Richard Haass on Iraq and U.S. Foreign Policy

The German publication Spiegel has posted a lengthy interview with Richard Haass, current president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former director of policy planning at the State Department during George W. Bush’s first term.

Haass is not an anti-Bush partisan hack. Given his Republican leanings, and recognizing that his uniformly bleak assessment of the state of U.S. foreign policy is not aimed at scoring political points for the Democratic Party, that makes his assessment of the state of U.S. foreign policy all the more sobering. He concedes that President Bush still has over two years in office, and that crises may come along that will allow the president to re-shape his legacy. As it now stands, however, “the world is not a safer place.” And the situation is not likely to improve any time soon.

Here are some notable excerpts:

On Iraq:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Haass, were the election results a message from the voters to President George W. Bush that it’s time for US troops to be pulled out of Iraq?

Haass: The mid-term election is a signal of widespread popular dissatisfaction with the course of the Iraq war. But it should not be read as a signal of support for a particular alternative. Nor will it lead most Democrats in Congress to call for a quick and complete withdrawal of US forces. Instead, it will reinforce the likelihood that American policy will be adjusted. We can anticipate force reductions and redeployments and possibly a greater emphasis on diplomacy, both within Iraq and with Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria.

[…] 

SPIEGEL: Is Iraq still winnable for the United States?

Haass: We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. And this is not going to be a near-term success for American foreign policy. The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word “winnable.” So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.

On an emerging Iraq syndrome: 

SPIEGEL: The disaster of the last years leads many Americans to doubt the military strength and moral superiority of the nation. Is this country on the verge of a new isolationist phase?

Haass: The danger is an Iraq syndrome. The war is one the American people weren’t quite prepared for: They had not been told it was going to be that difficult and expensive. After the military battlefield phase, they thought it was going to be easy. So this has proven shocking. Nearly 3,000 Americans have lost their lives. Maybe 15,000 - 20,000 Americans have been wounded. Hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent. It has been disruptive on many levels. The danger is that the United States now will be weary of intervening elsewhere, like the cat that once sat on a hot stove and will never sit on any stove again.

On the Bush legacy:

SPIEGEL: Can you remember a time when US foreign policy was confronted with so many challenges and difficulties?

Haass: The short answer is: No. During the Cold War, the United States faced a single challenge that was greater than any we face now. But I can’t think of a time when the United States has faced so many difficult challenges at once. What makes it worse is we are facing them at a time when we are increasingly stretched militarily. We are divided politically. We are stretched also economically, and there is a good deal of anti-Americanism in the world. It’s a very bad combination.

[…]

SPIEGEL: Will Bush leave the world with more problems than he found when he came into office?

Haass: Most likely. That said, the administration still has two years to go, so it is too early to judge. All you can say is that it’s sobering where we are. As of now, you would have to say the world is not a safer place.