The coronavirus pandemic has been eye-opening for society in so many ways, revealing enormous structural problems like income inequality and access to healthcare, but it has also shown Americans that what happens in the world can have a huge impact on our daily lives. Retreating behind our borders hasn’t stopped a virus or any of our other major problems from hitting us right where we live. And our domestic policies and pandemic response have lost us a lot of respect abroad. Katie Couric talks to Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the book The World: A Brief Introduction, about whether or not we can restore America’s place on the world stage on this episode of Next Question.
Without political leaders explaining it or our education system teaching it, Americans became less and less interested in foreign relations, Richard says, causing a “return to form” of an isolationist stance. But we should know by now that what happens in the world does affect us: “We learned on 9/11 that terrorists that were trained in Afghanistan could cause deaths at home….We learned that a virus in Wuhan can travel around the world….nearly 100,000 Americans have lost their lives,” he says. “We ignore it to our peril. Isolationism is not a solution to anything.” Terrorism, climate change, and the pandemic are all problems we have in common, and we need each other to fix them; we have to work together to find solutions. But America isn’t participating: We opted out of the European-led effort to collaborate with world governments to find a Covid vaccine; we’re supposed to be “tough on China” but we didn’t join the Trans-Pacific Partnership; we withdrew from the Paris Agreement. To foreign leaders, “we’re essentially missing in action,” he says. “We can’t be counted on abroad, and at home, we’re not setting a standard of behavior they’re used to….so now we have less influence.”
So whoever is the next President will have “an extraordinarily difficult inbox of challenges.” There’s no telling if the world will want us to step back into a position of authority, or to what extent the American public would support that effort. What is clear, however, is that we cannot ignore the importance of our place on the world stage or our role in foreign affairs. “We have tremendous stake in what happens beyond our borders….we can’t be passive, we can’t bury our heads in the sand,” Richard says. “Our ability, or inability, to come together to solve these problems, pandemics to climate change to terrorism….is the defining feature of our era.” Hear the entire fascinating interview on this episode of Next Question.
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