Richard Haass is a “card-carrying member of America’s foreign policy establishment.”
While the US faces countless challenges abroad—a militarized North Korea, Iran’s push for nuclear weapons, a rising China—the problems within our borders are the greatest threat to long-term security and stability, says Richard Haass, president of the New York–based Council on Foreign Relations and author of the new book Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America’s House in Order (Basic Books).
As a “card-carrying member of America’s foreign policy establishment” for four decades, Haass says the book, which advocates for less foreign involvement and far more focus at home, was something he never imagined writing. He feels the foundations of American power are eroding because of out-of-control domestic spending, the recent financial crisis—which he deemed avoidable—a flawed premise for the Iraq war, and “a war in Afghanistan that became flawed as its purpose evolved.”
America’s issues are profound, but not unconquerable says Haass, although shortterm fixes will remain elusive. He points to a leadership void in the White House and Congress, forcing the country to drift during the past decade rather than tackle problems like the deficit, the cost of those foreign wars and social entitlements, as well as immigration. While Haass feels large-scale foreign conflicts are unlikely in the immediate future, economic upheaval remains a real possibility, particularly “if the world tires of lending dollars to the US.”
Haass, who was national security advisor for President George W. Bush, lives and works in New York. When we met shortly after the Boston bombings, the topic of terrorism, which he also addresses at length in his book, took over our conversation. “No amount of counterterrorism can be 100 percent effective,” says Haass, but he praises Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly for keeping the city safe post 9/11. “New York has stepped up its communications with foreign agencies around the world as a way to learn about the kinds of people who enter New York legally,” says Haass. He credits the NYPD with making the city less vulnerable to another terrorist attack, as well as the city’s surveillance capabilities, which he describes as “state of the art.”
But for Haass the most effective form of security is outreach. “The best way to prevent the radicalization of young people is by developing close ties to local communities and community leaders,” he explains.
And it is in these localities at home, perhaps as much as on some distant battlefield, where the war on terrorism will be won, says Haass.
photography by sari goodfriend; location courtesy of united nations