National Press Club

Council on Foreign Relations President Haass gives Trump mixed report card

May 8, 2017 | By Wesley G. Pippert | pippertw@missouri.edu

Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass said that President Donald J. Trump has stumbled on some global hotspots and taken a step in the right direction on others at a National Press Club breakfast newsmaker roundtable on May 8.

Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass said that President Donald J. Trump has stumbled on some global hotspots and taken a step in the right direction on others at a National Press Club breakfast newsmaker roundtable on May 8.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, told a National Press Club Breakfast May 8 that President Donald J. Trump has injected "uncertainty and instability" into U.S. foreign policy but he credited Trump for his actions in Syria and in dealing with North Korea.

Haass, in a sweeping discussion of global politics for Club members sponsored by the Headliners Team, said a "certain predictability" was required to being a successful world leader.

When this is lacking, he said, "it is corrosive to relationships with our friends and allies." He noted especially Trump's reaching out to the authoritarian leaders of the Philippines and Egypt.

"We risk losing respect," said Haass, a former director of policy planning at the State Department whose latest book is A World in Disarray.

Even when Trump tacks back to more traditional positions, the damage can be lasting, Haas said.

"It leaves a bad taste in [our allies'] mouths" and "puts friends on notice that we're not going to cut them slack," Haass said.

In one of the two areas where Trump got it "more right than not," Haass said the U.S. air strike in Syria demonstrated that those who use chemical warfare "will not get by with it."

Policy toward North Korea is another area where Trump is headed in the right direction, according to Haass.

"The potential was pretty good" for the United States to work with China in not solving the North Korea problem "but managing it," Haass said.

Emmanuel Macron's decisive victory in the French presidential election over the weekend despite Trump's endorsement of his opponent, Marine Le Pen, represented another Trump stumble.

Trump acted in his own self-interest by backing Le Pen, who "carried all kinds of baggage," including a populism burdened by racism, Haass said.

But Macron's win as a centrist was in the U.S. national interest, Haass said, calling Russia'a Vladimir Putin and Britain's Theresa May the "big losers."

Haass said Macron was "a fresh face, an outsider, anti-establishment" but lacked a mandate and had run by rejecting the two major parties. He will be challenged by two things -- France's economic problems as well as its security situation involving its Muslim population.

"Governing is going to be tough," Haass said. "He's not there yet."

Moving onto another global hotspot, Haass said he was skeptical about Trump's ability to make progress in the Middle East. Even though Trump is planning a trip to the region, Israel and the Palestinians lack leaders who are "willing and able" to deal with each other.

Tension between Israel and the Palestinians has shrunk to "a local dispute" and not one affecting the whole region. Instead of "aggressive peacemaking" and "high-profile diplomacy," Haass urged smaller attempts, such as encouraging economic development on the West Bank and discouraging misleading textbooks and violence around the holy sites.

Trade is another area Trump is getting wrong, Haass said. He deplored the administration's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact and lauded the benefits of trade.

"On balance, it's a great contributor to economic growth," Haass said.

Before Headliners co-team leader Betsy Fischer Martin asked for the final question, Haass, a Rhodes Scholar and decades-long member of the U.S. diplomatic corps and 14-year president of the council, turned philosophical -- in a pragmatic sort of way.

"The real problem is not inequality, but upward mobility," Haass said. "People don't complain about inequality if they are moving up."