President, Council on Foreign Relations; Former Special Assistant to George H.W. Bush (1989–1993)
Resident Scholar and Director of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute; Former Deputy Director of Policy Planning (2007–2008)
Wendy R. Sherman
Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership and Director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School; Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs (2011–2015)
David E. Sanger
National Security Correspondent and Senior Writer, New York Times
This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.
JONES: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the University of New Hampshire, New Hampshire’s flagship research university. My name is Wayne Jones. I’m the provost and vice president for academic affairs at the university, and it’s my pleasure to welcome you and our distinguished panelists to tonight’s forum.
It’s great to see all the excitement building at this time of year. Now, normally on campus it’s because of all the students coming back and all the energy coming back, but in New Hampshire right now we have the opportunity to be kind of on the front lines of the political discussion. And so a year ago we would have been ecstatic if we had a TV camera show up for a hockey game; now it’s pretty common we hear about faculty on USA Today and we hear about the latest presidential candidate that’s walking across campus. It’s really a great time for our students to be able to see the eyes of the world on us as we think about what our future might look like.
I’d like to say thanks for our partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations. We’re absolutely delighted to be our hosts tonight. Our panelists include the world’s leading foreign policy experts. They will share their insights on important global issues that are facing our nation: international trade, climate change, defense, human rights, just to name a few. They certainly have their work cut out for them.
Thankfully, complex local and global issues and bringing people together is something that UNH is particularly good at. UNH has long understood the importance of global engagement, from working with private partners and industry that are immersed in the global economy to bringing researchers from UNH to the world and from the world to UNH. Expertise mapping ocean floors, our faculty have been exploring beyond the roughly 10 percent of the Earth’s ocean that is actually mapped. But we also have researchers that are studying other global challenges, thinking about agriculture and how we might feed the world of the future. We’re equally proud to be a national leader in sustainability and climate science, recently ranked by the Sierra Club number two in the—in the nation. And we also have our law school, which is top five in intellectual property in the U.S.
Our own community also reflects a global view. This semester we have almost eight hundred students studying abroad and exploring the world through their education. And we have over two hundred scientists from around the world that are here on campus right now, helping to engage with us as we look at the world’s problems.
As the New Hampshire primary approaches, it’s not unusual to see UNH in the national and international spotlight. It’s a beautiful campus, and our campus is a great place for major events like the one you’re at tonight. The media is drawn here also, I think, for our expertise and the New Hampshire primary process, where we have expertise in particular in that area, including folks that are here tonight.
So this is a perfect time for our distinguished panelists to join us in an important discussion, and I’m delighted that it is being recorded and livestreamed by the Council on Foreign Relations to the world. I know you’re all looking forward to hearing from them and to being a part of this enlightening and respectful and interactive dialogue.
Without further ado, I would like to present our moderator this evening, a journalist and noted foreign policy expert, David Sanger of the New York Times. In his thirty-six-year reporting career for the Times, he has been on three times that have won Pulitzer Prizes, most recently in 2017 for international reporting. David, it is my pleasure to have you with us tonight. Please join me and everyone in extending a warm welcome to David and our panelists. (Applause.)
SANGER: Well, thank you very much, Wayne. And thanks to all of you for coming out today. It’s great to be here in New Hampshire, and it’s great to be up here with three great experts and good friends.
This is the Election 2020 U.S. Foreign Policy Forum. As you heard, it’s cosponsored by the Council and the university. And this is the first of four nonpartisan forums that the Council on Foreign Relations is co-hosting with universities across the country in pivotal states, and they’re all of course timed to just precede their primaries. We’ll be talking about foreign policy and national security challenges that’ll face the winner of the 2020 election, but we’ll also be talking about the issues that we hope and expect that the candidates will be debating.
The CFR, as you probably know, is an independent membership organization. It’s a think tank. It’s the publisher of Foreign Affairs. And it is a nonpartisan source of information and analysis on global affairs and foreign policy. I got to their website all the time.
And tonight’s goal is we want to sort of raise the awareness of the international issues that affect your daily lives or could affect them in ways that right now may not be immediately obvious. So we hope you’ll take advantage of a host of election 2020 resources that are on CFR’s website, which is CFR.org, and that includes candidates’ responses to a foreign policy questionnaire, a tracker of candidates’ positions, and all that. And if you get tired of the CFR website, we have a small one of our own at the New York Times—(laughter)—and you’ll soon see a survey of candidates’ foreign policy positions, as well, that we’ll be discussing a bit.
So I want to thank the university for hosting this event, the Carnegie Corporation of New York for their support of the whole series.
So let me introduce to you our panelists here. Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of homeland security, unfortunately had a family emergency and couldn’t make it at the last moment, and we miss having his expertise.
But we do have Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, former director of policy planning to George W. Bush in 2001 to 2003. I’m so old I remember coming in to interview him at various moments when he was there, and that was in the days when reporters were actually welcome to come into the State Department and do that kind of thing. (Laughter.) Richard’s got many books. He wrote a book called The World in Disarray when it wasn’t really in as much disarray as it’s in today. But he’s got one coming out in a few months called The World: A Brief Introduction.
Wendy Sherman—(audio break)—professor of the practice of public leadership and the director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. She was undersecretary of state for political affairs for President Obama. She was a counselor to Madeleine Albright. When she was working for Secretary Albright she did the North Korea crises. And because that wasn’t hard enough, when she came back for the Obama administration she was the primary negotiator with Iran. So Wendy and I have spent a lot of time in Vienna together, in Lausanne. Actually, there’s hardly a European capital we haven’t dined in at various moments.
To my immediate left, Kori Schake, recently returned to the United States as the director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. She was deputy director for policy planning in President Bush’s administration in 2007-2008. She was at Stanford for a long time. She’s a dear friend and a great writer. And she wrote a book called Safe Passages (sic; Passage): The Transition from British to American Hegemony.
By the way, I left out when I was introducing Wendy her book, which is both a personal story and in parts a foreign policy story. It’s called—
SCHAKE: It’s a great book.
SANGER: It’s a terrific book. It’s called Not for the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power, and Leadership (sic; Persistence), and it’s a really terrific read.
So let me get right to the subject matter. Richard, let me start with you. So one of the oddities of political campaigns is that—presidential campaigns—is that you don’t end up talking about foreign policy all that much in the debates unless there’s some big event like the targeted killing of General Soleimani a few weeks ago. And that was sort of a reminder to Americans that whoever it is that gets elected is suddenly going to be facing a series of wrenching choices that you’re not being asked about very much during the debates. So my first question to you is, why is it that foreign policy matters so much to people who are—once they are elected president, but you don’t hear as much about it during the campaigns?
HAASS: Well, first, go Wildcats. (Laughter, applause.) Good to be back. Thank you all for being here. We’re thrilled to be partnering with UNH. And I want to thank my three friends and colleagues here for doing this.
David’s question is exactly right. There’s a disconnect of sorts between the salience of foreign policy issues—how much or how little attention they get during the campaigns for the most part—and then what it’s like once somebody is elected, once you have to govern. I think in part it’s because we’re no longer living in a Cold War. We’re no longer living in a big hot war. So these issues—if you ask Americans, all the polls that say what are the issues that most concern you, foreign policy tends to be pretty far down the list. And that’s the connected reason that when people think about who they’re going to vote for, foreign policy is not at the front—top of the—front of the queue, not at the top of the list.
The problem is when you’re elected you—you can choose just about everything when you run for president if you’re elected. You can choose your running mate. You can choose your Cabinet. You can choose your platform. The only thing you can’t choose is your inbox. And the inbox is one that happens to be filled with an awful lot of international and foreign policy questions. And whoever is the winner in November, whether it’s the forty-fifth president being reelected or the forty-sixth president, he or she is going to face a daunting inbox. But at the moment, it’s not uppermost in the minds of the electorate.
I think there’s one or two other reasons, and I’ll just be very quick here. Our media, with certain exceptions like the New York Times, doesn’t cover these issues nearly as much. We don’t have nearly as many international bureaus and so forth. In schools these issues either aren’t taught, or if they are taught they’re not required. You can graduate from this country’s and the world’s greatest universities and in many cases never having taken a course on international relations or American foreign policy.
I think, ironically enough, we are living in a time where global issues have never been more important, where what happens anywhere comes to affect us. We’ll be talking about coronavirus and other things. But a lot of Americans don’t see the connection. And when you’re—again, once you’re elected you have no choice because the connection sees you, but when you’re running for president I think it’s often possible to avoid the intimacy of this country’s relationship with the world and the world’s relationship with what happens here.
SANGER: And you know, Richard, I think you probably remember more vividly than most how that disconnect played out if you think about right when George W. Bush got elected because when I went down to go interview him days before his inauguration in 2001—this is very early January 2001—he had almost a completely domestic agenda. He said he thought he could just tighten up some sanctions on Iraq. He had no discussion of deposing Saddam Hussein. And nine months later, I was with him in Florida on 9/11 and it suddenly became a war presidency almost overnight.
HAASS: Exactly right. There’s elements of foreign policy that are discretionary. We’ve all be involved where administrations choose to do things. I once wrote about wars of choice. But there’s also things that come at you, and you can either can’t ignore them or you ignore them at your peril. And again, we’ll be talking about the virus. We’ll be talking about climate change. We’ll be talking about the rise of China. It’s a long list of things that we are going to have to deal with.
And so, again, whoever is elected we just ought to keep in our minds—and you’re voters here in New Hampshire, presumably—we’re not voting for the mayor of the United States; we’re voting for the next commander in chief. And what they do, what they don’t do, how they do it, the choices they are going to make are going to be extraordinarily consequential. And in domestic policy—it doesn’t mean that domestic policy is not, obviously, important; of course it is. But the national security/foreign policy consequences, what it is they choose to do, will be enormous not just for the world but also for ourselves. And I think that’s the implicit argument here, implicit going-in position. To put it bluntly, foreign policy can’t be foreign.
SANGER: So, Wendy, as we think about the agenda ahead for the next president, you have issues, as Richard’s pointed out, that come up that you don’t see coming. Three weeks ago coronavirus was not something we were all discussing. You have the very long-running issues like climate change, which we’ll come to. And then you have the perennial issues of adversaries that we’ve tried to deal with before, and new presidents come in and trying to reinvent how they’re dealing with it.
So I want to ask you first about Iran, because obviously that will be high up on the list of the next president, or if President Trump is reelected will probably be front and center to him. So when you left office at the end of the Obama administration, you had reached an agreement with the Iranians. You were a big enthusiast of it, but even you said to me there were things in it that you would have preferred, obviously, to negotiate differently. President Trump abandoned that agreement in May of 2018. The Iranians sort of stuck with it for the better part of a year and then began slowly breaking out. And then, of course, three weeks ago the U.S. decides to do a targeted assassination of basically the head of the Quds Force, part of the elite Iranian military group, but also probably the second most powerful man in the country. Tell me what you think the immediate Iran challenges will be for the next president who comes in.
SHERMAN: Well, thank you. It’s great to be here at UNH. And now that I’m at the Kennedy School, I can tell you that what our students do on weekends now is come to New Hampshire. (Laughter.) And it’s a very popular thing to do, and we run a lot of programs to give students an opportunity to understand campaigning, understand the kind of retail politics that go on in New Hampshire, which is really special. You all get to see everybody more than once, and it’s just a terrific—I know it’s your lives and your day-to-day lives; for us, you’re a fabulous laboratory to learn about leadership and what’s important.
And before I answer your question, David, I want to add two pieces to what Richard said. I think all of us up here have to do a better job of helping people understand that their day-to-day lives are connected to national security and foreign policy; that if the economy is not going well in our country, it’s probably because something’s happening in China or something’s happening in another part of the world, or Americans are worried that their jobs are going overseas. We are all interconnected, and climate is the most obvious place where we’re interconnected.
The other point I would make that I think, since I’ve got the one with the white hair up here, is that I think Americans had a better day-to-day understanding of national security and foreign policy when we had the draft. I don’t want the draft to come back. I believe in an all-volunteer army. But we all knew somebody who had their life at stake, and it changed our perspective. And I think that perspective comes back when we have a 9/11, when we have Soleimani killed and we feel like we’re on the brink of war again. Then people sort of say, oh my gosh—and we were talking before this and I said to David, I think—I’ve done a lot of presidential campaigns as well, and I think every presidential campaign I’ve ever been a part of there’s a commander in chief ad. Everybody says at least once, you know, you can rely on me at three in the morning, or when that inbox pops in I know what to do about it, but it never—it’s rarely central except when we’re in crisis.
And a few weeks ago I thought we might truly be on the brink of an Arab-Persian war; that I was incredibly glad that both President Trump and President Rouhani and the supreme leader, Khamenei, of Iran stepped down. I don’t think either Iran and I don’t think Donald Trump wants war. I think Americans—Democrats, Republicans, independents—want our troops to come home, don’t want us to be abroad, certainly don’t want another Middle East war. And I think the president, although he went and took out this target, which he likes to do—he likes to do the splashy, strongman kind of image—but I don’t think he wants to go to war, and I’m glad he doesn’t, quite frankly.
So I think we were on the brink of war. We have pulled back, but we are not out of the woods at all. I believe that Iran will take additional strikes. I think there were militia strikes in Iraq against the U.S. embassy last week. As you all know or may not know, at least fifty of our troops had a traumatic brain injury and were taken out of Iraq. We actually did nothing—(laughs)—as a result of that. And I think we probably should have reacted in some way, but not in a way that would have taken us to war.
If the president’s reelected or if there’s a Democrat reelected (sic; elected), if the Iranians have not been pushed to the point of leaving the deal entirely, if the Europeans have not gone to the United Nations to snap back all of the multilateral sanctions—if we’re pretty much where we are right today, which I’ll be surprised if we are because we still have many months ago—but if we were where we are today, I would hope whosever president would, in fact, go back to the negotiating table. It would require us to lift—that is, suspend—some of the sanctions that the president has put on. But we would look to extend the deal that was made because it’s already many years old now. We would look to open a channel to talk about Iran’s malign behavior in the region, about their human rights abuses. We’d work hard to get Americans out of Evin Prison, a horrible place to be, in Tehran. So I think there would be an enormous amount of work to do.
The one other point I’ll make in all of this is that the Middle East in the last few years is undergoing change. All of my colleagues up here know this arena quite well, Richard extremely well. And we saw in the president’s announcement about his Middle East peace plan a number of Sunni Arab countries who supported the president at least opening the door for a negotiation—a negotiation, in my view, is—which is not evenhanded, is really Israel-focused, and doesn’t give the Palestinians the dignity of the way through—but nonetheless, it is quite extraordinary that that change has taken place. And the reason I mention this in regards to Iran is the president is trying to keep everybody onside with him, keeping pressure on Iran. But Iran has not done what the president hopes for, which is that either the people take to the streets and overthrow the regime—the regime is a great oppressor, very good at putting down awful things; you saw how they put down the protests after they downed a civilian airplane, killing more Iranians than anybody else—and the administration also might hope that the regime would self-implode, which isn’t going to happen either. So we haven’t seen a result that the president wants.
SANGER: Wendy, this raises a question I just wanted to ask out of your experience, because in the one debate where Iran did come up there was a lot of discussion of sanctions. So you’ve now been through the effort to curb North Korea’s nuclear program using sanctions; the effort to—that you just mentioned, that President Trump went to maximum sanctions with Iran. We’ve tried sanctions on Cuba since 1962. And while presidential candidates of both parties tend to regard sanctions as some kind of magic middle space between actual shooting war and doing nothing, the experience would suggest that they’re nowhere near as effective in changing behavior as we would all want to think. So tell us what you—you know, if you—if you were advising whoever was elected, Democrat or Republican, what would you tell them about your experience with sanctions?
SHERMAN: What I would tell them is sanctions are an important tool to bring people to a negotiating table, but they don’t change behavior. When the Europeans started negotiating with Iran in the early 2000s, Iran had 164 spinning centrifuges. Centrifuges are the mechanisms needed to produce the fissile material that goes into making a nuclear weapon. And we put on a whole lot of unilateral sanctions, the international community put on a whole lot of multilateral sanctions, really aggressive, well-enforced sanctions; by the time we got into serious negotiations in 2013, Iran had nineteen thousand spinning centrifuges. They had as much if not more terrorist activity in the Middle East than they had ever had, because terrorism’s pretty cheap, unfortunately. So it didn’t change their behavior. It did compel them to the negotiating table, and that is generally what you can get out of sanctions. But sanctions generally do not bring governments to their knees and get them to change their behavior or who they fundamentally are.
SANGER: Kori, when we think about the use of force in the way that we’ve been discussing, something you’ve written a lot about and thought a lot about, we have now seen Congress just in the past few days—we’ve seen the House pass a resolution saying that the administration can’t go to war with Iran without coming back first and getting authorization. We’ve seen administrations argue that the authorization to use military force that was passed after 9/11, which was really geared toward al-Qaida, is useful for a whole bunch of places that had nothing to do with 9/11, including Iran. Where is this debate? And where do you think the Democrats are on this debate? Do you think that on the use of force the Democratic candidates you’ve seen coming across New Hampshire are actually in lockstep on these issues?
SCHAKE: So the major trend we have seen in the use of military force in American politics is Congress, which constitutionally has the predominant role in these choices, ceding increasing authority to the chief executive, to the commander in chief. And it’s unhealthy, my friends. If you want to support the war effort, if you want to support soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marine(s), and Coast Guardsmen, instead of thanking them for their service, or maybe in addition to thanking them for their service, call your congressman and demand that Congress review the Authorization for the Use of Military Force and make it specific and binding on the president, because the latitude that we have given the president, especially since September 11, to say American military forces operating anywhere in the world for any purpose is consistent with the congressional authorization—and you all newly have a great expert on civil-military relations joining your faculty, so congratulations UNH. So you all will know this. But if really matters to have checks and balances in the American system. And the use of military force authorization is one of the major checks on presidential power, and Congress for reasons—because they don’t want to look like they don’t support men and women in uniform, they don’t want to take responsibility for the policy choices.
So the advice I always give to presidential candidates on the Republican side of the ticket or to folks in the Pentagon is that if your strategy is contingent on congressional heroism and casting votes in order to succeed, it will not succeed. But you have to help Congress do the right thing. And doing the right thing in the instance of constraining the use of American military force, the constitutionally-appropriate thing is tighter congressional control.
SANGER: So that said, Kori—and I—people would agree tighter congressional control is important, but usually when presidents have to make this decision they have to make it in response to some event. Sometimes, as in the Iraq War, a president just decides a threat has grown from a country and is engaged with what some people would call preemptive and some people would call preventative war, which have a big difference. But when you think about what the Democratic candidates have said so far—what they say on the CFR website when you go to take a look at this, what they’ve said in surveys that the Times has done—what you discover is that there is not a Republican and Democratic concept of when you go off and use force. If you narrow it down to some kind of triggering event—a nuclear test, a missile test, cutting off oil shipments in the Middle East—you get very different answers even within a party. So what does that tell you about the absence of sort of a grander strategy on force, even within the parties?
SCHAKE: So what I know as a historian of 19th century American history is that the great genius of the two-party system is that their positions are incredibly fluid, right; that they change their view on slavery, on civil-rights issues, on trade, as they try and aggregate enough voters in support of their policies to get elected.
So we are in an historically—a moment of historical upheaval. That’s partly the result of rapid technological change that creates economic uncertainty, that creates political upheaval. And we’re in the middle of the stream right now. And political parties are turning keys in the lock, trying to figure out what the right answer is.
What I think President Trump, candidate Trump, did brilliantly in 2016—and I say this as a serenely unrepentant signatory of all of the anti-Trump letters that those smug national-security Republicans signed—but what the president did right was ask first-order questions that my mom thought were important and weren’t being addressed. Why don’t allies do more? Why is trade looking like it’s lowering wages in the United States? Aren’t our jobs leaving because of trade?
I think what we are seeing in polling of public attitudes in places like the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and in polls that the Council does is that people like that the president asked the questions. And if I was doing my job better, my mom would be confident about the answer to those things. But people—there’s a lot of concern about the policies the president is enacting in order to answer those questions.
And so, I’m sorry, this is a very long road to a small house, but I think that Democratic candidates have so many easy pickups of just correcting things that the president has done clumsily or wrong, rejoining the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership, being nice to our actual friends in the world, advancing our values, working against countries that are corrosive to the values that we consider inherent human rights.
All of those—those are such easy pickups that the Democrats actually haven’t been accountable for their foreign-policy differences yet, because they’re getting a pass on that because they’re just not the president.
SANGER: That takes me to a—before I turn to China, where I want to ask all of you some questions, that raises an interesting point, because I think there are some things that Donald Trump has probably changed for good that you—even if Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren got elected, somebody from the more progressive side, you may not see completely reversed.
His views on how much NATO nations need to contribute, even if you don’t like the way he has held the countries up, seemed to me to be one. His focus on pulling as many troops as possible out of the Middle East and Afghanistan, even if he hasn’t done it, he talks about it, and then, of course, adds more troops, as he’s done in Saudi Arabia in recent times; and much of his focus on trade relations, particularly with China.
So do you think that there’s going to be an enduring—let’s assume for a minute that he doesn’t win a second term. Do you think that there will be elements of the Trump foreign policy that Democrats will end up picking up?
HAASS: Short answer is yes. I think that elements of Trumpism preceded Donald Trump and will therefore survive Donald Trump. I think that’s certainly true if he’s a one-term president; probably true as well if he’s a two-term president. Intervention fatigue after Afghanistan and Iraq was felt strongly around the country. He wasn’t the only person who tapped into it.
Barack Obama, when he, for example, decided not to respond to Syria after its use of chemical weapons, even though he had threatened to do so, that showed me that already the country was reluctant to do anything, particularly in the Middle East, that might lead to another large undertaking.
So Mr. Trump has taken it several steps further, though there was also this one exception with Iran. But I think that is a reluctance to get involved in the Middle East heavily militarily will probably continue. You can’t necessarily control that. The Iranians will have to be part of that as well. But I think that’s one thing.
And indeed, it doesn’t—there’s elements that a lot of us would say there’s some wisdom in that; that when you look at American foreign policy over the last few decades, the fact that so many of our calories, so many of our troops, so many dollars, have gone to the greater Middle East rather than other parts of the world looks to be something of a strategic misallocation. So some rightsizing of American foreign policy, I think that’s out there.
Trade; it’s another area where, in some cases, if you read what the Democratic candidates are saying, what the Trump administration is saying, you’d be hard pressed to find big differences. Now, I think in many cases they’re all wrong, and they’re blaming trade agreements for the loss of jobs when there’s lots of studies suggesting that in the last decade, decade and a half, 80 to 90 percent of the jobs that have disappeared are not because of offshoring or foreigners selling us cheap goods but because of new productivity enhancements, new technologies that are eliminating jobs.
But that said, there is pretty widespread—there’s been a falling off of support for, quote-unquote, free trade. And interestingly, one of the areas Mr. Trump has succeeded in is getting a degree of bipartisan support. Just this week he signed into existence a new trade law, the USMCA, the U.S.-Canada-Mexico son of NAFTA agreement.
But I think there’s wariness of trade. None of the Democratic candidates—actually, that’s not true—very few of the Democratic candidates, for example, has come out with an unconditional support for getting into the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It’s a bit radioactive in the Democratic Party.
I think other areas—one thing on China; we’ll talk about that in a second. I think there’s probably a sense that for too long the United States gave China a little bit of a free ride, that we were too benign in our assumptions about what a stronger China would do, whether in the trade sphere, out in Asia, at home, that we thought somehow China was on a path towards economic and political opening, greater cooperation in the world. And we haven’t seen that.
And I think the skepticism about China, the greater concern or almost disillusionment with China, I see that across the political spectrum; some differences in remedies, maybe, but in general the idea, a tougher take on a China. I think whoever—whomever is president in 2021, that is going to continue.
So I think there are some elements, David, of continuity.
SANGER: So Richard, this takes me to the way the China debate plays out as people hear it on the campaign trail. I want to ask all three of you about this. So it’s easy to get out and talk about China and trade because it does exactly what all three of you said we need to do, which is correlate foreign policy to people’s lives.
But as we’ve learned, China is a much more complex foreign-policy and national-security problem. Just think of the past few weeks. So we have the continued military challenge in South China Sea and China’s desire to push American military out to the second islands area.
So we had the British just yesterday decide that they would go along and let Huawei, the largest of the Chinese telecommunications companies, in to build part of their networks after a year of being told by the United States that this would be a huge strategic mistake and we would cut off their intelligence if they did it.
We have seen the coronavirus as an issue we weren’t even discussing or thinking about and a topic on which the Trump White House has spent almost no time, and suddenly you’re scrambling to go figure out to go react to.
So how do we need to debate China in the campaign? I’m going to ask all three of you a different vision of that.
HAASS: I’m going to start. One is we have to be careful with historical parallels. Dealing with China is fundamentally different than dealing with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was not integrated into the global economy for the most part. It was a relatively narrow competition.
China is everywhere. It’s the world’s second-largest economy. It’s a question of when, not if, it will probably be the world’s largest economy. So it’s a different kind of a challenge, which is one thing.
Second of all, it’s not going to be a one-dimensional relationship. It’s not going to be a—it’s almost like we’re used to having friends and enemies. Well, China’s going to be a friend on Tuesdays and Thursdays between certain hours on certain issues. It’s going to be something very different on other days on other issues.
So the challenges is going to be how do we carve out and protect certain areas of cooperation with China? Like Wendy was heavily involved in one, which was North Korea. How do we try to have something of a limited partnership with China on that issue? How do we have a limited partnership or even an unlimited partnership with China on climate change? How do we have a partnership with China now on fighting a pandemic? What happens in Wuhan doesn’t stay in Wuhan. How do we work with China on that?
At the same time, we have profound disagreements about them interning millions of Chinese, because they’re Muslims, in camps. We have profound disagreements about what they’ve done in Hong Kong. We have profound disagreements on some trade issues. We have very different economic systems in terms of the role of subsidies. David mentioned the South China Sea. Taiwan, we’re at loggerheads.
So to me this is probably—more than any other relationship, this will be the relationship that will go further towards defining this century than any other relationship. And it’s going to be extraordinarily complicated. And I would just think, as citizens and as voters, if there was one thing I’d want to know about is how does a candidate think about China. How does—to what—how does he deal with the fact that China will be, if you will, a friend and a foe simultaneously? How do we manage an extraordinarily complex relationship?
I mean, David, you should talk about this too, because you’ve written more than anybody else about the world of technology. How do we deal with the reality about—you just mentioned Huawei; that China is central in supply chains in certain areas of—at the same time, it’s a geopolitical competitor or even threat. We’re worried about espionage. We’re worried about them stealing intellectual property. How do we structure this relationship that doesn’t have a single personality? It’s a multiple-personality relationship.
SANGER: I’ll answer briefly and then turn the question back in two different ways on China to Wendy and Kori.
What’s fascinating about the 5G debate is that it’s not really about whether your phone will go faster, though it will. It’s really about how we will connect the Internet of Things around the world. It’s coming into effect because of every other device. Every factory device, every farm device, every autonomous car, will come together.
And then the question becomes, first, do you think you can actually cut China out of building your networks, which has basically been the U.S. position. Second, if you can’t, if you’re going to fail at that, can you learn how to live in a dirty network, as Sue Gordon, the former Deputy Director of National Intelligence, put it, which is to say, conduct your commerce, your military, and your intelligence relationships with the knowledge that you are going to be running through Chinese circuits, even if, even if they’re not in the United States, because you conduct international business all around the world. And as a best-case scenario, Huawei will be limited to 40 percent of the world’s telecom networks. So our stuff is going to be running through there
So to step out and do a threat, like the U.S. did, which is we will cut off all of your intelligence, you know, if any NATO country joins us, might make you feel good, but we haven’t really heard any of the candidates at this point step out with a plan that seems credible about how you’re going to live in those networks.
Wendy, when you look at the coronavirus issue, a topic you’ve thought a lot about, what is it that we should be doing—thinking about in the short term to contain it? And then how does our overall thinking have to change? Because, you know, corona may look, five years from now, to be relatively mild compared to other super viruses that are drug-resistant making their way around the world.
SHERMAN: A lot of work to be done here. One point I want to make on the data point that you were just talk about that’s important is that Secretary Pompeo today said that indeed the Five Eyes intelligence relationship would continue with Great Britain.
HAASS (?): You should explain that.
SHERMAN: Right, I will.
So the Five Eyes are five countries with whom we have a superintelligence relationship. We share everything. Great Britain is one of those countries. And as David said, the White House had said to the British, if you go with Huawei, we’re going to cut you off, because their fear was if they share all of our intelligence, it will be shared with the Chinese through networks that now China will have access to through eventually the connection of the Internet of all Things. So it’ll be interesting to see how the administration navigates this now that they have said, well, maybe not—
SANGER: Maybe not.
SHERMAN: —and that China—and this is important to the coronavirus as well—has the largest data set in the world. And they have facial recognition almost of every single citizen in China. They have information about every single citizen in China. That data set, as all the researchers at UNH understand, gives you a leg up to deal with things. But in the case of the coronavirus, they do not have the surveillance systems that we have in the United States, that the CDC has worked with local public health authorities to put in place, so we know when clusters of illness happen in this country, and we have public health systems in this country to deal with that data that comes up through the surveillance system. China does not have that capability in the same way that we do, and they, of course, have a billion people. So it makes it a very complicated process.
We’ve seen a lot in the news today about people in the administration basically saying this is going to be a boon for the United States; that it’s going to weaken Xi Jinping because it doesn’t look like he’s done a good job. It’s going to bring jobs back to the United States because people won’t want to be in China, and the president said it’s going to turn out good.
It’s not going to turn out good for anybody. It’s not going to turn out good for anybody. And people in this country are already terrified because it’s an unknown, and because a vaccine does not yet exist for it, and those who are the making the vaccines have said it’s a year away before we might have a vaccine.
The truth is that more people have died of the flu in the United States this year than have died by the coronavirus, and people here who can get a flu vaccine—hope you all have—don’t, and it creates a problem for all of us.
So what I think we’re seeing on the good news side is that the White House finally is establishing a center for the discussion of the coronavirus. President Obama had set up a preparedness cell—after we went through Ebola, set up a preparedness cell in the White House because when you have something like this, it takes all of the government. It takes every institution. It takes intergovernmental work with cities, with states, with communities, with Indian reservations, with everybody. You have to work with the school systems. You have to work with tourism, and travel agents, and airplane flights—everything—so it takes all of government. So it’s a very good thing that the White House has now set up this center organ to work on this.
I would note—people here who know me would find it astonishing if I didn’t say this—I must say I was astonished at the picture of all of the experts meeting in the Situation Room about this today, and every single person in the picture—around the table and the backbenchers—were all white guys. And I love white guys; I’ve been married to one for forty years, he’s here tonight. (Laughter.) I love you guys, but really? We’re about to tackle a major, potential, worldwide epidemic where countries are closing their borders, and American Airlines pilots are suing American Airlines so they do not have to travel to China. We need everybody on board for this one.
SANGER: Kori, a few minutes ago Richard said something that stuck in my mind, which is we have to be really careful with the historical parallels we use. And Safe Passage is a terrific book about—
SCHAKE: Thank you.
SANGER: —the most interesting historical parallel which was when we were the insurgent power and the British were the status quo power. So we thought that felt pretty fabulous at the time, and the British didn’t have much of a sense of humor about it. And now, all of a sudden, we’re the status quo power. As Richard pointed out, we’re not going to be the world’s largest economy for long; it’s a question of when that line crosses. The Chinese will get past coronavirus, and at some point get back on track, and it might not take them as long as we think.
So as you finished the book—which I know was a multi-year effort because we kept talking about it along the way—what did you conclude were the lessons—if you had to sit down and advise any of the candidates at this point, when they are thinking about China, what the lessons they should learn from when we were on the other side of this?
SCHAKE: That’s a great question, David. I think the most important thing I learned writing the book was that when the United States was a rambunctious, threatening, revisionist power to the international order, with this crazy notion that people have rights inherently, and they loan them in limited ways to governments; that is, that we are citizens, not subjects, of our government.
There were a whole bunch of crises that could have resulted in war between Great Britain and the United States, and the reason that it didn’t was, in the period of time when the United States was pulling close to British power—much closer than China has pulled to American power yet—that because the two countries had similar cultures of governance, it created space for compromise, right?
Just to take one example, there was a crisis in 1895 over Venezuela defaulting on its debts. This is the closest Britain and the United States came to war across those hundred years. And the British public started writing letters in American newspapers about it would be fratricide for us to go to war, and that sense of sameness put pressure on governments.
SANGER: That sounds like election interference. (Laughter.)
SCHAKE: That’s the difference that the type of government—that having similar types of government.
So the question you should all ask yourself, and ask your political leaders, is are we going to bet that as China grows more prosperous, it will become more politically liberal, it will become a government that respects the rights of its people. Because if you believe that, then you don’t need to worry about a rising China. It’s going to be a power like Germany—strong, vibrant—is. It’s going to be a power like Canada is. But if you think that China is going to continue to be different than all the other prosperous economies, then you’d better start working to constrain China.
I personally believe that I think we already see signs of China—of pressure for liberalization in China, and I think what’s going to force that change is not the strength of the American military, and not the South China Sea; it is Chinese mothers demanding safe baby milk for their children. And what I would recommend as our strategy for dealing with China is not to over militarize it. That actually plays to China’s advantages that they are just trying to defend in nearby waters, and we’re trying to defend across the Pacific.
The best example of American policy towards China in the last twenty years was during the Obama administration. Governor Huntsman, when he was the ambassador in Beijing, he posted the air quality index in Beijing on the American website. It cost you and me nothing, but it forced the Chinese government into accountability with its own public about something the public cared about. That’s how you change China.
And we’re just too—we have been too lazy to do that kind of creative small ball, and that’s what we’re actually good at, my friends. Instead of the White House talking about how great this is going to be for the American economy for the Chinese to fail, we ought to be mobilizing the World Health Organization, and showing that we are empathetic at the human costs of this terrible outbreak, and winning hearts and minds in China for as they become a strong, challenging power.
HAASS: So just so you don’t think there’s consensus up here, let me disagree in part.
I would love to see China evolve in the ways you suggest. It’s possible it will. But we can’t base our policy on that. Indeed, I think the lesson of the last twenty years is China has got a different trajectory. It's got a large state role in the economy. In part thanks to facial recognition technology, the human rights situation in China has become more repressive, not less repressive. So I’m working on the assumption that China will not become more like us—which is one.
Two, I don’t think we can prevent China’s rise—to know the historical set of allusions—but I don’t think we can get up every day and try to stop China from becoming a great power. I think the thrust of our policy has to be to try to influence how China uses its power; possibly at home, certainly overseas.
Thirdly, we have to understand that there’s a limit to what people in our business can do. We can’t negotiate a global compact with China that we’re going to agree on everything. In some areas, we’re going to have to do it ourselves, and if we want to—so we, for example, David, who is an expert on technology, mentioned Huawei. We can’t spend our lives thinking that we’re going to stop Huawei from becoming a significant global player; it already is. It would help if we had a dog in the race. It would be nice if we had a serious American or allied 5G option. So, in some ways, if we don’t like what China is doing, we’re going to have to outcompete, and that’s going to mean—for example, right now we’re spending only a fraction of what we have historically spent on basic R&D in this country. That’s not China’s fault. They’re not telling us how much money we can spend in universities like this one. Why aren’t we spending more of our taxes on basic R&D? Why aren’t we funding the National Institutes for Health? That’s not China’s fault.
SANGER: But Richard, it’s interesting. There has been a proposal in Congress—Mark Warner and others have put it together—to put money—several billion dollars—into developing a national alternative to Huawei because private industry has left that. And I haven’t seen a single one of the candidates actually embrace it.
HAASS: There’s that.
SANGER: Or debate it.
HAASS: There’s that, or it’s not China’s fault that we’re running trillion-dollar deficits. You know, just think about it. We have done an amazing thing in this country. We have virtually eliminated our energy dependency on imported energy. It’s really quite extraordinary what we’ve done—largely from the ground up, American technology, drilling, and so forth.
At the same time, we have created an enormous American dependency to fund our economy. Who happens to be one of the two largest holders of American debt? Last I checked it was China. Where is the conversation about that?
So there are certain things we’re going to have to do for ourselves. Foreign policy, diplomacy can’t solve a lot of the challenges that we going to face. It can solve some of them or at least manage them, but some of these things we’re going to have to do for ourselves.
SHERMAN: Can I ask—David, I know you have to go to the audience, but can I ask you a question?
SANGER: Sure. I know this like the perfect time to go to the audience then, right? (Laughter.)
SHERMAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
No, just because—and this is particularly, I think, probably present for everybody here. You wrote a book about, really, disinformation, and about cyber, and about our elections. And you really know a great deal about interference by outside people in our electoral politics. And I’m not talking about what’s being debated under impeachment. I’m talking about—whether it’s our election machines or election security, whether it’s disinformation by trolls or bots on our Twitter accounts—so where do you think things are right now as we’re heading into this election, as we’re heading into the primary here in New Hampshire?
SANGER: I’ll give you a brief answer to that, and then we’ll go out to the audience for questions.
So the thing that everybody understands the most is the election machine that you’re going to be all in front of during the—during the primary, and that’s what I’m least worried about. They are not connected to the Internet, and fortunately, our election system in the United States is so disparate, so disorganized—(laughter)—not even the same—towns don’t all use the same machines—that we’re actually protected because we are so incompetent at organizing one system. And we should probably—
SHERMAN: Stay that way.
SANGER: —revel in that and stay that way. There is some—right?
The second thing is I wouldn’t allow a voting machine in the United States that did not have some form of paper backup. And believe it or not, we’re going to go into the 2020 election with eight or nine of the 16 states that didn’t have paper backup in 2016 still not having paper backup, which is pretty remarkable. And while paper backup is a slow way of recounting, we’ve had slow recounts. We did one in 2000. So at least you know that you can go do it.
What I do worry about? The registration system. I worry about that because it’s outward facing. You can all register online, and that means that we can come to that moment when Kori is registered—since she has just moved back to the United States—and someone has gone into the system and said, but wait a minute, we think you moved to Arizona. And you said, no, I’m actually living in Washington. There’s a huge amount of mischief that can be done and the fact of the matter is that we are now also primed to believe that the Russians or the Iranians or the Chinese or someone is going to mess in the election that you could do it in just a few precincts and have people believe that the election across the United States is tainted. So it’s the fear of it that is almost as big as that problem.
Disinformation is much harder because we’re a free society, and so if Richard wanted to take out an ad similar to the one that the Internet Research Agency in Russia prepared in 2016 calling for the secession in Texas—the next one of these sessions is in Texas. I’ll give you the Internet Research Agency’s ad, right. It would be perfectly legal. We might think that Richard, you know, may have some stranger opinions here but it would be within his 1st Amendment rights. And, yet, if that same ad is coming out of Russia or Iran, we’ve got a problem.
And I’ll give you one last issue. We reported a few weeks ago that the Russians, recognizing that they can’t play the same playbook again, have done two remarkable things. They have begun putting their information and their disinformation on servers here in the United States. Why? Because they know that the NSA and other intelligence agencies can’t operate in the United States legally. So they’re looking for a way to get around that.
The second thing they’ve done is they have bored into the Iranian cyber warfare unit and put their code inside Iran’s. Why would they want to do something like that? Because it is their chance to launch an attack that we might think is coming from another country. And that’s the real danger here, that we’re certain that we know who’s messing with us and we’ve got it wrong at a time of high tension.
I’ve had all the fun here asking these questions so for the rest of the night it’s going to be you guys. So I think there are some microphones around. Please come up to them. Tell us who you are and please ask a real question. (Laughter.) That’s the hardest part.
Q: Good evening. Thank you all for being here. I greatly appreciate your time and your wisdom. The question I would like to ask—
HAASS: Tell us who you are.
Q: I’m sorry?
HAASS: Tell us who you are.
Q: Oh. My name is Liam Malik Pawlowski (ph). I’m a student at Plymouth State University, a junior political science major.
My question concerns the ongoing civil war in Libya and its effects on the Sahel region as well as the U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel region. Specifically, what action is being taken or can be taken by the U.S. to aid the internationally recognized government in Tripoli against Haftar and how does the situation in Libya affect U.S. counterterrorism operations in the Sahel today and into the future?
SANGER: Who wants that one?
SCHAKE: Go ahead. I’ll follow you.
SHERMAN: I’ll take a shot. There’s no good answer to your question. (Laughter.)
SANGER: I could have said that.
SHERMAN: No, it’s—you know, I was in government when—I’ve been to Libya. I was in government when we had to get all of our embassy personnel out because they were so at risk. Libya is such a sad disaster. It is not quite parallel to Yemen but pretty close in terms of crisis. Probably not the same humanitarian disaster that Yemen is but it is terrible, and Haftar has sponsors who are urging his to—urging his takeover of what many perceive to be the legitimate government of Libya.
I think, painfully, there was recently a meeting of all of the governments that are trying to do something about this. I went to many of those meetings when I was undersecretary. We would all talk about what must be done, what the British, the Italians, and the French must do—European countries that we thought had a greater historical and present responsibility for Libya—and every one of those meetings, I must say, was utterly unsatisfying.
We have failed as U.S. government. We have failed as the United Nations. We have failed as people who care. I think it was—it was very strange. I was out of government when this all began. I was, at the time, on the U.S. government’s Defense Policy Board and we had a meeting of the policy board with then Secretary Gates to tell him what we thought should be done in Libya. This was before there was any intervention.
And Secretary Gates said, well, I—this was on a Wednesday—I can assure you we are not going to do a no-fly zone over Libya. We are not going to intervene. We are not going to take any action. We don’t know what we would do the day after. I know it’s supposed to be humanitarian. It’s not going to happen. It happened Thursday. It happened Thursday. It’s just—I don’t see a good result.
SCHAKE: May I add three points? First, there is no substitute for consensual governance, right, and so helping Libyans find ways to disarm militia, to commit to political power sharing talks, there’s no substitute for that. You’re not going to get a solution to this problem until you get that.
Second, we talk a lot about burden sharing between Europe and the United States and we complain bitterly that Germany only spends 1.2 percent of its GDP on defense. But Germany’s running the negotiations—
SHERMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely.
SCHAKE: —to try and achieve that and that’s a major contribution. France is leading counterterrorism operations in the Sahel that the United States is a minor participant in and we should be super grateful that they’re willing to—
SANGER: And is debating pulling back its minor participation.
SCHAKE: And the third thing is I sure hope you’re about to take the Foreign Service exam and become an American diplomat.
SCHAKE: Help solve this problem.
Q: Yes, ma’am. I would love to.
I would also just like to point out very quickly that France is actually on the side of that fight currently, working alongside the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Egypt. So there is certainly some division of the European nations as well—(off mic)—and I’d greatly appreciate a response.
HAASS: Let me—we’ll try to avoid having all of us respond to the questions or we won’t have enough. Let me just quickly say, Libya is a really interesting warning. I would argue we made a mistake in getting involved in the first place and intervening. We then compounded the mistake by not following it up. Once you remove authority it seems to me you’re on the hook to help restore authority.
When we, basically, removed Gadhafi, despite his flaws, despite the imperfect situation there, to say the least, the fact that we then didn’t act to rebuild the country in any way inevitably led to the kind of failed country that we have now. Libya is a reminder that we live in an era where weak countries are, in some ways, every bit as dangerous as strong ones because, again, it comes back to where we began tonight. What happens in Libya doesn’t stay there. The terrorism threat that emanates from there, the flow of people—
HAASS: Arms, but also refugees. We’ve seen what refugees have done to the politics of Europe. Libya is, to me, an expensive case study. You know, there’s a concept in medicine where doctors treat you and you get sicker—iatrogenic illness, which is caused by treatment. Libya, to some extent, is a case of—it’s iatrogenic diplomacy.
SCHAKE: I agree.
HAASS: It’s what happens when countries and people get involved and bad situations actually can get worse.
SANGER: A reminder that we’re really good at deposing leaders and we’re really bad at building up governments after.
Q: My name is Sharon Zunns (ph). I’m retired social work faculty, where I taught social policy and nonprofit management.
And my question is are we ever, ever, ever going to get out of Afghanistan and, if so, how are we going to do that?
SANGER: Kori, you want to start with that?
SCHAKE: Yes, we are definitely going to get out of Afghanistan. In fact, I would be surprised if we don’t get out of Afghanistan before President Trump leaves office, and that, in my judgment, will be a mistake because the right way to get out of Afghanistan is helping the government of Afghanistan to become capable enough to govern itself and prevent the emergence of the kinds of threats that we went there in the first place. It’s extraordinarily hard to do. It’s painful to do. You know, Afghanistan was 185 on the U.N. Human Development Index in 2000.
But think about this. More than—excuse me, more than fifty-four thousand Afghan National Security Forces have been killed since 2014. They are still signing up to try and succeed at this and I actually think they deserve our help. It’s limited. We are not doing the fighting. We are training, equipping, and supporting them to do it and helping them to develop into a kind of country that can police itself. In my judgment, that’s the right way to get out of Afghanistan.
HAASS: Good for you.
Q: Until? As long as it takes?
SCHAKE: Depends on what the price is that you’re paying. We are paying a relatively low price in order to achieve that gain. The alternative strategy will be to leave Afghanistan, the problems will reassert themselves, and then we will have to choose whether to go back in force to build back towards where we are now or just to kill people and leave, which doesn’t help solve the problems of the people of Afghanistan.
HAASS: Can I expound on something Lori—Kori said? Because it’s really important. There’s a lot of rhetoric in this campaign about forever wars, and it sounds awful, obviously, and everybody’s against them. But she made what I think is the central point. Duration of commitment is not per se the critical thing. It’s the costs and benefits of the commitment as opposed to the likely costs and benefits of ending it.
So in the case of Afghanistan, if we could figure out a policy, which I think we actually have pretty much, where we have several thousand forces there in a very limited role, largely, training, advising, arming, so forth, the locals, and that’s open ended, that lasts for ten, twenty, thirty years, and we keep the costs down and they don’t lose control of the country to people who once again would turn Afghanistan into a factory for global terrorism. That seems to me that’s a price worth paying.
We’ve kept troops in Korea for seventy years. We’ve kept troops in Europe for seventy-five years. Open-ended deployments are not per se bad. What we have to make sure, again, is the costs and benefits of doing so is better than the costs and benefits of not, and Afghanistan, it could prove to be, again, very expensive if we simply left if we thought we had either a sham peace agreement or if we simply said we’re tired of doing this and, once again, the kind of forces that brought about 9/11 would resurface and retake the country.
So, again, it’s easy to support people who are saying forever wars are per se bad. Ask yourself what is the alternative.
SANGER: Easy way to do this is, as the candidates come through, ask them what their strategic objectives are in Afghanistan. So all of them will tell you we can’t rebuild the country. We’ve been there for nineteen years. It’s not going to happen. Some of them, if our surveys are right, will tell you, we think we need a small residual force—the inexpensive force that Richard was talking about—for intelligence, which means keeping it from coming here, for training.
Some won’t, and that’s one of the most fascinating thing among the Democrats right now, which is a great difference in what their remaining strategic objective is in Afghanistan.
Right over here.
Q: Hi. John Sullivan. I’m retired now but used to be with the Center for International Private Enterprise at the National Endowment for Democracy.
My question is, we’ve seen a lot in the papers lately about the international liberal order. We’ve also seen this administration kind of—whatever you’d like to call it—disarming NATO, attacking it and so on, but putting a real strain on it. The WTO no longer has a functioning dispute resolution mechanism. The climate agreement we’ve pulled out of. The states are still there and some of the city governments but not the national government. And a whole range of other international entities that have been built up over time, largely at the initiative of the U.S. Where do you see this going and do any of the candidates care?
SANGER: Well, fortunately, we have a man here who specializes in disarray. (Laughter.) Some call him Disarray Man.
Q: There you go.
SANGER: So do you see any chance that this uncohesion that has just been described is going to come back together no matter who’s elected president?
HAASS: The short answer is no, but history is about degrees of things. So it’s not a choice between an orderly world and a world that’s in anarchy. There’s things in between. I think what’s important to keep in mind is we were more than anyone else responsible for the fact that the last seventy-five years have worked out remarkably well by most historical measures and I actually think it was well worth the cost.
The world won’t just organize itself by itself. It’s like those high school experiments. The natural state of the world is entropy. It’s not order. It doesn’t come together. There’s nobody else who has the habits, the capabilities, the ability to fill our shoes. So there’s no one else behind us.
You know, Kori wrote the important book about our taking the British position. There’s no one behind us to take ours who’s going to build a twenty-first century world order. Plus, it’s gotten even tougher. We not only have the traditional problems, but we’ve got all these global issues—proliferation, climate change. Then you write about how to regulate cyberspace, pandemics.
So, yeah, I worry about it. I think the—you know, the need for order is great. I don’t think it really happens without us.
Now, that’s not an argument for unilateralism. But I do think we are—we are central or even essential to the process, and it would mean not doing it by ourselves. And then we have allies. It’s one of our great strategic advantages. We have partners in this enterprise who are actually anxious to do it with us. They would like nothing more than to join the posse, to sign up, and I think the challenge will be, one, persuading ourselves to do it.
I think the partners will be, and then it’s going to be dealing with the Chinas and Russias and others who are both outliers but also, in some ways, limited participants. But we are—I think it was Wendy that used the phrase before—all hands on deck.
We’re living in a world where, to some extent, we need all hands on deck if we’re going to deal with some of these challenges. But at the end of the day or the beginning of the day, it’s not going to happen without the United States.
SANGER: Kori, I know you wanted to say something. Do.
SCHAKE: Yes. I wanted to—I agree with everything Richard said. The United—the reason American dominance in the international order has been relatively affordable is because we set rules that encouraged the success of other countries in addition to ourselves. We’ve built alliances, we’ve built institutions, and that shared the burden and it created voluntary cooperation, and that’s hugely valuable.
The second quick thing I would add, though, is that many of you may not know that the first country, according to the United Nations secretary general, that is going to meet its Paris Climate Accord goals is the United States of America. Despite withdrawing from the treaty, despite the hostility of the Trump administration, the great golden state of California and Mike Bloomberg’s money and sanctimonious Tim Cook and my mom driving an electric car. So we shouldn’t expect the government—the federal government’s policies to be the only way we think about these issues because civil society and civic activism can actually go a really long way and, historically, for the United States have gone a really long way in how we shape the world.
SANGER: Spoken like the Californian you are.
SHERMAN: So just one note of probably not as great an optimism as Kori, though I agree with what she said and I agree with what Richard said.
We’re not only a world in some disarray but we are in a world of uncertainty. We talked about the rapid technological change. There’s also very rapid social change and that rapid social change has also been elevated because of movement of people, and the movement of people who don’t look like the people who lived in the country before those people arrived.
Tomorrow we will see Brexit. It will happen on the 31st of January. But no one knows whether Britain will be able to use the fact that it’s an island to protect itself from the change that is going on. But that’s really what Brexit was about.
Brexit was about, I don’t like all of this change. I don’t want to be open to all of the people who are moving around the world. I want to control my own world so I’m going to leave the European Union. And we see that in our communities where people feel that they don’t know their place anymore in the world because women are in the workplace, because people are going to the mosque, not the church, because the folks down the street can get married and they’re nice people but what’s that about. The rapid social change has created tremendous anxiety, not just in our country but all over the world.
And so whoever is president does, in my view, need to refresh, at the very least, the institutions that have served us so well for the last seventy-five years because the world is not exactly as it was in Bretton Woods after World War II. It is quite different and it’s going to be even more different when my grandchildren are adults.
And so it is time to refresh those institutions and to think about what other institutional vehicles we need so that China, who we brought into the WTO and actually has been useful for us, but the WTO is challenged and we need to figure out is it the right institution, the right vehicle, for the times in which we live and, more importantly, the times in which we, at least my grandchildren, are going to live.
SANGER: So we have three questioners left and about six minutes. So you guys do the math. So we’re going to do short questions and short answers.
Q: Hi. I’m Bryce Newsham. I study global trade and Middle Eastern studies at UNH.
And I was curious if the relationship with the Kurdish people is in any way salvageable, and were there to be a new president elected if that would be higher up on their docket or something just to go to the wayside.
HAASS: Why don’t we take all three questions?
Q: My name is—
SANGER: One on the Kurds. Yeah?
Q: My name is Cameron. I’m a Bachelor of Arts in economics and a dual minor in philosophy and Classics.
Richard, you had mentioned the whole notion of sovereign debt and about a week ago Donald Trump mentioned how wonderful it was that Europe had negative interest rates. Post-crisis we’ve had slow growth, releveraging, not deleveraging, and the emergence of MMT and populism. Do we ever return to normal? And, if so, how is there normalization of policy and politics?
SCHAKE: Great questions.
SANGER: Very good.
Q: My name is Sean Gerlis (ph), student of history here at UNH.
The question is for you particularly, Mr. Haass, because of your position as envoy to Northern Ireland. After Brexit, do you see any change in the situation there or any difference in the peace talks and perhaps a new—a start of a new conflict there because of that and do you see any position from the U.S. in that conflict?
SCHAKE: Good questions.
SANGER: OK. So let’s start with the Kurds and we’re going to take one—because the last two were, clearly, directed at Richard. So who wants to take on the Kurds?
SCHAKE: I’ll take the Kurds.
HAASS: Finally, someone will take the Kurds.
SCHAKE: I will. (Laughter.)
SHERMAN: I will take the Kurds, too. I’ll take the Kurds any day.
SCHAKE: So, unfortunately, the Kurds have once again learned the lesson that they are not the most important element of American policy in the Middle East, and the only reason they keep coming back to partnership with the United States is they just don’t have better options. They live in a tough neighborhood. They are—their population is spread in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and other places.
It’s a rough neighborhood. They have done a wonderful job in consolidating the success of Kurdish communities in northern Iraq and if they hadn’t pressed for the independence vote eighteen months ago, two years ago, it would have been harder for the United States to sell them out than we did recently.
But there’s another lesson that comes out of the Kurdish experience of the last twenty years and that is they are a success story, that the United States can help countries build success, right. When I started working on Middle East issues in 1990, Kurdish leaders were killing each other at wedding ceremonies.
And after the invasion of Iraq in 1991, the United States and other countries created a humanitarian enclave in northern Iraq where Kurds were safe. We stayed there for, what, twenty-five, thirty-five years, taking the territory out of Saddam Hussein’s control in Iraq, growing a generation of leaders that shared our values, and now the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq are some of its best governed, some of its most prosperous, and some of its most promising. That shows that actually if we care, if we’re patient, if we help grow success, you can actually change societies.
SHERMAN: Great answer.
HAASS: So you know you’re in trouble when Northern Ireland is a relatively upbeat answer. (Laughter.) I’d say two things. One is after several years we at least have the local institutions up and running in Northern Ireland. Stormont, which is the local political assembly, is, at least for now, back in business.
The real question is whether Brexit sets in motion dynamics that fundamentally change Northern Ireland. I think the possibility is there, and the reason is that there’s a new rationale now for Irish unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, which is to stay in Europe. And the real question is whether Protestants—so-called Unionists—in Northern Ireland, basically, decide that they may need to rethink their historic opposition to unification with the Republic of Ireland, which is predominantly Catholic, in order to keep a foothold in Europe, and Brexit could set in motion that.
We’ll see what it does with Scottish nationalism and so forth. It’s part of the unintended consequences chapter of history. We’ll just have to see how it plays out. I think part of it will depend upon what Brexit looks like and we’re not going to know how Brexit looks like because even though it happens this week, until December 31st that’s when the negotiations are now set to conclude between Britain and the EU.
So we don’t even know what Brexit is yet. Right now it’s still a concept. We don’t know any of the—it’s a divorce agreement without the text of an agreement. So we’ll have to see what it—what it looks like, and I think depending upon the quality of it, economic health within the U.K. will determine in some ways the future of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and whether the U.K. remains the—the formal name of the country, people forget, is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and one of the questions is whether Brexit has set in motion political dynamics, which—even more than Harry and Meghan threaten the future fabric of the country, if that is possible. Now we can save the best for last, which is international economics.
HAASS: Look, world economy has been growing more slowly to some reason for—to some extent for reasons that are external. The trade disputes, which have been a real blanket. Now you’ve got the virus, which will slow things down more. The area that’s of concern is all this is taking place in a backdrop where interest rates are at historic lows and have been at historic lows for a long time, which another way of saying we’ve kind of—central banks have kind of played their hand. They’ve kind of done all they can. So if and when things slow down or we have reasons to stimulate, we don’t really have monetary instruments anymore.
Here in the United States, we’ve got a problem, which comes back to our previous conversation. Fiscal instruments normally you—to stimulate you run a deficit. Well, hold it. We’re already running a trillion-dollar deficit every year at a time where we’re growing between 2 (percent) and 2½ percent. What are we going to run, a $2 trillion deficit? Will the rest of the world be comfortable with the United States holding that and will the rest of the world continue to want to finance that?
SANGER: Richard, in the—in the campaign we’ve been hearing so far, including among the Democrats who have been coming through here in New Hampshire, how many times have you heard anybody actually talk about the debt? This issue has gone away.
HAASS: Yeah, it’s real interesting. People always talk about the need for bipartisanship. Let me suggest bipartisanship may not be all that it’s cracked up to be because there seems to be a bipartisan pact not to talk about this.
Republicans—I became a Republican and one of the reasons was that Republicans believed in, essentially, balanced budgets and avoiding deficits—strong currencies. We seem to have moved away from that. Democrats are moving away from it. No one’s prepared to really talk about entitlements, which are a, if not the, principal driver of the scale of things.
So it’s one of those problems that you’re OK until you’re not. So nobody can sit up here in any session like this and say, this is all going to come to a head in three months or six months or nine months. But it’s one of these problems that’s going to come very slowly and then it’s going to hit very quickly when it happens. It’s just very hard in democracies to head off crises that you can’t put a date on. This is a crisis I would say we can’t put a date on. But by the time we can put a date on it, it’s too late for any of those smart responses to it.
So this is a real test for leadership. Climate change is a test for leadership. New technologies and workforce displacement is a big test for leadership. This is a test for leadership. Because the fox is not at the door. Yet, by the time he’s there, it’s too late to do all the good and smart things.
So this is what leadership is about. In some ways, it’s making the case that we need to respond before it’s obvious that we have to respond. So I actually think this is a good issue to raise with people who want to sit at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
SANGER: Well, I want to thank all three of you—Richard, Wendy, Kori—and all of you from the University of New Hampshire for inviting us here today and all of you for coming out and participating. This is always the most fascinating few weeks in New Hampshire and I can’t think of a more consequential election.
So thank you much. Thanks for all you’ve done here tonight, and good luck in the next week and a half. Don’t get run over by the candidates. (Applause.)
HAASS: Thank you all.
Meeting Link: Council on Foreign Relations, Election 2020 Series, Foreign Policy Forum, January 30, 2020.