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MAY 2017


down, centered on great-

power diplomacy.

Part II covers the last

quarter-century, which

Haass convincingly

portrays as “a break

with the past.” He does

a workmanlike job

with his summaries of

major foreign policy

challenges and how

George H.W. Bush, Bill Clin-

ton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama

each (mis)handled them.

In Chapter 6, “Regional Realities,”

for example, he dismisses the Obama

administration’s entire Middle East

policy as dangerously weak in most cases

(Syria), too forceful in others (Israel and

Palestine) or—in the case of Egypt and

the Arab Spring—embodying both fail-

ings at once.

To back up his generally harsh assess-

ment of U.S. foreign policy since the 9/11

attacks, Haass approvingly quotes John

F. Kennedy’s warning: “There are risks

and costs to a program of action. But they

are far less than the long-range risks and

costs of comfortable inaction.”

Yet most of the examples he adduces

here, including his appropriately dev-

astating takedown of George W. Bush’s

decision to invade Iraq and the Obama

administration’s Libya debacle, suggest



caution, not less, is warranted

when it comes to foreign interventions.

In Part III, Haass at last gives us his

big reveal, calling for an updated global

operating system—which he calls World

Order 2.0—that reflects the reality that

power is widely distributed and borders

World Order 2.0?

A World in Disarray: American Foreign

Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order

Richard Haass, Penguin Press, 2017, $28/

hardcover, $14.99/Kindle, 352 pages.

Reviewed By Steven Alan Honley

Rarely have I had such high hopes for a

foreign policy book as this latest volume

by the prolific Richard Haass, the long-

time president of the Council on Foreign

Relations and a diplomatic adviser to the

administrations of both Presidents Bush.

Surely, I thought, if anyone has the

wisdom and the government experience

to explain

A World in Disarray: American

Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old


, then offer practical guidance for

navigating it, it is Mr. Haass.

The first part of this catchily titled

book traces the history of international

relations from the rise of the modern

state system in the mid-17th century

through the two world wars of the 20th,

and on to the end of the Cold War. He

covers that vast terrain expeditiously,

though I daresay most Foreign Service

personnel will already be familiar with

the main points he makes.

His premise is that during that long

stretch of history, which in his telling

feels at times like a lost golden age, “there

was considerable continuity in how the

world worked (think of it as World Order

1.0), even though the history itself varied

dramatically, both for good and very

much for ill.”

That last phrase, by the way, is about

as close as Haass comes to acknowledg-

ing the heinous legacy of colonialism. (In

a later chapter, he compresses the past

25 years’ worth of developments in Africa


Latin America into just three pages!)

Rather, his perspective throughout the

book is very much Olympian and top-


count for less. He offers the con-

cept of “sovereign obligation” as

the basis for this approach, under

which each nation embraces its

obligations and responsibilities, as

well as its rights and protections.

It is an elegant construct, to be

sure, and certainly plausible, at least

in terms of multilateral diplomacy.

On the bilateral front, though, par-

ticularly when Haass tries to apply

it to relations with China and Russia,

it comes across as minimally updated


Here, for instance, is his advice con-

cerning human rights and democratiza-

tion: “Focusing on their internal behavior

would be unlikely to meaningfully affect

it for the better, but would almost cer-

tainly affect and conceivably poison their

view of the United States and the way

they see their relationship.”

Haass does graciously concede that

“The United States can have preferences

for how [China and Russia] evolve, and

criticize them when they violate human

rights on any scale, but it has neither the

influence with them nor the luxury of

placing such concerns at the center of the

relationship.” Left unanswered is what

good it would do then for us to express

such concerns when the recipients will

shrug it off—or what happens when the

rest of the world follows suit.

Such shortcomings aside, I would


A World in Disarray

high marks—if

only the author had wrapped up the

book here. Instead, he inexplicably felt

the need to append a chapter titled “A

Country in Disarray,” which he uses to

urge Washington to balance the budget,

Haass calls for an updated global operating system—

which he calls World Order 2.0—that reflects the reality that

power is widely distributed and borders count for less.