Foreign policy expert emphasizes importance of democracy in Civic Association talk

Palm Beach Civic Association Chairman-Elect Michael Pucillo, left, and foreign policy expert Richard Haass talk March 15 as part of the association's Signature Series.

Palm Beach Civic Association Chairman-Elect Michael Pucillo, left, and foreign policy expert Richard Haass talk March 15 as part of the association’s Signature Series.

A longtime diplomat and foreign policy expert shared his thoughts on a range of nationally important topics during a recent hourlong conversation.

Richard Haass has been president of the Council on Foreign Relations for 20 years, and previously worked for the U.S. State Department. He has written several books on foreign policy, including “The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens,” which was released earlier this year.

Haass was interviewed March 15 by Palm Beach Civic Association Chairman-Elect Michael Pucillo at The Beach Club as part of the association’s Signature Series.

The wide-ranging discussion included Haass’ thoughts on the war in Ukraine, U.S.-China relations, tensions between China and Taiwan and Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Haass also took questions from the audience.

Speaking about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Haass said Russian President Vladimir Putin “made a bunch of assumptions” heading into the war. “The good news is, every single one of them proved wrong,” Haass said.

Richard Haass

Richard Haass

A little more than a year after the first strike, Putin has gained a little territory and is managing to work around sanctions, Haass noted. But in the long term, there will need to be more compromise, he said.

“I’m skeptical that either side can prevail militarily,” Haass said. “I don’t believe either side is in a position to dominate the other.”

Providing more advanced weapons to Ukraine will not be a game-changer, he said. He also doesn’t see any immediate compromise on the horizon.

“At the moment, there’s no basis for diplomacy,” Haass said. “At some point, that may change.”

So far, Putin’s strategy has been to play for time, with the expectation that the collaboration between western countries to support Ukraine “will fray with the passage of time,” Haass said. “Our goal is to prove him wrong,” he said.

Part of the goal for the U.S. in supporting Ukraine is to continue to make it clear that aggression cannot be used to take land, Haass said.

“We do not want to have a world where countries invade other countries and get away with it,” he said. “I think it’s important to show that aggression doesn’t pay.”

The goal needs to be for Ukraine to return to its 1991 borders and that compensation is made for damages caused by Russia, Haass said.

There has been something good to come out of the war, he noted: America’s alliances have been strengthened.

“This has been a real demonstration of the effectiveness of collective action against aggression,” Haass said, adding, “It’s important to see it through, not to get short of breath at this point.”

The U.S. relationship with China is an example of where bipartisanship is not productive, in that both sides have joined together to be “as tough as tough can be on China,” Haass said.

“This is going to be the most fateful and important relationship of this century, and I worry about the trajectory it’s taking,” he said. “It’s getting very close to confrontational.”

He called for more diplomacy in the relationship with China, saying the relationship now is the worst he’s seen in decades. U.S. officials made a mistake recently when Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a planned trip to China after a Chinese spy balloon made international headlines when it floated across the United States to be shot down by American fighter jets off the east coast, Haass said.

“That’s when diplomats ought to get on airplanes,” he said. “Diplomacy is not a favor. Diplomacy is a national security instrument we ought to employ intelligently so it works in our interest.”

Speaking about “The Bill of Obligations,” Pucillo noted that the book is not a foreign policy book in an overt sense. Haass agreed it is not about foreign policy “in a direct sense.”

“It is a foreign policy book in the sense that the greatest threat to American national security is none of the things we’ve talked about, but it’s us,” Haass said. “It’s our domestic cohesion. It’s our ability to meet our domestic challenges, to politically come together. Our ability to avoid domestic conflict where we can’t agree on the issues. Our ability to set an example that others in the world will want to follow. Our ability to be predictable so our friends feel comfortable depending on us, so our foes are deterred by us.”

In writing the book, Haass noted that in three years the United States will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

“I just want to make sure the state of American democracy is still worthy of celebration,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Daily News: In Palm Beach talk, foreign policy expert stresses importance of democracy

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