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September 2005

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Special Review: An Assessment by William C. Harrop

The Opportunity: America's Moment to Alter History's CourseThe Opportunity: America's Moment to Alter History's Course by Richard N. Haass, (New York, Public Affairs (Perseus Books Group, 2005).

"It is somehow troubling that Richard Haass remained almost four years as director of policy planning in the George W. Bush State Department while disagreeing utterly, he now reveals, with the neo-conservative values which informed the administration."

This thoughtful, slim volume lays out a new American foreign policy for the twenty-first century, much different from that of President George W. Bush. A better organized and more coherent opposition political party than we now have in this country might adapt these recommendations to its platform.

Haass develops the multilateral, consultative, essentially liberal American leadership approach many commentators have urged as required to address the challenges of the this century, challenges which simply do not lend themselves to unilateral or military solutions. (See my several articles on this subject in the archives of American Diplomacy.) Although he strives for a nonpartisan tone—as becomes the president of the Council on Foreign Relations—Haass puts down, both explicitly and implicitly, the policies and style of the current administration.

Haass coins the term "integration" for bringing together the rest of the world, forming coalitions, exerting quiet and consistent American leadership, setting aside excessive notions of nationalism, prevention, military solutions and unilateral power. The title expresses his view that this is a perfect historical moment for the United States to turn from hubris to leadership.

These themes have been presented at least as eloquently by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Joseph Nye, and others. It is somehow troubling that Richard Haass remained almost four years as director of policy planning in the George W. Bush State Department while disagreeing utterly, he now reveals, with the neo-conservative values which informed the administration. His analysis and forceful rebuttal of the various rationales for launching a preventive war in Iraq (not a pre-emptive war, as the Administration claimed, says the author) are clear and cogent.

As explained in the elegant review by former UN Under Secretary Brian Urquhart (“The New York Review of Books,” August 11, 2005), Haass defines the policies which the United States should pursue and which the world desperately needs, but does not address in any way how such a turn around in American foreign policy could be effected, given the domestic political realities of our times.

Urquhart describes these realities as

the firm hold of the big corporations, especially on environmental and energy policy; the neoconservative ideology that rejects international organization and international treaties and conventions and favors uni-lateral and military ventures; the growing influence of evangelical religion on the White House, on domestic policy and on some aspects of foreign policy, including the Administration's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and the relentlessly hostile partisanship of congressional politics, which can have a paralyzing effect in Washington.

The Urquhart review is a tour de force, a better read than the Haass book itself. It condenses and analyzes Haass' principal themes, adding its own wise commentary.

The Opportunity repeatedly argues that diplomacy is the essential tool for the effective projection of United States influence and implies that the Bush Administration has neglected this tool at substantial cost to the nation. But this book is about policy, not diplomacy.

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Ambassador Harrop had a long, distinguished career as a U. S. Foreign Service officer. He is s member of the American Diplomacy Publishers board of directors.

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