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Welcome to Say More, a new weekly newsletter that brings Project Syndicate's renowned contributors closer to readers. Each issue invites a selected contributor to expand on topics covered in their commentaries, delve into new ones, and share recommendations, offering readers exclusive insights into the ideas, interests, and personalities of the world's leading thinkers.

This week, Project Syndicate catches up with Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.

In last week’s edition of Say More, Elizabeth Drew – the author of Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon's Downfall – discussed the implications of the Mueller report and explained why US Democrats must launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Richard Haass Says

Project Syndicate: The US and China are shaking the fragile foundations of stability in Taiwan, which you warn threatens to do more harm than good. But is instability always bad? Mass protests against a proposed law to allow people in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China have destabilized the city, but they worked, forcing the authorities to withdraw the bill. Of course, the broader question remains: how can Hong Kong’s people defend the “one country, two systems” arrangement without risking a devastating escalation?

Richard Haass: Instability can be good or bad, depending on what you are moving away from, what you are moving toward, and what the process of getting from one to the other entails. Clearly, the people of Hong Kong believe that they are losing their autonomy, and fear further encroachments by mainland China. But protesters’ demands could be more than the mainland is prepared to countenance. This could cause China’s government to respond in a way that leaves the people of Hong Kong with even less freedom and autonomy.

The irony is that many in China’s government see what is happening in Hong Kong as a threat to political stability on the mainland. But it also could be argued that long-term stability on the mainland requires a degree of political reform.

PS: The Trump administration seems convinced that economic carrots and sticks are the only diplomacy the US needs, even though, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to North Korea, it is obvious that this approach is not yielding results. When are economic incentives and sanctions most likely to bring about desired changes, and will Trump’s heavy reliance on them have long-term effects on international diplomacy?

RH: History suggests that there are distinct limits to what economic sanctions can accomplish, especially if they do not have broad international support. The sanctions imposed by the US on Iran have certainly hit the Iranian economy hard, but there is no sign yet of any change in behavior, and Iran is actually reneging on its commitments not to enrich uranium beyond agreed limits. There is a longer-term risk that the Trump administration’s frequent use of tariffs and sanctions will accelerate the emergence of alternatives to the US dollar-based international economic system.

PS: Even if, as you recently argued, Iran “almost certainly” is to blame for recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, many world leaders’ response suggests that memories of America’s bogus claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have lingered. And the Trump administration, by withdrawing from one multilateral agreement after another, including the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, has arguably given foreign governments even less reason to trust the US. Where does that leave prospects for avoiding war with Iran?

RH: The danger of war between the United States and Iran has climbed due to US economic pressure (some might say “economic warfare”) against Iran, various actions taken by Iran or Iran-backed forces, and now actions by Iran inconsistent with its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal. If either side takes a step to which the other responds with military force, it would set in motion a dynamic that leads to a broader, costly conflict.

PS: You predict that the next 20 years will be “even more disorderly than the last 20,” which were marked by an increasingly powerful and assertive China, violations of sovereignty by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and a US that increasingly refuses to play its traditional global role. What would it take to break this pattern?

RH: The biggest single variable over the next two decades will be US foreign policy and America’s willingness once again to play a leading role in promoting global order. To the extent the US succeeds in marshaling allied support for collective efforts in realms like regional security, trade, technology, and climate, prospects for Chinese and Russian challenges to that order will diminish.

By the Way

PS: You worked with the late Martin Feldstein, another longtime PS contributor, at the Council on Foreign Relations. What is one lesson that the world should learn from Feldstein’s long and influential career?

RH: Maintain intellectual honesty, regardless of where it leads you.

PS: What is the most important piece of advice you would give to a young diplomat?

RH: There is no substitute for an appreciation of history and local knowledge.

PS: What’s a habit or practice that you treasure?

RH: Swimming, walking, and napping (not necessarily in that order).

PS: If you were stranded on a desert island, what three impractical items would you wish to have with you?

RH: A sand wedge, a notebook, and a good playlist.

Haass recommends

We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Haass's picks:

The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics

By Hedley Bull

My favorite book on international relations.

Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers

By Richard Neustadt and Ernest May

The best book for would-be policymakers.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

By Patrick Radden Keefe

The book I am currently reading – deep local knowledge, and certainly worthy of a recommendation.


From the PS Archive

From 2018
Last year, Haass warned that America’s decision to abandon the global system that it helped to build, and then to preserve for more than seven decades, will lead to a world that is less free, less prosperous, and less peaceful for Americans and others alike. Read his full commentary Liberal World Order, R.I.P.

From 2014
Two years before Donald Trump became US president, Haass cautioned that the reason we recognize the post-Cold War period of American preeminence, increased prosperity, and widespread peace as a distinct era is that it is already over. Read his full commentary The Era of Disorder.
A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order
From Penguin Books

A World in Disarray
American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order

By Richard Haass

In A World in Disarray, Haass argues for an updated global operating system—call it world order 2.0—that reflects the reality that power is widely distributed and that borders count for less.

Around the Web

In case you missed it, here are some other places around the web where Haass's work or ideas have appeared recently.

Haass weighs in on the Trump administration’s ongoing trade negotiations with China and Mexico, and highlights the broader overuse of tariffs and sanctions in American foreign policy. Watch the video here.

In an hour-long interview, Haass considers a wide range of pressing issues, including Iran, Venezuela, Israel, North Korea, and, of course, Trump’s trade war. Listen to the podcast here.

Even the best-managed global order “eventually, inevitably” comes to an end. But acknowledging that, Haass argues, does not make it any easier to predict the timing and manner of its end – or what will come in its wake. Read the full article here.
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