Council on Foreign Relations President Richard N. Haass talked with Allen McDuffee of The Washington Post’s Think Tanked blog as part of the Fed Page’s Q&As with think tank leaders. Speculation is that Haass is on Mitt Romney’s short­list as a potential secretary of state, a topic that the CFR president declined to discuss. He did, however, discuss foreign policy in the 2012 elections, U.S.-Afghanistan relations in a post-Karzai era and why corporations are important in foreign policy.


What role will foreign policy play in the 2012 elections?

Very little, I imagine. With the economic climate the U.S. faces, Americans are understandably focused on the economy, and that means from now until November, President Obama and Governor Romney will be addressing those concerns.

If the past is a guide, there will be at least one presidential debate devoted to foreign policy, but that won’t be on the forefront of most voters’ minds. The most likely way events in the world will influence the election is through the effects of the ongoing euro-zone crisis. Aside from that, it would really require some inherently unpredictable developments, such as a crisis involving Iran, say, triggered by an Israeli preventive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Regardless of who wins, a new secretary of state will be in office because either there will be a new administration or Secretary Clinton will step down at the end of this term.

What should either camp be looking for in a new secretary of state?

The most successful secretaries of state in modern times, such as Dean Acheson and Henry Kissinger, entered the office with an intellectual framework. In addition, and arguably more so than any other Cabinet position, the relationship between the president and the secretary of state is a unique partnership, and the degree of trust between the two must be absolutely unwavering. That was the relationship that President George H.W. Bush and James Baker had and perhaps the primary reason they were as successful as they were.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s term comes to an end in 2014. What can or should the United States start doing now to help cultivate a climate friendly to U.S. interests given the mixed results thus far?

It’s not likely that additional investment on our part will produce results that are commensurate with greater investment. The United States can continue to train and advise Afghan military and police forces and work with civilian leaders to improve their performance, but we need to be realistic about what we can accomplish given the nature of Afghan society, the continued existence of a sanctuary for hostile forces in Pakistan and the agenda and commitment of the Taliban. . . . I would move quickly to a modest residual force and focus on training and advising Afghan forces, on attacking with drones and special forces any al-Qaeda types that might enter Afghanistan, and on limited, focused economic help to the Afghan government.

In the newest issue of Foreign Affairs, which is published by CFR, the lead article, written by Kenneth Waltz, has caused some controversy because he argues that Iran getting a nuclear bomb “would probably be the best possible result: the one most likely to restore stability to the Middle East.” Do you agree with Waltz’s assessment?

A nuclear-armed Iran would likely become even more assertive throughout the region and the world. This prospect would also raise the risks of nuclear material or weapons getting into the hands of other countries or organizations close to Iran, such as Hezbollah. It would increase pressures to preempt in future regional crises, thereby further reducing regional stability. It would raise questions about American reliability given all that has been said about the unacceptability of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. And other countries in the region would be tempted to follow suit, resulting in a Middle East with more fingers on more trigger.

As we see the power struggle in Egypt between the courts, the military and President Mohamed Morsi continue to unfold, what tools should the United States put into play in terms of funding, military assistance and diplomacy? And what angles should the United States be exploiting in that overall calculus?

I would make all economic and military assistance contingent on Egyptian actions, including the intensity of their effort against terrorism, their support for the peace treaty with Israel, treatment of minorities and women and the quality of Egyptian democracy, meaning whether it limits the role of government and protects individual rights and freedoms. Economic help should also be linked to economic policy on their part, including their willingness to reduce state subsidies and institute market reforms.

How do you know if the Council on Foreign Relations is successful?

We have a complex matrix of metrics to know how many times our Web site is visited each day, how many times our reports are downloaded, how often our blogs are read or how many times our videos are watched. All of that shows interest, but not necessarily impact. . . . It’s an imperfect science, to be sure — especially when you’re dealing with ideas.

However, another way to think of our impact is to divide it three ways. First, we have impact through our ideas, which can be transmitted in print (books, articles, Foreign Affairs), digitally (blogs, etc.), via traditional media (TV, radio) or in person (testimony, CFR meetings, etc.).

Second, we have impact through all we do to create the setting in which policy is made. Thus, our ability to influence columnists, editorial pages, interest groups, voters, etc., all affects what policymakers decide or can implement.

Third, we have a longer-range impact through what we do to develop talent and expertise. Over four decades we have influenced the careers of some 500 international-affairs fellows such as former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and former deputy secretary of state James Steinberg, by giving them opportunities to work in government — or by giving those in government a chance to think and write on the outside. We have probably had more than 150 military fellows here over the years, including Gen. Stanley McChrystal. A good many of our senior fellows have ended up in senior government slots. We are also doing a great deal to be a resource for high school and especially college students.

Some on the left say that the Council on Foreign Relations, with its large and active corporate membership, has an allegiance to business that is not always congruent with America’s interests. Noam Chomsky once said that CFR is the “business input into foreign policy planning.” Are they right?

This is preposterous. We do have corporate members, but by listening to the wide-ranging views expressed during the discussions they have at our events, it would be evident that there is no singular business interest represented by our membership. Nonetheless, business is a part of our foreign policy and including them in that debate is important. I actually wish corporations played a bigger role in foreign policy, as they are among the most internationally oriented of all Americans.