[A REMINDER — THIS IS THE WORK OF OBSERVER R, NOT LARRY JOHNSON.]
On June 22 of this year, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) published an article by Richard Haass entitled “A Tale of Two Invasions.” The printed summary of the article is as follows: “The different responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Iraq’s of Kuwait three decades ago reveal growing international fragmentation and disorder.”
This is an important article because the CFR, founded in 1921, is perhaps the premier United States (US) foreign policy grouping and is influential in setting the tone for US international activities. The CFR publishes the magazine Foreign Affairs, also the premier journal in its field. Richard Haass is stepping down as President of the CFR after serving for twenty years.
According to Haass, the Soviet Union supported the United States (US) in the 1990 war to remove Iraq forces from Kuwait, and that China did not block those efforts. He contrasts that outcome with the current Ukraine situation, where Russia (the successor to the Soviet Union) “is committing aggression rather than opposing it.” As for China, in 1990 that country was much weaker than now and keeping its head down. Now, however, China has consistently supported Russia and has greatly raised its international profile. Haass notes that much of the rest of the world has been non-committal on the Ukraine war, in contrast to the general international support for the US position in the Iraq War.
Haass goes on to state: “Moreover, America’s ability to rally the world is much diminished, in no small part because respect for the US is much diminished, the result of internal divisions and widespread global opposition to the US interventions in Iraq in 2003 and in Libya in 2011.”
As a result of these changes, he further states that “The US remains first among equals (or unequals, to be precise), but that is not to be confused with anything resembling hegemony. The advantages America enjoyed in 1990 have faded as others have gained greater power.”
Haass, who has been at the top of the US foreign policy pecking-order for 20 years, is announcing at the end of his tenure that US hegemony is over and done with. In other words, many articles in Foreign Affairs in the last 20 years promoting, endorsing, and upholding US hegemony are now obsolete and out of fashion. It is the dawn of a new age, where the US can no longer count on running the international rules-based order with little regard to other countries’ wishes or input.
The article enlarges the “Overton Window” to make it possible to discuss more unconventional approaches to US foreign policy without being shunned. It will be informative to see if this does become the case in journals such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and The National Interest, for example. In a sense, Haass’s article borders on what might be called “ideological heresy” in terms of international politics as currently practiced in the US. Of course, it may also have about as little lasting and concrete effect as did Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell speech on the military-industrial complex.
If the article is more successful, however, it could open up the journals to publishing more in-depth articles about the relative positions of countries in power politics. Although Haass continues to put the US first, it is only “first among equals”—a big comedown from the usual exceptional and number one chorus. The window might be widened enough to allow addressing the alternative position that China is way out in front on the economy and Russia has way more advanced and hypersonic weapons. According to this view, the US is only number two on both counts. Such a change in the window would allow for a more informed public debate on the merits of various current and potential new US military and diplomatic policies.
Finally, although Haass mentions that “internal divisions” have diminished US influence in the world, he does not explain or comment on these alleged divisions. This situation is common in the foreign policy journals, where the perceived problems facing Russia and Putin are discussed in great length, but those facing the US and Biden are glossed over or ignored. This lack of information makes it difficult to carry out a scholarly analysis of the relative power of the two countries or to prepare an adequate national strategy.