, much less a third or fourth of fifth. I’d say those are our most important
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interests, along with historic support for the wellbeing of the state of Israel.
And then what about Iran’s threat to all of that?
Well, Iran is a threat to all those things, in the sense that we’ve seen the attack on Saudi oil. We’ve seen Iran support for terrorism in all sorts of ways, carrying it out as well as supporting it–
Over a very long period of time.
Over very long period of time. This is a sustained policy. For them, it’s on one of their principal national security instruments. We’ve seen Iran’s nuclear program and the potential of that for breakout to cross lines. So Iran is a significant threat.
And I think it’s important to understand Iran. Iran is not a status quo country. Iran is an imperial country. And by
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that I mean it has a vision of the region and a vision of its role that goes beyond its borders. And it’s realized that, to some extent.
If one looks at Lebanon, that is success. If one looks at Syria, that is a considerable success. If one looks at Iraq, in some ways the great strategic beneficiary of the Iraq War, one of the reasons I was against it (LAUGH) when I was at the State Department, is I feared that what has happened would happen, which is that Iran would benefit from no longer having a country like Iraq to offset it.
So Iran has been the great strategic gainer of the last couple of decades. And the challenge for us is how do we contain it? How do we put certain limits on Iranian influence in the region? And it’s hard. Because our actual or would-be partners, in many cases, aren’t able to play that role. And, for understandable reasons, we want to put a ceiling
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on how much we are involved. And that is the tension in American foreign policy towards Iran.
And there’s a bit of a debate. And it’s played out in the pages of Foreign Affairs, which is the journal of the Council, on whether Iran is an imperial country or whether it’s a revolutionary country.
Where do you fall in that debate? Revolutionary in the sense of spreading extremist Shia ideology?
I actually see them as the same. I see it as that’s part of their imperial role, that, again, they’re not self-satisfied to make Iran– their goal is not to make Iran great again. That might be one of their goals, since the Islamic revolution. But their goal is to make much of the region in their image.
And they do it in all sorts of ways. And that’s a goal I oppose. So
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that means we have to work with local states, to strengthen them, to make them less vulnerable, to push back. And we have to try to shape Iranian behavior directly. And that’s where sanctions, diplomacy, potentially military force come in.
How would you assess the Obama administration’s approach to Iran?
Well, the Obama administration’s approach I’m critical of. I thought the 2015 nuclear agreement was too generous, in many ways. The so-called sunset provisions were way too short. I don’t understand, at that moment, why we didn’t get a much more longer-lasting agreement.
Why ten years? Why not 25 years? Why not 50 years? Why not permanent. I think we should’ve pressed for something much longer-term. And I think part of the reason we didn’t is the administration had the– you can call it naïve or misguided or just incorrect view
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that integration with Iran, dealing with Iran would get it to moderate, to change.
Funnily enough, similar to some of the thinking about China that many administrations have had, that integration would bring transformation. We haven’t seen (LAUGH) it with China. We haven’t seen it with Iran. So it’s time to go back and rethink some of our approach to foreign policy and that.
So my view, the previous administration got an agreement, wasn’t the agreement I would’ve wanted. I think we could’ve been and should’ve been more ambitious. And I think the assumption underneath it, that time would solve the problem of Iran’s orientation, was simply– there was no reason to believe that.
All right. Same question about the Trump administration.
Well, Trump administration began with a critique of the Obama
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administration, but, almost like healthcare, has thrown it out without a clear substitute. I don’t see a plan B. So it got rid of the agreement. But then what? Now one area that I underestimated was the impact of unilateral American sanctions.
Those have had more of an impact on Iran’s economy, its ability to export oil, than I did anticipate. But I don’t see the administration has decided what its purpose is. Okay, so we’ve put pressure on Iran, but towards what end? Now for some it may have been regime change.
Well, that is not gonna happen. It did not happen and will not happen. For some it might be that the Iranians would simply say, “Uncle. We can’t take the pain anymore. Please tell us, America, what you want us to do.” Ain’t gonna happen. So what’s happened is we put all this pressure on Iran without an articulated purpose.
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What I wanted us to do, and the administration never did, was say, “Hey, here’s what we are prepared to trade. We will lighten up on sanctions if you accept the following, say, in the nuclear realm or the missile realm or in some other realm.”
We haven’t done it with North Korea, other than saying, “The only thing that’s good enough is denuclearization.” We’ve made a similar mistake with Iran. We haven’t basically said, “We are prepared to ease sanctions in exchange for these behavioral changes.” We never, ever did that. So instead we basically carried out economic warfare against Iran. And what’s now happened is, over the last few months, Iran has responded two ways. One is with physical warfare, military warfare against us and our–
Trying to impose a cost on us for our behavior.
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Exactly, saying, “You’re gonna use the economic instrument of war. We’re gonna use the drones or we’re gonna use missiles. We’re gonna use, you know, what have you, mines in the waterways.” So there’s one. And second of all, they’ve begun the process of breaking out of the constraints in the 2015 nuclear agreement.
So we’re at a point here where we have to decide what it is we want. So we can put more pressure on Iran economically, if there’s much we haven’t done. Or we can use cyber. Or we can use military force. But, again, Iran is going to retaliate. What still is missing from U.S. foreign policy is a purpose with Iran.
We haven’t told the Iranians, “Here’s the deal.” Now they may push back and say, “We don’t like that deal. How about this deal?” Fine. The last I checked, that’s called diplomacy. That’s why, you know, you have
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diplomats, presumably who do that. The biggest question is, “What is our definition of success here? What is our goal?” We continue to put pressure on Iran without a clear purpose.
So Richard, last big issue, Russia. How do you think about Russia? How do you think about it as a threat to our interests? How do you think we’re handling it? How do you think we should handle it?
–we’re gonna have a big debate one day about Russia. And it’s gonna be a historical debate. And it’ll be a version of who lost Russia. People will look at the end of the Cold War, when Soviet Union transformed into Russia. Basically the Soviet Union had two empires. You had the external empire in Eastern
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And you had the internal empire that was the Soviet Union itself. Both unraveled. And the hope was that we could have a good relationship with Russia. And it hasn’t worked. And the question is, “Why not?” And there’s one school of thought that said that was wishful thinking. You were never gonna have it, given Russian political culture, history, interests and the rest.
And the other would say, “We blew it. We weren’t generous enough on the economic side, with things like NATO enlargement. We kindled or rekindled nationalist sentiments in Russia.” I don’t know, Mike. I don’t know the answer to that question. But I was not a great enthusiast of NATO enlargement.
I thought there were other ways we could’ve structured and stabilized post-Cold War Europe. That said, we are where we
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are where we are. I think, you know, Russia’s now an outlier, under Mr. Putin. I don’t think things will get materially better, so long as he’s there.
Because he wants no part of what we used to call the liberal world order. He sees it as a threat to his continued rule. So my view is we push back wherever we have– we make NATO stronger. We help Ukraine. But the one area that I don’t want to see unravel is the nuclear area.
So, again, almost what I said about China before, we don’t have the luxury of an all or nothing relationship with China. We need to have areas of cooperation, even if we have large areas of competition. Same with Russia. We may disagree with Russia here, there, but not everywhere.
We do not want what happened with the intermediate range nuclear agreement to be a precursor for the long range.
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You know, we don’t wanna be spending the dollars on that. We don’t want the risk of that, of a whole new wave of nuclear modernization and competition.
So my view, again, with Putin is, let’s have diplomacy. Actually, I never would’ve kicked him out of the G8. I don’t think diplomacy should be seen as a favor we bestow on others. Keep him there. Have him there and disagree with him. It’s not a favor–
It’s a tool we use–
Exactly. It’s a tool. So I don’t understand why we have so much trouble wrapping ourselves around the idea that diplomacy is a tool. It’s not for sissies. It can be a really hard edge tool. Anyhow, but I would have serious negotiations on strategic nuclear forces.
I’d be talking to Russia about the Middle East, even though we
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disagreed about Syria. We may not disagree about everything. And they matter. They matter for North Korea. They matter for Venezuela, for all these countries. Again, where we can protect or carve out limited areas of cooperation, we should do it, even if, under Mr. Putin, the overall character of the relationship’s gonna be pretty hostile.
So Richard, two institutional questions. The first is how would you assess the health of our national security institutions?
Short answer? (LAUGH) Once, when Brezhnev was general secretary, he was asked, “Comrade Brezhnev, what is the health of the Soviet economy?” And he said, “Good.” And they said, “Well, could you say a little bit more? (LAUGH) Like, in two words?” And he said, “Not good.”
Yeah, I remember that. (LAUGH)
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That’s where I am about America’s national security institutions. State Department has been decimated. Sorry to say it, but I think that will be Rex Tillerson’s legacy. And I don’t think Mike Pompeo has done nearly enough to turn it around. John–
And it was under-invested in before that, as well, right?
Indeed. John Bolton did a real number on the National Security Council. The intelligence community, I worry that its relationship with policy makers is not what it could and should be. Probably the Pentagon and the military side of the Pentagon is probably the best off of all of those.
But as a whole I worry about the state of the institutions. I worry we’re not attracting the young talent we should. And I really worry about the lack of a systematic process. You and I are both veterans of more
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interagency meetings than either of us would care to count.
But process protects. Process protects. It makes sure that presidents and principals see the options, that the intelligence is married to the policy, that implementation and execution are discipline. And I worry about the ad hoc-ery, the informality that we’re seeing in government right now.
On more than one occasion, in those meetings, somebody would say, “Hey, have you thought about this?” Right? And the “this” was really important. And if they weren’t there, you would’ve missed the “this.”
100%. And, again, even if it slows you down a bit, that’s a price worth paying. In my experience, you almost always pay a price for a lack of process. You just don’t think of things, as you say. Implementation doesn’t match decision.
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You rush to judgment. I mean, the fact that the Iraq War, for example, in 2002 and 2003, was launched without a formal inter-agency meeting, that really carefully and systematically looked at all the options, that people weren’t thinking systematically about the aftermath and what that would require, that tells you something. We should not conduct foreign policy on the fly.
Okay, three final questions, Richard. Which president do you admire the most, from a foreign policy perspective?
Well, one I worked for is the 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush. I was at the White House for all four of those years. And I just think that he and Brent Scowcroft, Jim Baker and others, Bob Gates, deserve tremendous credit. One I didn’t work for is Harry Truman. If you asked me who were the two best foreign policy presidents of the post-World War II modern era, I would say Truman and Bush
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And what made them so good?
Truman, in the sense that was willing to think big and to break with the past in so many ways. To basically have the United States permanently involved in the world was a fundamental break from the tradition of American isolationism. He surrounded himself with great people, the Achesons and others, and was willing to take the country in places they didn’t want to go.
A lot of that applies to Bush. After the Cold War, he basically said, “We still have things to do in the world.” He said, “This will not stand.” When the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, surrounded himself with extraordinarily talented people and made sure the system worked.
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And at times, you know, again, took the country in places they didn’t want to do and did it in a generous way. It wasn’t, to put it bluntly, an American-first approach. It was one where we worked with others. We had the coalition that dealt with the gulf challenge. He tried to bring the world and the country along with him, to a considerable degree.
And of those folks who you worked for directly, who did you learn the most from about foreign policy?
I would probably say Brent Scowcroft. It’s hard though because I’m so close to him. And he was and is one of my favorite people on the planet. And it was partially the issues. But less the issues. The learning was more from the process, to watch the way Brent ran the inter-agency process. That’s where I really learned about how we dealt with these big personalities, how they trusted him in a way that leaks didn’t happen.
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Things were so good that a Jim Baker or Dick Cheney wouldn’t demand to see the president. They knew that Brent would represent their position faithfully to the president, as good as they could do it, and that the president would hear their views and so forth. What I learned from Brent was how to run a system with real integrity. That was to me the great learning. And, you know, but it wasn’t just Brent. You had Baker. You had Cheney. You had Gates. I mean, Colin Powell.
What a team, huh?
Well, what a constellation of talent.
And the last question, and maybe we’ve talked about this already, is when it comes to the security of the country, what worries you the most?
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Well, that’s easy. We hinted at it before. It’s not China. It’s not Russia. It’s not a specific threat out there. It’s us. I worry about our disunity and our dysfunction. And I worry that we’re not taking the world as seriously as we ought to take it. We’re not devoting the resources.
We’re not structuring the decision-making process. I worry that, in part, you know, we don’t teach it. Kids are graduating. You know, my pet peeve, kids are graduating from the best universities and schools in the country and don’t understand this world they’re about to enter. So that’s what worries me. It’s that we have a society here at home that increasingly doesn’t understand why it’s in our interest to continue to play a large role in the world. And that’s what worries me more than anything else.
Richard, thank you for your time.
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Thanks for having me, Mike.
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