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Lunch at the Tribeca Grill with: Richard N. Haass

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-06-06

Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, had a point to make about America's competitive future.

"We need a new generation of corporate statesmen like Pete Peterson, David Rockefeller, Bob Rubin, Don Marron," he said over lunch referring to, respectively, the former commerce secretary and current Council chairman; the financial giant; the former Treasury secretary who's now a vice chairman at Citigroup; and the former chairman of UBS in America who now heads an investment bank, Lightyear Capital.

"America needs to integrate better into the global economy at a time of growing competition," Mr. Haass said. "After all, American CEOs sell in the global economy. The business community ought to be attracted to globalization issues. There should be a debate about the trade deficit. But where are those voices?"

Where indeed?

Mr. Haass, who's just published his 11th book to considerable acclaim - "The Opportunity: America's Moment to Alter History's Course" - presides over what's arguably the world's most prestigious think tank. Situated on Park Avenue in a stately mansion that invites respectful attention, the Council has 4,200 individual members, as well as 250 corporate members. Founded in 1921, the Council is often called the "American Establishment."

That is why when the 53-year-old Mr. Haass speaks, people listen. He wears the gravitas of his position with elegance - and practiced ease. He is, after all, a veteran of America's policymaking circles. He's worked in key positions: at the Pentagon, during the Carter Administration; at the White House for President George H. W. Bush as his Middle East advisor; and at the State Department during the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

In his new book, Mr. Haass highlights concerns such as American competitiveness; third-world debt (now more than $1.5 trillion); establishing a more open trade regime; the alarming widening infectious diseases like AIDS (in 2004, 5 million people were infected, raising the global total to 40 million); the link between public health and human rights; and environmental security.

His worry about American competitiveness in the $17 trillion global-trade economy isn't Cassandra-like. America's annual share is about 40%, and the European Union's share is almost that. China is catching up, too, by aggressively pushing its exports to the point where it's accumulated more than $650 billion in foreign-exchange reserves, nearly all of it in American dollar. And America's 2004 trade deficit of $617 billion is likely to grow this year.

Mr. Haass advocates an integrated approach by America toward the rest of the world. Economics - and smarter attention to globalization issues - is an essential element of that approach. "America, for all its strengths, cannot manage globalization by itself," he said. "It's necessary that we work well with other major powers, and with emerging economies such as China and India. For instance, it's important that we see China not as an inevitable adversary but as a potential partner."

"It's vital that we bring in other countries to manage global challenges," Mr. Haass said. "It's important also that we bring in the issue of the have-nots, those who've missed out on the benefits of democracy and the free market. I favor a foreign-policy doctrine of integration, one that would bring other powers into the management of international relations. It could do for American foreign policy in this era what containment did during the cold war."

He studied that era diligently. His fluency in foreign-policy and economics issues, therefore, flows not only from his professional experience in Washington, but also from his education. The Brooklyn-born Mr. Haass, the son of a financial analyst, Irving, and his wife Marcella, did not set out to be a policy wonk when he enrolled at Oberlin College. But those were the Vietnam years when the nation was riven by campus protests. "If you came of age in the late 60s, you were inevitably influenced by the Vietnam debate," Mr. Haass said.

It was also at Oberlin that he first read the Koran and the New Testament, works that spawned in him an abiding interest in the Middle East. Mr. Haass spent his junior year in Israel. It was only when he undertook graduate studies at Oxford University that he became "intellectually more specific." That was because of the influence of scholars like Middle East expert Albert Hourani, and Hedley Bull, an authority on arms control.

As much as this scholarly background, it was Mr. Haass's writing skills that propelled him through Washington's policymaking circles. "I'm no Peggy Noonan, I don't write with flourishes," he said, referring to President Reagan's star speechwriter. "But I can write quickly and clearly, and I feel comfortable relating a general proposition to specific cases. My style is analytical."

That style has its provenance in Mr. Haass's youth, when he observed his father at work. "He was a very rational analyst of stocks - he looked at the fundamentals of a company and then reached his own conclusions," Mr. Haass said. "I try to see things as they are, the basics, and then arrive at conclusions. I don't feel the need to force reality to conform to a template. It's a question of temperament."

The importance of temperament was something he captured in a management book that he wrote in 1999 when he taught at Harvard's Kennedy School, "The Bureaucratic Entrepreneur: How to be Effective in Any Unruly Organization." That book remains a must-read in management courses, corporations, and nonprofit institutions.

At the nonprofit Council, of course, he has had the opportunity of putting his own principles into practice since he became president two years ago. He characterized his management style as "open and inclusive, one that invites feedback."

Now that he holds one of the most coveted and influential positions in American public life, was there something that deeply affects him?

"I'm sorry that my parents aren't alive to see this," Mr. Haass said. "They would have been very proud."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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