The State and Future of American Foreign Policy
GB breaks bread with the young American geokrat who headed policy planning at the State Department to discuss the state and direction of American foreign policy and strategy
GB: What is your assessment of American foreign policy today?
JF: That is obviously a big question. We have an American administration that has been in office for over three years, and that in some ways has taken a disruptive approach to traditional tenets of US foreign policy. For the first time in modern American history, an American administration sees the international system, which the US played a role in constructing after WW2, as in some ways a burden rather than a benefit to the country. It sees alliances as something into which the US puts more than it gets out. It sees international or multilateral institutions as cost centres, as opposed to places where the US can really communicate and advance its interests. It sees multilateral trade agreements as essentially unfair to the US, and has systematically gone about undoing, disrupting or at least questioning the core elements of what has been the international system for the last seven decades. That is all a significant change.
The administration sees alliances as something into which the US puts more than it gets out. It sees international or multilateral institutions as cost centres, as opposed to places where the US can really communicate and advance its interests.
In some ways, though, this administration has continued certain foreign policy trends that were already underway in Washington before President Trump took office. One good example of that has been an increased focus on areas like East Asia and Southeast Asia, where the administration sees US interests as being more important than the amount of time, effort and resources invested over recent years would have seemed to suggest. It is trying to do less in other parts of the world – particularly in the Middle East – where it sees that American interests have not been advanced by the efforts made in recent years. So, there is some continuity but some disruption as well.
GB: How does the American domestic picture – politically, economically and socially – impact American foreign policy behaviour today?
JF: In some ways, the traditional divide between American foreign and domestic policy decision-making is starting to break down. I do not see this as an entirely bad thing. The longstanding firewall between these two parts of the administrative state was based on good reasons and motives. People thought that national security and foreign policy should be insulated from political calculations. This notion that politics should stop at the water’s edge is well grounded and well-intentioned. It has led to a disconnect between what foreign policy-makers do, and what most of the rest of the American political apparatus knows about, cares about and understands.
There are issues like immigration, terrorism and trade that have domestic components and foreign policy components. Treating them as one or the other does a disservice to the attainment of the best answers that the system can produce. As such, one thing that is happening in the modern era of American politics is that politics is being infused into foreign policy to a greater extent.
GB: How trustworthy is the US as an international ally to countries around the world?
JF: I do not think that the US has taken any steps that should lead its partners and allies to fundamentally question alliances and relationships – at least not yet. The administration has made some moves that have called into question whether American commitments will endure longer than one political cycle. That is the most dangerous aspect of withdrawing from major international agreements like the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Iran nuclear deal. This will complicate both this administration’s efforts to reach agreements that it supports with partners and even adversaries and the efforts of future administrations to do the same. There will now be legitimate questions asked by people on the other side of the negotiating table about how long those commitments will actually endure beyond the next election.
GB: How democratic is the US today?
JF: Democracy is always a work in progress, wherever it is practiced in the world. The concept, embedded in the American founding document, of working toward a perfect union is something that has been part of our history from the beginning. We are far from a perfect democracy. We have never been a perfect democracy at any point in our history. And there has been some democratic backsliding in our recent history. Whether or not that has taken place in formal or legal processes is a question that is much debated, but in terms of at least one major area – the concept of objective truth, or the ability to discern and determine facts and share a common factual basis across the population – there has been some backsliding, even if objective truth has been taken for granted by Americans for quite some time. In the recent period, some of the assaults on the media and some of the disinformation that has entered American politics – both from domestic and international sources – has led to a lack of a common factual picture about what is happening in the country. Democracy has a much harder time functioning in these circumstances.
In the recent period, some of the assaults on the media and some of the disinformation that has entered American politics – both from domestic and international sources – has led to a lack of a common factual picture about what is happening in the country. Democracy has a much harder time functioning in these circumstances.
GB: What were your strategic objectives, as a key member of the negotiating team, in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal?
JF: Our objectives were quite simple. The overall goal was to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme was exclusively peaceful in a way that was verifiable and durable. And we wanted to do so without having to go to war. Our administration was quite clear that it was willing to take military action to stop Iran from producing a nuclear weapon should Iran make the determination do to that. But we were also quite clear that diplomacy was our first choice, in terms of the tools available to us, to solve this international problem that had been bedevilling the international community for decades.
We believed that the solution at which we arrived and which we implemented in 2016, but that was later undone by the Trump administration, addressed the problem in question. It took the breakout time – the time that Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon – from a few months in the days before the agreement was reached, to more than a year in the aftermath of the implementation of the agreement. It sent hundreds of international monitors to Iran with access to all of its nuclear facilities for the first time. As such, without getting too much deeper into the weeds of the agreement, we believe those two achievements of the nuclear accord really did make the US and the world much safer. For the first time in recent memory, the international community could say, verifiably, that Iran was not on the cusp of producing enough material for a nuclear weapon. That was a big deal.
GB: What were your takeaways from negotiation with Iran? What was it like to negotiate with that country? What was their mentality? What were their strengths and weaknesses?
JF: We were operating in a situation where there was not a lot of trust. We had very little trust in the team with which we were negotiating on the other side of the table, and the Iranians would tell you that they had little trust in us. The reality was that we had to make an agreement that could operate and function – and that each side would implement its part – even in a situation where we could not simply take the other side’s word for it. That said, we were able, after many hours spent negotiating with our Iranian counterparts, to arrive at a place where even in the absence of trust, we could produce a constructive result that met the basic requirements and interests of both sides. That is essential to any sort of agreement between adversaries. It is very easy to negotiate, on some level, with close friends – although that can get complicated as well, as the US is showing in other contexts right now. Negotiating with your adversaries is much harder – especially when we are talking about a relationship that, for 40 years, has been more or less akin to the Cold War, with hot flashes, and that has had historical elements, going back to the middle of last century, that have cemented on both sides a sense of the other side that is really highly negative. Bref, there were deep reasons for the mutual animosity. There was a lot to overcome, and we feel that in spite of that we were able to produce a constructive result that, from the American perspective, met our core interests.
GB: What is next for US-Iran relations? Is there serious risk of escalation or even war? Is there a capacity to restitch the JCPOA, or something in between?
JF: The real question is what is going to happen over the next year. In November, there is an inflection point on the American side, in which we will have either have a continuation of the Trump administration or a different administration that will possibly take a different approach to Iran. Of course, there is also an inflection point coming on the Iranian side. That country has an election in 2021. Many people who follow Iranian politics closely believe that because the people who made the nuclear deal on the Iranian side have been discredited to some extent – because the US did not keep its commitment, reinforcing the idea that President Rouhani was naïve to trust the US to stick by that deal – there will be a much harder-line government elected in Iran in 2021. Not knowing who will be on the US side of the table after November, and not knowing who will be on the Iranian side of the table after early to mid-2021, makes it somewhat harder to make predictions.
In November, there is an inflection point on the American side, in which we will have either have a continuation of the Trump administration or a different administration that will possibly take a different approach to Iran. Of course, there is also an inflection point coming on the Iranian side. That country has an election in 2021.
The only period for which we can make informed projections is the coming year. It is clear that the US and Iran are still in an escalatory cycle. They came very close to conflict around the turn of the new year, with the killing in Iraq of Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian military commander of the Quds force, with the storming of the US embassy in Baghdad that led to the evacuation of US diplomats, and with the rocketing of American military bases inside Iraq. One attack killed an American contractor and wounded some others, while another attack led to over 100 American service members being diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. These are major escalations in the US-Iran relationship. It does look like that cycle was peaking – that is, both sides arrived at a moment where they blinked. Iran’s ballistic missile attack was a serious provocation, but Tehran gave a warning to the government in Baghdad before conducting the attack, and it gave the forces some time to hanker down. Afterwards, Tehran said very clearly that if US did not retaliate further, Iran would be finished with its retaliation. The Trump administration took the opportunity for an offramp, deciding not to retaliate in turn against the attack.
That said, both sides have the intention and incentives to continue to turn up the tension. The Trump administration is committed to a maximum pressure campaign against Iran and believes that it is working because Iran’s economy has suffered so much over the last year, with oil exports down by 80 to 90 percent. But the goal of maximum pressure was to get Iran to come back to the table, make a better nuclear deal and change Iranian behaviour in the region. From the American perspective, Iran’s behaviour in the region, if anything, has gotten worse since maximum pressure began, and its nuclear programme has moved closer to the danger zone of producing enough material for a nuclear weapon.
All the trends lines of maximum pressure are going against the behavioural objective, so the Trump administration must change course, which is unlikely, or otherwise continue to increase pressure – something that runs the risk of escalation. Similarly, for Iran, there is a situation where the last thing the Iranian government wants to do in the run-up to the American election in November is to allow the American administration to claim that its policy is working. Iran is very much incentivized to demonstrate that it is not responding positively to maximum pressure, that it continues to be disruptive in the region, and that it moves and can move its nuclear programme forward. I therefore expect fully that they will continue to do that. As long as those two dynamics from both sides are in place, the chance of escalation remains.
GB: Why did the US kill General Soleimani?
JF: What is difficult in answering that question is that the Trump administration offered multiple explanations. There was a period of time when the claim was that Soleimani was involved in planning an imminent attack in the US or against US interests or embassies. There was an attempt to meet the international legal standard for an attack like this – that is, that it was done to prevent an imminent attack. However, over time, the administration moved way from that explanation, seemed not to offer much evidence for any sort of imminent threat to the US, and seemed to claim a different rationale – to wit, that this was a bad guy who had blood on his hands and whose killing made the US safer.
Bref, it is hard to answer definitely the question of why the US did what it did. There has been some critique of the attack because of the risk of escalation or Iranian retaliation, but also because of the precedent that it sets – namely, of killing someone who is, by US definition, universally acknowledged to be a person who was involved in terrorism but is also an official in the Iranian government. The precedent of killing the official of a country with which the US is not officially at war definitely worries some people. No one in the US who is critical of the administration has defended the body of work of Qassem Soleimani. He is, from the US perspective, someone who has fundamentally destabilized the Middle East, who has been responsible for the deaths of a large number of Americans, and whose absence from the battlefield almost certainly does make the US safer. But questions do remain about all of the other implications, repercussions and third- and second-order effects.
GB: What do you think of the Trump peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians?
JF: My view is not all that complicated. It is hard to claim that a document is a peace plan when it represents – really – only the views and interests of one side of the equation. The Palestinians, ever since the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, have stopped engaging almost entirely with the Trump administration. They were not involved in any significant way in the production of this plan. Not surprisingly, the plan ends up being a close approximation of Israeli views of how this conflict should be resolved – to the best of Israel’s interests. The Palestinians rejected it immediately. The Arab League also rejected the Trump peace plan immediately. It has been widely criticized in Europe and Russia. So there is a real open question as to whether the document was really about trying to make peace, or whether it was more intended to give a political boost to the two governments that were most closely involved in producing it – the Trump administration in the US and the Netanyahu government as it entered elections (or several serial elections).
There seems to be a lot more politics at play here than diplomacy and peacemaking. Very few people expect that this agreement will form the basis of any real negotiations or be particularly relevant beyond the end of the Trump administration, whenever that may be. The one cautionary note is that, in part as a result of the peace plan and in part through processes launched before the peace plan was announced, the Israeli government has been advancing the idea of annexing the Jordan Valley and major settlements in the West Bank. That would be an extremely provocative step by Israel – one that would betray the absence of serious desire to embark on negotiations. Such a move would not only be rejected by the Palestinians but also lead to significant repercussions in terms of the ability of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to cooperate on security, which they have continued to do even as their relationship has deteriorated. As such, one thing to watch is whether this annexation threat becomes reality in the near future. A great deal will flow from that.
Very few people expect that the Trump peace plan will form the basis of any real negotiations or be particularly relevant beyond the end of the Trump administration, whenever that may be.
GB: Was the intervention in Libya, or the killing of Gaddafi specifically, a mistake?
JF: If we go back to the period in which those decisions were make, it is important to remember that there was a lot of evidence before policy-makers to the effect that Gaddafi and his army were moving on the city of Benghazi, the epicentre of the resistance to Gaddafi, and that their intention was to cause a lot of damage to the civilian population – damage that would likely have led to the death of many innocent people in that city. The intervention in Libya was not only American but also had European involvement, Canadian involvement, and involvement from the Arab world – all very much in response to the said evidence.
GB: Was the killing of Gaddafi a mistake? Did it destabilize not only Libya and North Africa, but also Europe through the ensuing refugee crisis?
JF: First, the intervention was designed to prevent the slaughter of innocent people in Benghazi. Second, President Obama has been very clear that he considers the aftermath of the US intervention in Libya and the lack of follow-up in helping Libyan officials establish a degree of stability and security in the country to have been a mistake. He even called it one of the major mistakes of his presidency. That mistake is shared very much by the European powers that were involved in that intervention. Third, some of the rampant instability that exists today in Libya is not just the product of indigenous Libyan factions and fighting, but also due to the fact that Libya is still the scene of a lot of international interventions by countries in the Persian Gulf, Turkey, Russia, the US and some European countries. The fact that many of those countries are on very different pages in terms of who should be in charge of Libya, who should be governing, and what the future of Libya should look like, has led to Libya to becoming an international battleground instead of everyone pulling together and trying to foster a better future for that country. That is obviously also an enormous problem in terms of trying to restore a degree of stability to the country.
President Obama has been very clear that he considers the aftermath of the US intervention in Libya and the lack of follow-up in helping Libyan officials establish a degree of stability and security in the country to have been a mistake. He even called it one of the major mistakes of his presidency.
GB: Sam Sasan Shoamanesh, Managing Editor of GB and Vice-President of 21CQ, has been one of the leaders internationally in pushing for a pan-regional security framework for Western Asia. This is an idea that has now some currency with several regional and global powers. What is your view of this proposal?
JF: Lack of multilateral integration across the entire Middle East is a deficit when it comes to prosperity, security and stability. In some ways, it is one of the least integrated regions of the world, because the constituent countries have been so at odds. You have the Arab League, which is a subset of the countries in the Middle East, but which does not include countries like Iran, Turkey and Israel. Then you have the GCC countries – a smaller subset. But none of these institutions that exist today is really capable of addressing the wide range of challenges that the Middle East faces. There are many countries in the region, and the US has also been committed to this idea of trying to come up with a forum in which all of the countries that have a stake in the security of the region can be present and at the table to try to find a common way forward. But that is really difficult at this point.
What we hear from some of the Gulf and other Arab nations is that they do not want to sit at the table with Iran today, because Iran is stronger and more influential, and will likely be able to easily dictate the terms in such a scenario. Iran is, in their view, intervening all over the Arab Middle East, and that until Iran backs down from its current posture, the Arab countries will be negotiating from a position of relative weakness. That argument, whatever one thinks of its merits, has prevented a broader conversation among all of the relevant countries. But there is now, in the aftermath of the escalation between the US and Iran, perhaps some momentum behind the idea of a regional security forum of some kind. To their credit, the Gulf countries were messaging the US as the last escalation with Iran was happening to the effect that they did not wish to see it evolve into a full conflict. They realize that they might pay a significant price in the event of a conflict, because Iran will retaliate against them for the steps that the US has taken. The countries facing the prospects of a regional war – or a war between the US and Iran – stared into the abyss and realized that diplomacy might be preferable. However, there has not been momentum behind setting up a proper forum, and I do believe that this should be an important focus of diplomatic efforts in the region in the near term.
GB: What happened to the US-Russia relationship after the famous Obama reset? Where does it stand today, and where do you see it going?
JF: During the first term of the administration, there was a view in the White House and in the foreign policy apparatus that the US and Russia shared a number of important common interests, and that cooperating with Moscow in key areas – even if it was not ever going to be on all topics, because we obviously retained during that period disagreements about aspects of the international system – was better for Washington than being adversaries on everything and everywhere. To be sure, there were some achievements of US-Russia cooperation during that period. The nuclear agreement was not reached during the first term of the Obama administration, but the process for it began during that period, symptomatic of extremely close cooperation between the US and Russia – right up until the final minute – even as Washington and Moscow were deeply divided on issues like Ukraine and Syria.
During President Obama’s second term, the divisions between the US and Russia became much more pronounced and deeper than the issues on which we could work together. Some of that came from conclusions drawn on the Russian side to the effect that American foreign policy was diametrically opposed to their interests. They began to take steps in Ukraine and Syria that were more aggressive, more assertive and, in the view of the US, fundamentally destabilizing to the international system. We began to see international problems in very different ways.
All of this was compounded in 2016 by the decision made at the highest level of the Russian government to intervene in the US election. We may never get a consensus view on whether that electoral intervention had any impact on the outcome of the election. It is quite clear now, based on congressional investigations, based on the American intelligence community’s conclusions, which have been stated over and over again and published extensively, and based on some very good investigative journalism, that Russia launched a massive intervention into American domestic politics in 2016 – in part to sow chaos and undermine confidence in the American system, and in part, it appears, to tilt the scale in favour of President Trump.
This not taking a position on whether the President welcomed or coordinated with that intervention. The point that I am making is that Russia did this to the US, and that, whatever you think of the outcome of that election, if you are an American, you should be opposed to that. And that sealed the degradation of the relationship. Under President Trump, there has been a fairly strong consensus in terms of pushing back on some of the things that Russia is doing. Congress has passed extensive sanctions legislation, and many figures inside the Trump administration speak out strongly against Russia – although one exception has been President Trump, who seems much more reluctant to have such confrontation with Russia.
Having said all of this, there remain many issues on which the US and Russia are better off working together than they are working at cross-purposes. Superpowers or not, they are two large and influential countries in the international system, they are nuclear powers, and they share an interest in things like non-proliferation, counter-terrorism and fundamental stability in certain regions of the world. They see some things very differently. Russia is an authoritarian state that believes that more states in the international system should adopt its form of governance and has long been concerned about the spread of democracy to parts of the world in which it has interests. We will never see that issue in the same way.
Superpowers or not, Russia and the US are two large and influential countries in the international system, they are nuclear powers, and they share an interest in things like non-proliferation, counter-terrorism and fundamental stability in certain regions of the world. They see some things very differently.
Still, there remain areas – perhaps most prominently, arms control – where the US and Russia can work together, and it its my hope that they will continue to do that.
GB: Why did the Trump administration turn so strongly on China? Where is that bilateral relationship headed?
JF: Over the last few years, the biggest area of shifting consensus in the American foreign policy establishment has been that of US-China relations. It is not just President Trump taking a harder line on China, but rather a broad bipartisan view that holds that the previous period of intensive engagement with China, which may have been driven by the belief that if China were more integrated into the international system it would evolve more in the direction that the US was trying to set for the rest of the world, did produced the fruits that had been anticipated. President Trump has decided to pursue the new line of thinking on China primarily in the realm of trade. We do not hear the President say much about China from the security perspective. The administration’s policy on things like the South China Sea has been written out in fundamental documents, but it is not exactly clear that this is something on which the President himself is focussed or about which he cares a great deal. He is focussed on trade imbalances, tariffs and bilateral trade agreements – the first of which has now been reached.
In a Democratic administration – if there is one after November – I do not believe that there will be much of a change in strategic orientation vis-à-vis China. The fundamental view in Washington today is that China is much more of a competitor with the US than a collaborator, and this will endure in a Democratic administration as well. But a new administration would bring a China policy that is more comprehensive – that is, it will move beyond just trade, and will include areas such as security as well.
The fundamental view in Washington today is that China is much more of a competitor with the US than a collaborator, and this will endure in a Democratic administration as well. But a new administration would bring a China policy that is more comprehensive – that is, it will move beyond just trade, and will include areas such as security as well.
GB: How do you explain American positioning in Venezuela today, and how do you foresee the situation in – and the relationship with – that country evolving?
JF: I am not going to make a prediction about where that is going to go. Such predictions are a fool’s errand. The US administration took a principled stand about the Maduro government having lost its legitimacy, and there was a constitutional argument for the speaker to be considered the rightful leader of Venezuela. The problem with this approach is that it did not reflect the fundamental reality on the ground. It created, in some ways, a fiction in which the US and others recognized as a leader someone who could not actually govern in practice. As such, we have a paradoxical situation where Juan Guaido shows up at the State of the Union and is recognized as the leader of Venezuela in much of the international community, but has no ability to influence much in Venezuela itself. How long that is going to play out is hard to determine. Venezuela has deep, fundamental problems in terms of basic security and its economy. There is clearly a degree of unrest and opposition to Maduro in the Venezuelan population. So far, though, the vast majority of the security establishment in Venezuela has stuck with the Maduro regime. Until we see larger-scale, more consequential defections from the security side of the state, Maduro will be able to hang on to power. If we start to see an erosion of the regime’s support within the security apparatus, then that is when things will fundamentally start to change. We have not seen that yet.
The problem with the approach in Venezuela is that it did not reflect the fundamental reality on the ground. It created, in some ways, a fiction in which the US and others recognized as a leader someone who could not actually govern in practice.
GB: How do you see American behaviour evolving, or how should it evolve, in the Arctic, in collaboration or not in collaboration with countries like Canada?
JF: Obviously, the Arctic is one of the new frontiers in terms of the need for security architecture among nations that is extremely early in its development. We have countries operating extensively in that region, but without clearly defined rules of the road for how their interactions should be governed. That can be dangerous, because you have the most powerful countries in the world deploying significant commercial and military interests in the Arctic. Because of global warming, more of the Arctic is navigable than was the case before, and this is going to mean only more commercial and military activity. To be sure, there are institutions that are seeking to provide some clarity and some species of legal and normative regime around inter-state interactions in the Arctic. The Arctic Council is one of them, and the UN has tried to do this in some ways, but in terms of a deep, detailed security framework, we are nowhere close to where we need to be. That would be an important area of international focus in the near future.
GB: How do you see the Ukraine situation as having evolved since the revolution in 2014? Are you disappointed or optimistic?
JF: In terms of the Donbass conflict, the situation in Ukraine seems almost frozen. There has obviously been a transition of government there, but the country has fallen out of the news in the US to a large extent. We do not read as many dispatches from the front lines of the Donbass anymore in America, but that does not mean that theatre has been stabilized; far from it. The instability and fighting goes on, and it does not feel like there is much diplomatic momentum to find a durable solution there – arguably because Russia has decided that it is not in its interest to end the conflict, or that it is more in its interest to continue to be able to turn the heat up or down at will on Ukraine. The US has retreated, to some extent, diplomatically from its traditional role as a problem-solver in the international system. Indeed, this is one of the theatres that has really suffered from a lack of focus not just by the US – although certainly by the US – but also by the EU and its key members states, which have also become more internally preoccupied by things like Brexit and other elements of EU politics. Bref, this conflict has not received the focus that it deserves.
GB: Should the US remain in or pull out of Iraq?
JF: The relationship between the US and Iraq is critically important. It is one of the most important relationships that the US has in the Middle East, because it is in Iraq, more than almost any other country, that the preponderance of American interests coincide – in energy security, terrorism, and the ability to reach across the sectarian Sunni-Shia divide. Iraq is a pluralistic country, a version of democracy – of course, a highly flawed democracy – in which there are consequential elections. The US should remain committed to the relationship in Iraq even as it reassesses its level of investment in the Middle East writ large. Whether that means a troop presence going forward is something that is going to have to be decided by not just the US but by the Iraqi government as well. Absent the consent of the Iraqi government, it is hard to understand the legal basis for American troops remaining there. Now, maintaining that consent from the Iraqi government is going to mean respecting the sovereignty of Iraq, and avoiding turning Iraq into an effective battleground between the US and Iran. We must always remember that the US and Iran are, for all practical intents and purposes, Iraq’s most important international relationships.
Absent the consent of the Iraqi government, it is hard to understand the legal basis for American troops remaining there. Maintaining that consent from the Iraqi government is going to mean respecting the sovereignty of Iraq, and avoiding turning Iraq into an effective battleground between the US and Iran. We must always remember that the US and Iran are, for all practical intents and purposes, Iraq’s most important international relationships.
Too often, the US has tried to adopt a zero-sum approach with Iraq when it comes to Iran – that is, presuming that anything that Iraq does vis-à-vis Iran is fundamentally bad for the US and that we should oppose it. This approach just does not work in reality. Iraq has a hundreds-of-miles-long border with Iran, deep historical, cultural and religious ties to Iran, and it fundamentally needs a positive relationship with Iran. Many Iraqi leaders spent their years of exile when Saddam Hussein was in power in Iran. So the relationships are deep there. If we asked Iraq to sever its relationship with Iran at the risk of losing its relationship with the US, American officials might not like the response to such a request. Bref, the US needs to tread more lightly, and look for more common ground with the government in Baghdad to demonstrate the value of the relationship.
Separate and apart from the troop question, the lead lever for the US-Iraq relationship should be diplomacy. The American ambassador should be the forefront of this dynamic. The US has a lot more to offer Iraq in terms of helping it to integrate more closely in the wider region, building ties with its neighbours, and assisting on a technical level to improve governance in Iraq. There is an obvious perception of corruption and bad governance to tens of thousands if not hundreds of Iraqis as they come to the streets to oppose their own government. The US can be useful in helping Iraqi leaders and ministries govern the country more effectively. That should be the focus of the relationship.
Of course, a large security threat still remains in Iraq. The remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq and ISIS have been significantly diminished but not fully eradicated. If the US and Iraq decide that a continued US security presence is necessary to address those threats, then that would be a good thing.
GB: How do you see the evolution of Canada as such, and of the Canada-US relationship, and Canada and the world more broadly?
JF: I would be hard pressed to name a more important relationship than the one that the US has with Canada. If it is not the most important economic relationship that the US has, then Canada is certainly the most important security and intelligence partner that the US has. Fundamentally, one of the single most important national security advantages of the US is that it has constructive, friendly and warm relations with the two large countries on its northern and southern borders. There is this sense that the Americans pay less attention to Canada than the other way around, and I am not sure that reflects well on the US. But I can tell you that at the official and governmental level, there is a deep appreciation for everything that the US and Canada have been able to do together over a very long period of time, despite the normal periods of friction and tension that will occur in any relationship between two countries that share as much as we do.
Jon Finer was director of policy planning at the US State Department from 2016 to 2017, and chief of staff to Secretary of State John Kerry from 2015 to 2017.