A Closer Look At A World In Crisis

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NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, about the confluence of global crises taking place around the world.


And there may be a brief pause in that weeks-long conflict, but crises continue to play out around the globe. There are civil wars in Iraq and Syria, strife in Ukraine, a lot for governments to try to address. Senator John McCain recently said the world is in, quote, "greater turmoil than at any time in my lifetime." We turn now to Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and asked if he sees any common threads running through all these tumultuous events.

RICHARD HAASS: Well, I see a thread in the following sense - that we're living in a time where power is increasingly diffused or distributed. And it's hard for the United States or any other would-be great power to, essentially, control things. So this is a world which has the capacity and, as we're seeing of late, the reality of becoming less orderly. In particular, we're also seeing actors other than states take on a significant role, whether it's the separatists in eastern Ukraine, or groups like Hamas, or ISIS in Syria and Iraq. So the nation-state has essentially lost its monopoly or, in some cases, even the upper hand on the, quote-unquote, "chessboard of international relations," which, again, only adds to the difficulty of promoting order in the world.

SIMON: But let me ask you some specific questions about American leadership. President Obama famously said he wanted to reset the policy with Russia. He's spoken with President Putin a few times since the Malaysian airline planes were shot down. When it comes to the reset, to use a term from basketball, which the president plays, was he faked out of his shoes by Vladimir Putin?

HAASS: It's an interesting way of putting it. I would put it slightly differently. The United States embarked on a reset. You could say it may have worked for a while. We got some cooperation with Russia in the supplying of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. There was some limited cooperation against terrorism, some progress in arms control. But the phase of collaboration or cooperation has essentially come - not entirely, but largely to an end. And Mr. Putin seems to have embarked on a different foreign policy trajectory. And instead, he's going to have an alternative universe - one of a, quote-unquote, "greater Russia." One of the interesting things will be to see whether he can survive or live with forces he seems to have unleashed.

SIMON: Mr. Haass, how much of the chaos in the world do you see as blowback from U.S. intervention in Iraq and possibly other places?

HAASS: I think the United States deserves some of the responsibility for what is going on, both with what we've done and what we haven't done. I would say, yes, the war in Iraq, the 2003 war, was strategically ill-advised and has been counterproductive in many ways. We lost the country that was able to offset Iran. The United States has also set in motion events which seem to be leading to the unraveling of Iraq. So the Bush administration deserves responsibility for that. The Obama administration is almost the other side of the coin - has contributed, in some cases, to regional and global disorder by what it hasn't done. President Obama's indecisiveness a year ago about Syria, the assertion of redlines and then not acting, braised real doubts, not just in the region but around the world, about American reliability.

SIMON: Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, speaking from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

HAASS: Thank you, Scott.

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