Richard Haass

Richard Haass


One of the key concepts you outline in the book is “Restoration.” If you could, please define the concept for our readers and explain why it’s so important.

Restoration is a national security framework or doctrine that would help set American priorities and guide what the United States does at home and abroad. At its core is the notion of restoring the balance within foreign policy and between foreign policy and domestic policy. Under a doctrine of Restoration, the United States would place greater emphasis on rebuilding the foundations of its economic power – rectifying domestic shortcomings that directly threaten America’s ability to project power and exert influence overseas, to compete in the global marketplace, to generate the resources needed to promote American interests abroad, and to set an example that others will want to emulate.

This would include reining in what we spend on entitlements and reducing our debt to sustainable levels, modernizing our inadequate infrastructure, improving the quality of K-12 schools, maximizing recent advances in energy, and reforming immigration policy to favor the most educated and talented. Abroad, the United States would rebalance what it does in the world by scaling back the focus on the greater Middle East that has so dominated and distorted U.S. foreign policy for more than a decade now, increasing the U.S. presence and role in Asia, encouraging deeper North American integration, and reducing the burden on U.S. military forces. Only by doing this will the country be in a position to lead the world well into the 21st century, discouraging the emergence of great power rivals and contending with them if they emerge all the same.

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The book clearly makes the case to readers that for America to continue to project power and influence in global affairs, the United States must rebuild its domestic foundations. You touch on many areas where America must make some difficult policy decisions, including immigration, defense spending, and education. Yet, American politics are in a state of disarray with partisan gridlock thwarting most policy initiatives. How can such goals be achieved in this environment?

It is true that the American political process is often gridlocked, arguably more than ever before. There is any number of reforms that could be introduced that would make the system work better, but the same forces that account for the current situation will often work to block reform. As a result, change is more likely to stem from the emergence of new organizations willing and able to compete with existing special interests, as well as from strong political leadership from the president and members of Congress in both parties who can work effectively together.

Absent such developments, it could well take a severe crisis to spur the country into addressing some of its basic challenges, a scenario that would leave the country and its more than 300 million citizens much worse off than they currently are. This would also be a terrible outcome for much of the world, in that the alternative to effective American leadership would almost certainly be a world with no effective leadership at all, characterized by more frequent conflict and lower levels of prosperity and openness.

America’s longest war, in Afghanistan, is coming to an end. In the book, you advocate bringing home the bulk of American forces even earlier, by the end of this year. Could you lay out for our readers your argument for this? Would Afghan security suffer from this policy?

The United States has sacrificed a great deal to remake Afghanistan. But it is not evident that continued sacrifice on a large scale will lead to results commensurate with the human, military, and economic costs given the flaws within the Afghan government, the strength of the Taliban in the country’s south, and Pakistan’s ongoing support for groups working against the government in Kabul.

My proposal is not for a complete U.S. military withdrawal, but rather for moving more quickly to a smaller, residual U.S. force that could continue to advise and train Afghan forces and undertake specific counter-terrorist missions as warranted. I believe Afghan government forces and Afghanistan itself would, given local realities, fare much the same over time under this scenario as under one in which the United States did more for a longer period.

The rise of China is certainly one of the most important events of the 21st century. There are many different viewpoints when it comes to America’s relationship with Beijing. In your view, can the U.S. and China develop a partnership that mitigates conflict and emphasizes cooperation in areas where their interests overlap, or is a clash inevitable?

The relationship between the United States and China will as much as any other define the 21st century.  History would suggest that relations between the dominant power of the day and a rising power are likely to be strained or worse. This is certainly possible, but it is not inevitable. Nor would it be desirable, as U.S.-Chinese cooperation is close to being essential if progress is to be made in tackling the major regional and global challenges of our time.

That said, it is almost certainly overly optimistic to speak of a U.S.-Chinese partnership across the board.  Part of the difficulty is that it is impossible to predict China’s trajectory with any certainty. China will find it difficult to maintain the high levels of economic growth that have characterized previous decades. The government is also likely to face increasing demands for broader political participation – already there are some 100,000 protests per year over such issues as land seizures, official corruption, and environmental destruction.

Also possible is the emergence of more intense nationalist fervor and international adventurism. For all of these reasons, the United States should be open to cooperating with China wherever it can but hedge against the possibility that China one day might embark on a more threatening course. This argues for the United States committing itself to Restoration, so that it remains sufficiently strong and active that no Chinese leader would ever judge that it made more sense to confront the United States than cooperate or at least respect American interests.

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