President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he walks down the steps of Air Force One in Milwaukee.

Credit: Susan Walsh/AP

The World's In Disarray — How Did We Get Here?

April 18, 2017

Recent actions of the Trump Administration have puzzled political and foreign policy analysts, from the missile strikes on Syria to the outcome of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's trip to Moscow to Mike Pence warning North Korea not to test the president's resolve. The question is-- are we seeing a cohesive foreign policy plan emerging? Or a series of disjointed actions that could put the U.S. on the precarious edge of the world's stage?

In his latest book, Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass asserts that the U.S. has a long way to go before it can secure its position as an effective global power, but the trouble didn't start on November 9.

Haass joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio to discuss A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order. The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.

MARGERY: How did we get here?

HAASS: We got to it through several paths, one was simply the Cold War, that was an area of concentrated power and decision-making, and when the Cold War ended, so did some of the discipline. We got to it because of globalization, you have these massive fast flows of just about everything and anything, and the world hasn't figured out a way to control or regulate them, and then, to be honest, the United States made a tough situation worse by things we did: the 2003 Iraq War, the Libyan invasion, and by things we didn't do --not responding to Syrian use of chemical weapons, yanking American troops out of Iraq, taking the United States, more recently, out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. It's this combination of historical forces, but also American acts of co-mission and omission, and we've now arrived at a world of considerable disarray.

JIM: Did you see this coming? Should you have seen this coming?

When the Cold War ended there was a lot of optimism, 25 years ago, and I was more on the skeptical side. I thought that the Cold War world was disciplined, and when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, my view was, this could be a harbinger of things to come because he never would have done that during the Cold War because the Soviet Union never would have really let him do it. We were kidding ourselves if we somehow thought...that history was going to end. History doesn't end, it simply takes new forms and there are new dynamics. Indeed, that's kind of what got me to write this book. What I couldn't figure out was why weren't things better than they were? The Cold War was over, all these people were feeling pretty optimistic, yet things weren't going so hot, and what explained the fact the there was increasing disarray, even though the U.S.-China and even the U.S.-Russia relationship wasn't nearly as bad as the U.S.-Soviet relationship was.

JIM: Doesn't the mere existence of so many power centers, as compared to what existed before a century ago doesn't that almost guarantee disarray?

Absolutely. More than anything else, I think it's the distribution of power, and you've got not just more hands but now these centers of power are also centers of decision-making. So to organize this world is so much more difficult. You can't fit the players in a room anymore, you need the garden here to do it.

Richard Haass is the President of the Council on Foreign Relations. His latest book is A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order. To hear his full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio player above.


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