On the end of US imperialism: ‘Wall Street Journal’ interviews disillusioned diplomat Richard Haass

Richard Haass

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) — a key newspaper of the US ruling class — recently published a highly interesting interview with foreign policy guru Richard Haass, who was a high-ranking official in the Pentagon under president Jimmy Carter, in the White House under president George HW Bush and in the State Department under presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Haass was also head of the Council on Foreign Relations, a semi-official think tank of the US State Department, for two decades (until his retirement in summer 2023).[1] 

In the interview, Haass offers a disillusioned prospect for the imperialist world order in general and for the US’s role as a global hegemon in particular. Since he is not a Marxist but a long-standing representative of the most powerful imperialist state, he neither offers an alternative nor an explanation of the causes of the US’s decline. Nevertheless, the interview is highly interesting as it confirms the Marxist thesis of the end of US hegemony from the viewpoint of an “insider”.[2] 

At the beginning of the interview, WSJ asks Haass about his book, A World In Disarray, published in 2017: “If the world was in disarray then, what is it now?” The ex-diplomat replies: “Disarray on Stilts. When the book came out, I was criticised for being too negative. In retrospect, I wasn’t negative enough.” The interview continues: 

WSJ: There is a dictators-versus-democracy struggle, a decline in US influence over global affairs, the rise of China. Which of those factors are contributing to this disarray?

HAASS: All of the above: The rise of China, which is not a status quo power, represents a shift in the balance; a truly disaffected Russia with the ability to do something about it, as we’re seeing in Ukraine and elsewhere; a shift in power in various forms moving around the world. The domestic disarray in this country [the US] has really contributed to it. We’re less able, less willing to act effectively in the world. The gap between global challenges and global responses — there is no international community.

The former diplomat (correctly) identifies the weak domestic industrial sector as one of the causes of the US decline: “Our relative position in the world has deteriorated, which, again, is in part because of the buildup of others. We’ve got a real problem with the defense manufacturing base.”

Unsurprisingly, he does not identify the reasons why large parts of the domestic industry (and not only in the military-industrial sector) have been destroyed and moved to China or other countries in the Global South. This has been the result of declining profit rates for US’s corporations and the lack of any meaningful state-capitalist regulation — a result of decades of neoliberalism promoted by all the administrations Haass loyally served in the past decades.

In contrast, the Russian regime of president Vladimir Putin — which combines the domination of oligarchs in the economy with a strong state-capitalist sector (albeit not as strong as China) — has been able to substantially expand its military-industrial sector in the past 1-2 years. Neoliberal United States has not been able to achieve similar success, at least until now.[3]

Pushing Ukraine to capitulate

In his interview, Haass also repeats his position that Ukraine should accept the loss of one-fifth of its territory and make peace with Putin. 

As desirable as it is that Ukraine recover all of its territory, it isn’t going to happen. In part, because Russia can produce a lot more. And, in a pinch, North Korea, Iran, conceivably China would help them out. Ukraine needs to move away from its current strategy. We need to define success as not that Ukraine militarily liberates all of its land, but that Ukraine becomes a permanent fixture. They move away from an offensive strategy, which I believe cannot succeed, to a defensive strategy, which can succeed. My guess is it has to be a very different Russia that might be willing to make some trades in exchange for no longer being a political and economic pariah.

This is not only the viewpoint of a foreign policy commentator but the de facto official policy of the Biden administration. Haass himself is leading the US team undertaking secret negotiations with Moscow about the pacification of the Ukraine war since spring 2023.[4]

Haass’ suggestion that Ukraine should “wait for a very different Russia” is particularly cynical since he says in the same interview, only a few sentences later, that “[Putin’s] immediate successor might be worse.” In other words, the former diplomat suggests Ukraine should accept the loss of its eastern and southern regions (which is home of the country’s industrial base) for the next one or two decades.

The US and Western Europe are not interested in the legitimate national rights of the Ukrainian people. Rather, they try to utilise Ukraine’s war of national defence to advance their own imperialist interests at the cost of their Russian rival. Hence, Volodymyr Zelensky’s policy of subordination to Western imperialism can not but result in a disaster for the Ukrainian people, as it makes the country dependent on the foreign policy manoeuvres of Washington and Brussels.

Socialists have taken an internationalist and anti-imperialist stance on the Ukraine war from its very beginning, supporting Ukraine’s war of national defence against Putin’s invasion and calling for international solidarity by the workers movement. At the same time, socialists have insisted the Ukraine war has a dual character. Socialists unreservedly condemn Putin’s reactionary invasion and support Ukraine’s war of national defence against Russian imperialism. At the same time, we recognize this war is combined with the accelerating rivalry between NATO and Russia; in this conflict, socialists support neither of the two imperialist camps.[5]

Israel can not destroy Hamas

Another interesting aspect of Haass’ interview is his pessimistic outlook on stability in the Middle East. At the beginning of the war, President Biden absurdly claimed that “Hamas is worse than ISIS” and announced Washington’s unlimited support for Israel’s genocidal war against the Palestinians in Gaza. However, Haass is not optimistic that Israel can achieve its goal of defeating the Palestinian resistance.

WSJ: The stated goal of the Israeli government is to destroy Hamas. Can Hamas be destroyed?

HAASS: No. It can be seriously weakened or degraded. But Hamas is as much of a network, a movement. You’re always going to have either actual or potential armed resistance.

Haass also recognizes that there is no serious prospect for stabilising the Middle East.

WSJ: So what’s the path forward in this conflict? What does an endgame look like?

HAASS: I don’t think there is an endgame right now, because the Israelis have gone in without an endgame. There are two big issues. They can degrade Hamas, and will. They are causing an awful lot of civilian casualties and deaths in the process, which is a separate conversation. But for there to be a real endgame you need a successor governing authority and a security provider. I don’t see either available. The Israelis are going to have to do it.” …

WSJ: But you worked inside a US government that, for decades, has said, “No, the answer is the two-state solution.” Is the two-state solution more alive or more dead than it was on Oct. 6?

HAASS: It’s more dead. It’s on life support. And the reason is, as bad as Israeli-Palestinian relations were on Oct. 6, they’re far worse now.

Again, Haass does not and can not offer any perspective as he is committed to the goal of reestablishing US and Israeli hegemony in the region. In fact, there can be no peace as long as the colonial settler state of Israel exists, as it denies, by its very nature, the Palestinian people’s right of national self-determination. The only solution is the revolutionary destruction of the Zionist state and its replacement by a single Palestinian state from the river to the sea, which would allow the right of return to all Palestinians.[6]

Such a state should be democratic and secular; that is, it would treat all citizens as equal, irrespective of their religious or ethnic background. Jews would have full religious and cultural rights. Such a state has to be a workers and poor peasant republic as part of a socialist federation of the whole region. Only a state that expropriates the monopolies and billionaires can ensure that the Palestinians get back their land and homes. Only a socialist economy can elaborate a plan to rebuild Gaza and the West Bank and share the wealth equally among all citizens.

As the Israeli army tries to annihilate the Palestinian resistance and expel the population from Gaza, all authentic socialists should unconditionally support the military struggle led by Hamas against the Zionist invaders without lending political support to their petty-bourgeois nationalist-Islamist program.[7]

The imperialist world order without order and without a hegemon

The interview is a comprehensive confirmation of the Marxist thesis that the hegemonic role of US imperialism has ended. Sure, the US is still one of the two biggest powers — China being the other — and can influence world politics more than most other states. But it no longer dominates the capitalist world order — in contrast to the historic period since 1945.[8]

The US is not being replaced by another hegemon — at least for the foreseeable future. In fact, there is no Great Power that could subjugate the other imperialist states (in contrast to 1945 when the US was able to impose its undisputed leadership in the capitalist camp).[9]

Rather, we have entered a historic period where several imperialist Great Powers — the US, China, Russia, Western Europe and Japan — are rivalling for hegemony. The result of this development is accelerating global instability, wars and economic crisis. The current wars in Ukraine and Gaza, as well as various other crisis flashpoints (Taiwan and the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, Venezuela–Guyana, etc.) are expressions of such a tendency.

State propagandists in China and Russia as well as many leftists — in particular various types of Stalinists and social democrats — advocate the concept of a ”multipolar world order”. They claim the replacement of the US as the sole hegemon by several Great Powers would create a stable and peaceful world order.

This is utter nonsense. The existence of several capitalist Great Powers, of which none is strong enough to subjugate others, can only result in accelerating rivalry, militarism and wars. The first half of the 20th century has demonstrated this abundantly clear.[10]

Objectively, the concept of a ”multipolar world order” is a propaganda tool of Eastern imperialism, as it glorifies the rise of China and Russia as Great Powers. Socialists must not choose between a world order dominated by one imperialist robber or one dominated by several imperialist robbers. We never opposed the “unipolar” imperialist world order because it was “unipolar” but because it was imperialist. We do not choose between an “unipolar” or a “multipolar” imperialist order — we oppose both equally because all imperialists “are worse”.

For socialists, the alternative to the “unipolar” imperialist world order is not “multipolarity” but international class struggle against all Great Powers, in order to replace any form of the imperialist system with international socialism. Peace, prosperity and stability can only be achieved in a world without robbers, i.e. a world without capitalism.

Michael Pröbsting is a socialist activist and writer. He is the editor of the website http://www.thecommunists.net/ where a version of this article first appeared.


[1] Gerald Seib: “A World in Disarray? A Longtime Diplomat Says It’s Worse Than That. Richard Haass offers his perspective on the wars in Ukraine and Israel, and China’s outlook”, Wall Street Journal, December 15, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/world/world-disarray-diplomat-pessimistic-b2dad137. All quotes are from this interview if not indicated otherwise.

[2] Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the US, China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry/

[3] Michael Pröbsting: “Russian Imperialism and Its Monopolies”, in: New Politics (Winter 2022, Vol. XVIII No. 4, Whole Number 72), https://newpol.org/issue_post/russian-imperialism-and-its-monopolies/ 

[4] Michael Pröbsting: “U.S. Prepares for Sell-Out of Ukraine. On a revealing article by Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan in ‘Foreign Affairs’,” 22 November 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/u-s-prepares-for-sell-out-of-ukraine/

[5] Michael Pröbsting: “Is U.S. aid to Ukraine really ‘unprecedented’? New studies destroy the myth propagated by supporters of Western and Russian imperialism”, 4 April, 2023, https://links.org.au/us-aid-ukraine-really-unprecedented-new-studies-destroy-myth-propagated-supporters-western-and; Michael Pröbsting: “The gigantic destruction of Ukrainian society”, 15 December, 2022, https://links.org.au/gigantic-destruction-ukrainian-society

[6] See on this two books by comrade Yossi Schwartz, a Jewish Anti-Zionist who has lived nearly six decades in Occupied Palestine and who has dealt extensively with the Zionist state and the Marxist program: The Zionist Wars. History of the Zionist Movement and Imperialist Wars, 1 February 2021, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-zionist-wars/Palestine and Zionism. The History of Oppression of the Palestinian People. A Critical Account of the Myths of Zionism, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/palestine-and-zionism/

[7] Michael Pröbsting: “A huge shift in public opinion: Israel’s war on Gaza and the Arab World”, 20 December, 2023, https://links.org.au/huge-shift-public-opinion-israels-war-gaza-and-arab-world

[8] Michael Pröbsting: “Imperialism, Great Power rivalry and revolutionary strategy in the twenty-first century”, 1 September, 2023, https://links.org.au/imperialism-great-power-rivalry-and-revolutionary-strategy-twenty-first-century; Michael Pröbsting: “‘Empire-ism’ vs a Marxist analysis of imperialism: Continuing the debate with Argentinian economist Claudio Katz on Great Power rivalry, Russian imperialism and the Ukraine War”, 3 March 2023, https://links.org.au/empire-ism-vs-marxist-analysis-imperialism-continuing-debate-argentinian-economist-claudio-katz; “Russia: An Imperialist Power or a ‘Non-Hegemonic Empire in Gestation’? A reply to the Argentinean economist Claudio Katz”, New Politics, 11 August 2022, at https://newpol.org/russia-an-imperialist-power-or-a-non-hegemonic-empire-in-gestation-a-reply-to-the-argentinean-economist-claudio-katz-an-essay-with-8-tables/

[9] Michael Pröbsting: “‘Can China Replace the U.S. as Hegemon?’ — A Misleading Question! On the discussion about the perspectives of the Great Power rivalry”, 28 April 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/can-china-replace-the-u-s-as-hegemon-a-misleading-question/

[10] Michael Pröbsting: “‘Multi-Polar World Order’ = Multi-Imperialism. A Marxist Critique of a concept advocated by Putin, Xi, Stalinism and the ‘Progressive International’” (Lula, Sanders, Varoufakis), 24 February 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/multi-polar-world-order-is-multi-imperialism/; Michael Pröbsting: “BRICS+: An imperialist-led alliance”, 30 August, 2023, https://links.org.au/brics-imperialist-led-alliance