Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a big name in the foreign-policy establishment, is calling for “less foreign policy of the sort the United States has been conducting.”
To call for less foreign policy, even qualified the way he does, is notable, especially from a man who was on the National Security Council staff in the George H. W. Bush administration and director of policy planning in the State Department for George W. Bush.
Haass, a foreign policy “realist,” favors U.S. involvement with other governments on a whole host of things: terrorism, nuclear proliferation, trade, investment, disease, climate change, etc.“At the same time,” he writes, “the United States must become significantly more discriminating in choosing what it does in the world and how it does it.”
There are several possible reasons for taking such a position. You can argue that a civil war in Syria is none of America’s business. Haass doesn’t make that argument; he thinks America has plenty of business in the world. But he wants policy makers to look at the facts on the ground, the history of the place involved and the history of other interventions, and try to estimate what is to be gained and lost from U.S. involvement. His point is that the U.S. government needs to be less grandiose and more realistic in what it tries to do.
You can listen to Haas in this recent interview at CFR by E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post. One of the more interesting points is when Dionne asks Haass to defend his statement, “In foreign policy, inconsistency can be a virtue.” Or take a look at his 2009 book, “War of Necessity, War of Choice,” in which he argued that the first Gulf War made sense and the second, in 2003, did not.