Friday, Oct. 19, 2012 | 2 a.m.
In an otherwise-upbeat celebration of workplace diversity and efforts to reduce hate and bullying among young people, an Anti-Defamation League banquet audience Thursday night listened as a former State Department expert on foreign policy cautioned against expectations that governments in the Middle East may be transformed anytime soon.
Already, 21 months have transpired since a frustrated Tunisian street vendor died after setting himself on fire, inspiring a wave of civil protests across the Arab world, yet in the larger scheme of remaking governments, “we’re in the first or second minute,” Richard N. Haass, a former director of policy planning for the State Department and a principal adviser to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, said.
“The developments in this world, which I prefer to call upheavals, have not all been good,” said Haass, who for the past nine years has been president of the independent, nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations.
With Syria in the throes of civil war, Iraq defined by sectarian struggles and Iran believed to be developing nuclear weapons, “peacemaking will be extraordinarily hard, not that it’s ever been easy,” Haass told about 1,000 people gathered for the ADL’s American Heritage Dinner at the Bellagio.
Among the challenges, he said: deciding which regimes to support or, in the alternative, how to replace them.
“It’s one thing to get rid of a strongman but it can be more difficult to replace him with something enduring,” he warned. In today’s foreign policy landscape, two revised rules seem applicable, he suggested: after things get worse, they may get even more worse, and the enemy of your enemy may still be your enemy.
“We have to play chess, not checkers, and think several moves ahead. We need to be realistic,” Haass said, adding that “our interests in the foreseeable future may be greater than our influence.” It may be too soon, he said, to begin talking about this nation’s wishes and hopes playing out.
Look at Egypt, he said, which he characterized as neither friend nor foe. “They can be our friend on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and our foe on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
“The United States will need to learn to navigate the Middle East and put a premium on diplomacy,” he said. “There will be a temptation to pull away from the Middle East. We need to be discerning and discriminating in how we get involved. But we have to stay engaged. Even if we want to get away from the Middle East, the Middle East won’t let us.
“The character of this new era is not yet set,” he said. “We’re in the early stages of this transitional time, and it will take a concerned citizenry to help us get through this. That’s why I have so much respect for the Anti-Defamation League.”
Before setting on his remarks about the Middle East, Haass congratulated MGM Resorts International and its president and CEO, Jim Murren, for aggressive efforts to diversify its management ranks. “MGM Resorts is a poster child of what you want a corporation to be,” he said. “In some ways, this company is the future of America, a majority minority company as well as an extraordinary corporate citizen in environmental responsibility.”
The company was applauded for pursuing a diversity initiative that has resulted in women accounting for 42 percent of the company’s managers, and minorities accounting for 38 percent, and for spending $3 billion in contracts with companies owned by the disadvantaged, women and minorities.