- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 13, 2005

THE OPPORTUNITY: AMERICA’S MOMENT TO ALTER HISTORY’S COURSE

By Richard N. Haass

PublicAffairs, $25, 242 pages

REVIEWED BY CHRISTOPHER WAVRIN

If one imagined foreign policy decision making to be analogous to a pie, critics of the Bush administration would contend that it isn’t shared fairly — if even sliced at all. While one ideology has driven the current administration’s policies, so the argument goes, everyone else has been muscled out. Richard N. Haass was a foreign policy insider who quickly found himself on the outside looking in.

Mr. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, served as a key member of the State Department during much of President Bush’s first term. As director of the State Department’s policy planning staff from 2001 to 2003, Mr. Haass had a front row seat to the run-up to the Iraq war. And he didn’t exactly like what he saw.

“The Opportunity” is not an all-encompassing critique of the president’s venture into Iraq. But the issue is contentious and Mr. Haass’ recollection of events is important. This much is clear: Mr. Haass concluded early on that there was no “imminent” threat and thusly this war was a war of “choice.” We all may be glad Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, but as Mr. Haass points out, that’s like “looking only at the revenues and ignoring the expenses.”

The alternative to war in the case of Iraq, according to Mr. Haass, was sanctions. He writes: “As we now know, sanctions, introduced in the aftermath of Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, were working fairly well in denying Iraq the ability to reconstitute its weapons of mass destructions.” Though, in hindsight, there seems to be truth to this statement, Mr. Haass does not recognize that support for sanctions was diminishing. And as Mr. Haass points out later in the book, “Sanctions only bite if they are imposed by virtually everyone.”

The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Haass was an embattled realist — cut from the same cloth as other former George H.W. Bush confidants Brent Scowcroft and James Baker — but working for a new administration sympathetic to the neo-conservative persuasion. Mr. Haass indeed positions himself as a realist on a number of the policy prescriptions in this book. But, at times, he sounds more like a liberal internationalist.

Mr. Haass finds that the answer to many of the world’s ills is better integration. But not always of the same variety that liberal internationalists would believe. Mr. Haass admits that the United Nations isn’t always the answer: It is “too brittle and too narrow an instrument to build a more integrated world” — consistent with a realist worldview. Mr. Haass, however, believes that “U.S. foreign policy needs to concern itself with the domestic policies of others” and “that sovereignty is not absolute” and should be viewed as “contractual” — not consistent with a realist worldview. For Mr. Haass, getting things done sometimes necessitates going alone. But if you can get others to help, then all the better. It was in Mr. Haass’ 1997 book, “The Reluctant Sheriff,” that he coined the now infamous phrase “coalition of the willing.”

The great strength of this new book — whether you agree with him or not — is the catalogue of policy prescriptions. As its subtitle suggests, Mr. Haass believes the United States is in a unique position to alter history’s course. When it comes to the relationship between China and Taiwan, Mr. Haass does the administration’s bidding by making the status quo case. But he goes a bit further. If Taiwan did move ahead and declare its independence — even though they already enjoy independence today — Taipei should be rewarded by the United States imposing “economic and political sanctions” on it. Does a democratic country announcing to the world that it is a democratic country warrant punishment from the United States? That doesn’t sound right.

Some of policy prescriptions Mr. Haass advances have already found realization. Mr. Haass makes the argument that the United States should engage India as a major power; that there is a “need to treat India as a major country in its own right and not simply as part of ‘India-Pakistan.’” Perhaps someone in the White House read this book recently. It was on July 18 that Mr. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met in Washington and declared a series of bilateral agreements. One major announcement was that the United States intended to share civilian nuclear technology with India. This was, to put it mildly, a departure. Official U.S. policy sought to discourage countries from developing nuclear weapons. India, who has never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, will get around this precedent if Congress approves the measure.

I can’t help but think that this book is only the beginning of a deluge of realists (or former realists) attempting to get a piece of the foreign policy decision-making pie. (Not to mention liberal internationalists vying for a piece of the action too.) What Mr. Haass has produced is a vision of how he thinks the United States should conduct foreign policy. Regardless whether you agree with any of the policy prescriptions, Mr. Haass has made a significant contribution to the debate concerning United States foreign policy.

Christopher Wavrin is the Online Editor of The Washington Times.

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