Richard Haass Elaborates on Things That Matter

by | Mar 3, 2024 | Announcements

Over 500 people filled the Santa Barbara Hilton Ballroom a rainy March morning, each one still a little sleepy from rising so early to get a good parking place and be inspired by the Westmont President’s Breakfast speaker, Richard Haass.

As Westmont President, Gayle Beebe, introduced the speaker he reminded everyone that “what happens to you, inside of you and because of you can make a difference in the world.”

Indeed, Beebe and Haass have each made a remarkable difference in our world.

“I feel history being made in our world right now,” Haass said. “The whole world is watching to see which way it goes.”

Current struggles between Russia and Ukraine and the battle of Israel and Hamas will set precedents for the future, determining whether we will allow strong nations to conquer weak ones.

At the same time, many weak countries like Yemen, Sudan and Mexico strive to control their people within their own boarders.

We are living in a momentous time as we wrestle with climate change, Zoom, AI, nuclear weapons and the positive and negative effects of technology.

Haass warned that the biggest question for the U.S. is not whether we have the capacity to rise above these challenges, but if we have the will to do so. “We must put country before party or person,” Haass said. “It’s about integrity and respect for civility. This is our year to make history.”

He pointed out that people today are overly focused on protecting what they see as their rights. But he said when those rights inevitably come into conflict with one another, we will find ourselves in jeopardy.

Haass said he believes that our imperiled democracy “can only be saved if Americans across the political spectrum come to accept that citizenship involves more than their asserting—or the government’s protecting—what they understand to be their rights.”

In his latest book, The Bill of Obligations, Haass says that “a country at war with itself cannot set an example that people elsewhere will want to emulate. If democracy fails here, democracy will be endangered everywhere.”

He leaves the audience with quotes from two wise historical leaders, Winston Churchill and President Jimmy Carter.

As we work to encourage other countries to adopt democracy, we can remember Churchill’s assessment. “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.”

President Jimmy Carter’s inaugural address reminded us, “Our nation can be strong abroad only if it is strong at home. And we know that the best way to enhance freedom in other lands is to demonstrate here that our democratic system is worthy of emulation.”

Dr. Richard Haass is a veteran diplomat and respected scholar of international relations, is a president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). He is also senior counselor with Centerview Partners, an international investment banking advisory firm. He previously served as CFR’s president for 20 years, in the State Department under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, at the White House under George H.W. Bush, and at the Pentagon under Jimmy Carter. He was U.S. envoy to the Cyprus negotiations and the Northern Ireland peace process, and after 9/11 was US coordinator for the future of Afghanistan.

His latest book, The Bill of Obligations, questions whether our country will be so divided that we cannot fulfill our obligations. Therefore, Haass challenges us to start a national conversation so we can bridge our domestic differences to deal with our national challenges. “It’s up to us,” he said.

As the 500 attendees filed out of the hotel looking for their respective cars, they were no longer sleepy. They felt energized, inspired and ready to do their part to strengthen our democracy. Many thanks to Westmont College for bringing this important message to our community.