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Madeleine Albright, Richard Haass Outline 2020 Election’s Foreign Policy Implications

October 27, 2020 by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and diplomat Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, spoke at a virtual discussion convened by the think tank in the week before the U.S. presidential election about the election’s foreign policy implications and suggested priorities in foreign policy moving forward.

“I was surprised that there weren’t questions about foreign policy [in the last debate],” said Albright, suggesting that the American public seems consumed instead with domestic affairs. “[Still], the connection between domestic and foreign policy has implications for the country.”

“People are consumed with all things domestic,” agreed Haass. “… But we are living in an era when we can’t succeed on our own. [We need to] take our structural advantage of having national partners and allies and make it work.” 

Haass said, “The world seems interested in interfering with us,” pointing out that COVID started in China, California’s wildfires are linked to global climate change, and Russia and Iran have influenced the U.S.’s democratic elections.

Albright offered the term “inter-mestic” — international and domestic together — and warned of three major inter-mestic issues facing the next administration: COVID, the economy, and climate change. 

“If we don’t get COVID under control, we are not going to have the bandwidth as a society to focus on the rest of the world,” Haass agreed. “We also won’t set an example. The rest of the world won’t respect us unless we get COVID under control.” 

Albright fears the rest of the world won’t respect the United States, also, in the absence of strong diplomacy and without participating in multinational trade and cooperative agreements. 

“I have been known to students and friends as ‘Multilateral Madeleine,’” joked Albright. “But Americans don’t like the word ‘multilateral.’ It has too many syllables.”

She stressed the need for a variety of multilateral organizations, like NATO, underscoring both the organizations’ need to adapt and the U.S.’s need to engage.

“We’ve been AWOL at a number of very important international meetings,” said Albright. “[And] we have given a terrible signal by walking away from a multilateral agreement [with Iran]. This is where we depend on international organizations. There’s nothing worse than when a country doesn’t keep its word.”

“If [the U.N.] didn’t exist, we’d invent it, but it needs fixing,” Albright also said. “It’s important to be there. You need to be at the table to have a voice and reform as necessary.”

Haass concurred: “There is no question that our absence has allowed China to fill the vacuum, using economic tools to spread their influence.”

For Haass, climate concerns, the turbulent Middle East in which “America has overcommitted over the last three decades,” and China/Russia are the biggest concerns in foreign policy looking ahead over the next few years. He sees “a large gap between the importance of issues and the willingness of the world to come together to deal with [them].”

“This is what happens when the U.S. pulls back from the world… Good things in the world tended not to happen without us,” said Haass. “The world begins to unravel without us playing a consistent role. [And now,] America’s role in the world is still an open book.”

To retain our role as a major player, Albright emphasized the need to “practice statecraft” in diplomacy, and “get the State Department back to life.” 

“Diplomacy is a basic tool,” said Albright. “But you can’t have diplomacy if you don’t have diplomats, [and the] State Department has been denuded.” She called for an active recruitment process to get “incredible diplomats back” and renew the foreign service with a new generation fresh with diversity of gender and background.

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