As well known by RealityChek regulars, there’s not much I enjoy more professionally speaking than finding figures with whom I normally strongly disagree on key economic and foreign policy issues unwittingly agreeing with me on the concepts at the heart of these disagreements. (See, e.g., here and here.)
So imagine how pleased I was to see this paragraph in a recent opinion column by Richard N. Haass – a foreign policy establishmentarian if ever there was one, and therefore a leading advocate of the globalist approach to world affairs that I and Donald Trump (in his typically ragged way) believe has been needlessly and indeed recklessly risky and costly for Americans:
“The US will…encounter difficulty in realizing its goal of organizing the world to meet global challenges, from infectious disease and climate change to nuclear proliferation and conduct in cyberspace. There is no consensus and no international community, and the US can neither compel others to act as it wants nor succeed on its own.”
It’s a statement that’s noteworthy not only because it recognizes the fatal flaw of one of globalism’s central pillars – fetishizing international cooperation and therefore striving to systematize and formalize such multilateralism by building strong global institutions. For the point being made by Haass – a former official in the pre-Trump Republican presidencies and now President of the Council on Foreign Relations, often described as the foreign policy establishment’s epicenter – is that creating organizations can’t be equated with solving even problems shared by the entire world because – across the board – so many different countries disagree on the best solutions.
It’s also statement that’s noteworthy because Haass had previously called the rejection of multilateralism and its constituent institutions a defining and especially wrongheaded feature of Trump’s America First-ism. Withdrawal from such arrangements, Haass wrote just last May, has been
“central to the Trump presidency. He has pulled the country out of every manner of multilateral agreement and institution overseas in the name of going it alone. Going it alone, though, makes little sense in a world increasingly defined by global challenges that can best be met through collective, not individual, action.”
But Haass’ new about-face is consequential as welI because it’s essence’ is identical with my own previously stated (anti-globalist) view that
“Precisely because…domestic [political] systems are characterized by a common acceptance of legitimate authority, and by a broader sense of mutual obligation, a true [foreign policy] realist would never disagree that their possibilities for ‘trust, cooperation and growth’ are often encouraging. It is precisely because the international system possesses none of these features that realists’ expectations of achieving such advances abroad are so low.”
P.S. I wrote the above in 2002.
Unfortunately, Haass’ latest makes painfully clear that he has no useful policy advice for President Biden – another multilateralism and international institution fan boy – in a world in which their foreign policy lodestars have become so useless (and in my view have never been essential). I’ve written that recognizing the shortcomings and limitations of international institutions doesn’t require simply abandoning them.
Instead, because cooperation inevitably sometimes be worth seeking, it means recognizing the hard-ball politicking typically needed to prevail; and amassing the power (in all dimensions) needed both to succeed, and to survive and prosper through America’s own devices if others prove recalcitrant.
In fact, the virtues of this foreign policy strategy seem so obvious that I’ve got the sneaking suspicion that a big reason they became controversial was because they were championed by Trump. Which raises the intriguing possibility that the Biden administration could wind up adopting an America First-type foreign policy, but in the worst conceivable manner – unwittingly, and even kicking and screaming all the way.