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Richard Haass On The French Elections And Disarray At The State Department

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Richard Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign relations and the author most recently of A World In Disarray. he joined me Friday morning to discuss the French vote on Sunday and the disarray at the Department of State:




HH: But I want to turn my attention abroad, because this Sunday, there will be elections in France which have incredible consequences for the United States and the West generally. Joining me to talk about that is Richard Haass. He is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of an incredibly timely new book, A World In Disarray. You can follow him on Twitter, @RichardHaass, that’s two A’s and two S’. Richard, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, thanks for making time this morning.

RH: Thanks for having me.

HH: Can you set the stakes of Friday’s vote in France and Macron and Le Pen and what it means for Americans?

RH: Yeah, Sunday’s vote is actually one of those votes that truly matters. This is not a vote with two candidates, say, between the 40 yard lines. You’ve got one candidate at the 40 yard line. The other one’s in the other end zone. So the consequences will really change history. If Macron wins, and he’s the favorite, you’ll essentially have the continuation of NATO, the continuation of the European Union, the two principal institutions that have stabilized Europe since World War II, and you’ll have the continuation of the French-German relationship, which has been at the heart of our post-World War II Europe. If Marine Le Pen would win, she’s the head of the National Front, you would actually have a real departure. I think she would look to one way or another, either get France out of both European Union and NATO, or certainly minimize its relationship. She’s got, you know, much different policies, domestically much more what we would call populist and nationalist. And I think in some ways, it would be the beginning of the end of post-World War II Europe. And the real question is where would that take you? Would history, which had been pretty ugly in the 20th Century, would it return to Europe, ultimately? So it’s an election with far greater consequences than usual.

HH: And I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with President Obama on hoping for an outcome here, for a center-left win, because Europe is so, I was so pro-Brexit. I am perfectly wonderfully happy that Theresa May is romping to a big win in June. But this is different. And I want you to explain to conservatives especially, Richard Haass, because that’s my primary audience. This is not a vote for Theresa May. This is not, you said it well. Marine Le Pen is way outside of the 40 yard line. And you’re right. She’s in the end zone. She’s in the stands.

RH: (laughing) Exactly. And I just think it’s important every once in a while to look back at history. So much of the 20th Century was about Europe. There was two world wars and a cold war. And at the heart of the two world wars was the relationship between France and Germany, or the lack of the relationship between France and Germany. The whole idea of modern Europe was to so knit those two countries together that violence would become unthinkable. And that’s the basis of all that’s happened over the last 70 years. And my basic view is don’t mess around with something that’s essentially worked. Now I can sit here, Hugh, and we could have a long conversation about the flaw of the European Union, how overregulated it is. We could have conversation about some of the problems within NATO. I get it. But better to work with that and improve those two institutions than to, what’s the cliché, throw the baby out with the bathwater in both places and just introduce a degree of uncertainty. To use my book, which you were generous to mention, I kind of feel there’s enough in our inbox at the moment.

HH: (laughing) Yes, absolutely, and Brexit…

RH: This is not, this is not disarray in the world.

HH: And Theresa May fighting with the EU is an unfortunate but necessary divorce, and it doesn’t have to be this messy. But it’s not going to end the post-war order. I heard the venerable, maybe the late, greatest living American, George Schultz, give a speech last year about how every institution of the post-war era is under stress.

RH: Right.

HH: France going Le Pen would just be a Samson bringing down the temple, I think.

RH: I think you’re right, and you’re exactly right. The British withdrawal from the EU is not so radical. The British have never been as incidentally involved. The English Channel has not just been a geographic reality, but it’s been a political and psychological reality. So, and even if Britain gets out, they’re going to stay in NATO, obviously. And even if they get out of the EU, they’re going to find ways of maintaining certain bonds. And again, Theresa May is not a radical. She’s not a bomb thrower. She’s riding a certain populist wave in Britain. I think that’ll be ugly, it’ll be messy. Probably everyone is going to lose from that negotiation, but that’s not going to rock the foundations, as you put it.

HH: so we will be watching Sunday very, very closely. I want to close by asking you about personnel at the Department of State.

RH: Sure.

HH: A story this week that I’ve commented on a lot is Richard Grenell was promised the ambassadorship to NATO by the White House. Rex Tillerson pulled the rug out from underneath that and is sending Kay Bailey Hutchison. I don’t know what Kay Bailey Hutchison knows about NATO. I know Rick pretty well. He’s a friend of mine. He knows a lot about NATO. What is going on over there at State?

RH: This is seriously broken. You’ve got two problems. You’ve got the problem at the White Houses, where you’ve got too many cooks in the kitchen having to sign off on senior people at State and Defense, which is why both are essentially underpopulated, and then Rex Tillerson seems to have his own priorities, and I think is making too much of an emphasis on reorganizing before repopulating. So what we have is a seriously understaffed State Department. We have an understaffed Pentagon, a White House on the NSC as well. And you just need these people. You need their input, you need some historical memory. You need people to say yeah, but if you do this, what about the consequences for that. And you know, 90% of life, as you know, is often about implementation and execution. And that’s again where the career bureaucracy comes in handy, the thousands of people around the globe. So I just think we’re off to a slow start, and the problem is not that Democrats are making it tough for Republicans to get their people in place. It’s that Republicans are making it tough for Republicans to get their people in place. And you can’t, it’s too complicated, the world. There’s too many things, again, coming at us. The inbox is piled too high to try to do this with a handful of people operating so informally.

HH: It pains me to say this. I don’t wish him well, I don’t wish him anything except good, but the fear is growing that Rex Tillerson is just in over his head, that you can’t import, and I didn’t see this coming, that you can’t import an oil executive and expect them to run a diplomatic complexity that is the State Department. Is that buzzing around the Council on Foreign Relations and the senior circles of foreign policy enthusiasts?

RH: There’s a little bit of that. He comes into the job with a lot of knowledge of the world, but a couple of handicaps. He didn’t have a relationship with the President. He wasn’t a foreign policy expert. And people who come out of business, it’s often a mixed blessing. If you remember a couple of years ago, Paul O’Neill, when he was secretary of the Treasury…

HH: Yeah.

RH: He just didn’t take.

HH: Yeah.

RH: He just didn’t take. It’s a different muscle set, what works in the business world often, and what works in government, and Donald Trump is having some difficulties, too. He didn’t run a big corporation, but he ran a family office, essentially.

HH: That O’Neill comparison, Richard Haass, I don’t know if you’ve made that before. That’s exactly correct. And of course, George W. Bush made a change.

RH: Exactly.

HH: And he made it fairly quickly. Do you think that’s in the offing?

RH: Yeah, I’ve learned (laughing) if there was any administration I wasn’t going to sit here and make predictions about, you’ve got that one right now.

HH: (laughing)

RH: (laughing)

HH: But what, okay, let me close with Grenell. How can they do this to people that were supporters to them? That also sends a message of hey, support me, support me, support me, and then we’ll throw you overboard. And the fact that he’s gay sends another message that the Republicans don’t need.

RH: There’s all those messages, and also, coming back, there’s another group of Republicans who can’t get a job, and those are what, the 150 or 200 Republican foreign policy and defense policy hands who served for W., in some cases for his father, but they signed letters, they said negative things about the candidate, and essentially there’s no statute of limitations. There’s no pardon. There’s no forgiveness. So they’re denying themselves some of the best and brightest in the Republican firmament.

HH: I hope they get over this. Richard Haass, I hope they give you a call and start talking to you about how to staff up, because this is a disaster. And we’ll talk again next week after the French hopefully decide Europe is pretty good at peace. Richard Haass from the Council on Foreign Relations, author of A World In Disarray, thank you so much. Follow him, @Richard Haass.

End of interview.


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