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Expert says American power abroad is rooted in democracy at home

Our Town with William Kelly: Expert says American power abroad is rooted in democracy at home

American foreign policy should stand on the pillars of deterrence and diplomacy, foreign relations expert Dr. Richard Haass said at a Palm Beach Civic Association Signature Series program on Wednesday.

Deterrence through military muscle and alliances. Diplomacy through peaceful engagement whenever possible, Haass told an audience of 110 Civic Association members.

But, to succeed abroad, America must protect its democracy by embracing civility and rejecting violence at home, Haass said.

Haass is a veteran American diplomat and bestselling author in his 20th year as president of the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations.

He was interviewed by Civic Association Chairman-Elect Michael Pucillo during an hourlong conversation. Haass, who also took questions from the audience, shared his insights on the war in Ukraine, deteriorating relations between the U.S. and China, and the threat of a military confrontation between China and Taiwan.

Haass said it’s important for the United States and its allies to stand up to Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. But he said he disagrees with the Biden administration’s decision to frame the war as a contest between democracy and authoritarianism.

Western military assistance to Ukraine is important because it demonstrates international resolve to prevent aggressors like Putin from seizing the territory of other nations through force, Haass said.

“We don’t want Putin to choose other targets in Europe,” he said. “We don’t want China to invade Taiwan.”

Putin invaded Ukraine 13 months ago, hoping to end its existence as a sovereign nation. But the Russian leader underestimated the resistance he would encounter, Haass said. He also overestimated the strength of the Russian army.

“Mr. Putin made a bunch of assumptions. The good news is every single one of them proved to be wrong … a year later he’s gained a little bit of territory [and] he’s paid a large price for it in terms of manpower and equipment.”

Haass said he’s skeptical that either side can prevail militarily. He also doesn’t think Russia or Ukraine is ready to cut a deal.

Putin is playing the long game, he said. “He believes Western cohesion will fray with the passage of time. I believe it’s got to be our goal to prove him wrong … one of the good things to come out of this is the strengthening of America’s alliances.”

The U.S. and China

U.S. relations with China have reached their lowest point in decades. There’s plenty of bipartisan support for being tough on China, but our aggressive stance isn’t supported by any strategic foundation, Haass said.

“This is going to be most fateful, important relationship of this century. I worry about the trajectory that it’s taking. It’s getting very close to confrontational, and the consequences of that, militarily, economically … would be devastating for the United States, for China, for the region and for the world.”

The United States should dramatically strengthen its ability to defend Taiwan, Haass said.

“We are never going to change the mainland’s calculations in terms of its ambitions to take over Taiwan. What we can constantly do is shape the mainland’s calculations about the costs and benefits of trying.”

Pucillo asked Haass about his latest book, The Bill of Obligations, in which he argues that American citizenship comes not only with rights, but responsibilities.

In the book, Haass writes that American citizens are obligated to be informed, get involved, be civil and open to compromise and put their country first.

Our current lack of national cohesion presents the greatest threat of all to American democracy, Haass contends.

The road to greater civility should begin with a requirement that American schools make civics courses mandatory for graduates, he said. But it shouldn’t end there.

“I want to get religious authorities to use their pulpits to start telling Americans to be civil to one another,” Haass said. “I want business leaders to say that we actually benefit from the rule of law … maybe we should make it easier for our employees to vote [and] stop contributing to candidates who are election deniers or promote violence.”

Pucillo praised the book.

“It’s a great read, a fast read, and should be a mandatory read for high school students in America today,” Pucillo said.

Richard Haass and Michael Pucillo

Richard Haass & Michael Pucillo

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