America and the World

Conversations on the future of American Foreign policy

Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scrowcroft

Moderated by David Ignatius

book report by America is Babylon

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius moderates several conversations with two foreign policy makers: Brzezinski, ex National Security Advisor to both Bush (senior) and Gerald Ford. He was a Military Assistant to the Nixon administration as well. Both men have been around for decades, are authors, and head prominent institutions on foreign policy.

This book was published in 2008 just prior to Barack Obama’s election. These two men dissect the most significant foreign policy challenges facing the U.S.: whether we should withdraw troops out of Iraq or keep them there; how we should approach Iran, Israel, and Palestine; how aggressively we should push to expand NATO to Russian borders; the global political awakening; maintaining our role in the Far East;

They present different paths to the same ultimate solution. America needs to reform her foreign policy, adapt it, and implement the changes in order to keep America a major world player and leader in the future world order.

Below are the quotes from the book, and the most intriguing ones regard Iran.

CHAPTER 1: HOW WE GOT HERE

This chapter discusses how America became the prime foreign policy world leader. There is an analysis of the Cold War and what their opinions were about its effects- both on the Americans, and the Russians. They pretty much parroted the mainstream historical accounts, of it collapsing and throwing these satellite communist countries into disarray.

CHAPTER 2: CRISIS OF OUR OWN MAKING

The title alone is incriminating. This chapter delves into detail about Iraq and Iran. Regarding Iraq they give a detailed history of the country, the reason why we invaded, whether this intervention was justified and necessary, and what to do in the aftermath. Both Scowcroft and Brzezinski had slightly different views on the management of the country, but both agreed that it had to be invaded.

Ignatious: “(the war in Iraq) made conditions somewhat more favorable for an outcome that is in the strategic interests of the United States?”

The answer was yes.

Ignatious: “When the next president takes office and thinks about what to do in Iraq, a huge overriding concern will be the consequences of that decision for Iran- the rising power in the region, and arguably the nation that has benefited the most from America’s invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein”

Scowcroft: “Iranian attitudes are an important aspect of it. One of the things we have to remember is that in the course of dealing with terrorism and then Iraq and Afghanistan, we have removed Iran’s enemies on both sides. And so that feeling in Iran, “our moment has come”, is perhaps not too unnatural. Iran was our bastion of regional stability under the Shah. When we replace the British as the outside power in the region, we counted on the Shah. When we replaced the British as the outside power in the region, we counted on the Shah to preserve stability. After he left, and with the seizure of our embassy, we and the Iranians developed a visceral dislike of each other.”

Ignatius: “So you think the British administration was wrong to demand a halt to nuclear enrichment by the Iranians as a condition of entering negotiations?”

Brzezinski: “There are two ways of dealing with that problem. If we want them to halt enrichment as the post of departure for negotiations, then we have to give them something in return, because at least under international law and the Nonproliferation Treaty-the NPT- they have the right to enrich.”

Brzezinski then goes on to explain that there is a large ethnic pocket of Azerbaijanis in northern Iran that may one day want to reunite with Azerbaijan.

Ignatius: “What is the possibily that these ethnic tensions in Iran could be exploited by American policy in a covert operation?”

Brzezinski: “I think the possibilty does indeed exist. And there’s no doubt that there is a body of opinion in the United States- and also in Israel, that looks very carefully at Iran and calculates what might be exploited in order to turn Iran into a destabilized mess……Islamic fundamentalism which perhaps at some point will be called World War IV. Destabilization as a policy can only be applied in extreme circumstances.”

Ignatius: “Brent, would you agree that the ethnic card exists with Iran? What would you think about the wisdom of playing it? Let me pose the darkest view of the future of Iran and America’s relations with it. That is that Iran is a revolutionary state, still in the red-hot phase of its revolution………But Iran hasn’t stopped- quite the opposite. Everywhere it pushes, it seems to have success. In Lebanon, it projects power through Hezbollah. In Palestine, through Hamas. It is increasingly the dominant player in Iraq.”

Brzezinski: “We help unite it (Iran) with excessive American threats and occasionally almost irrational statements. Last week, the president said explicitly, ‘Iran has stated it wants a nuclear bomb to kill people.’ There is not one record of any such statement by the Iranians. It is only the statements like these that create cohesion in Iran and make it appealing to its increasingly anti-American neighbors”.

Ignatius: ……….”some people look at Iran today and say that oddly enough, it may be the craziness of this Ahmadinejad that will bring the moment we most want.”

Scowcroft: “I’ll be heretical. I think the Iranian regime is not a revolutionary regime, that the revolution in Iran is the people’s desire for more openness.”

Brzezinski: ” and the regime really isn’t that despotic. I’d much rather live in Iran than in Russian, when it comes to democracy.”

Ignatius: “Well, I’d rather be a journalist in Iran, in the sense that I wouldn’t worry about getting killed.”

Brzezinski: “Specifically, it would be pointless if he’s going to talk to Ahmadinejad. It ought to be someone higher.”

Ignatius: “Someone who is closer to the supreme leader.”

Scowcroft: “Yes”.

Brzezinski: “One has to understand the country one is engaged with, and that’s particularly needed in the case of Iran. We’ve mentioned its proud history and other aspects. But something else needs to be mentioned. If you look at the statistical handbook for countries and compare Iran with Turkey, there are remarkable similarities in level of education, in access to women to education. We have this image of the women being totally suppressed in Iran. That’s hardly the case………..Iran currently has a woman as a vice president. I’m sure not more than one percent of Americans know that. Iranian women are lawyers, doctors, members of parliament. Iran has a political system that, while its certainly not democratic by any stretch, is considerably more democratic than, let’s say, that of Russia. The elections are still contested. The expectations of Iranians are increasingly derived from their observation of Turkey and of Europe. And a significant number of Iranians travel as tourists, especially to Turkey but sometimes beyond. So we’re dealing with a country which, if we handle it intelligently, could become increasingly like Turkey.”

Brzezinski: “(Iran could be) Israel’s ally too. Don’t forget that Israel and Iran had a very extensive relationship-for decades- then broke up.”

Scowcroft: “As a matter of fact, we had a really tough time with Israel during the Iran-Iraq War because they were sending military equipment to Iran.”

Brzezinski: “Without our permission.”

Scowcroft: “Aircraft spare parts without our permission. That’s right.”

Brzezinski: “Looking even further ahead, one has to recognize that in some respects, Israel and Iran are natural allies. In a region where my neighbor tends to be my enemy, the neighbor of my neighbor is my friend. That was the case until the overthrow of the Shah. And even to this day, there is a significant Jewish community in Tehran, which operates in reasonably normal circumstances. There are well to do Iranian Jews in prominent places. Iran has not- except for Ahmadinejad lately- been driven by the kind of fanatical anti-Semitism one finds in some Arab countries.”

Ignatius: “Suppose all these good ideas go for naught, and the Iranians do what we most fear. They move to higher levels of enrichment and resume what the CIA says was a weaponization effort that was put on the shelf in 2003. And suppose they move toward testing a nuclear weapon as North Korea has done.

The question at the end of the day that we all have to struggle with is: Can the United States live with a nuclear armed Iran? Is that a tolerable situation? Other countries that we hoped wouldn’t get the bomb, notably Pakistan and North Korea, got it, and we’re living with it. Why is Iran different? Should we put it in a different category, as a country whose acquisition of nuclear weapons is interrelated to us?”

They don’t give any timeline or answers on how this Iranian nuclear endowment would be handled other then saying “cautious and expert diplomatic relations would have to be continued” as a hedge against this looming issue. So in other words, there is no guarantee we can contain Iran nor is there a guarantee that there wouldn’t be a preemptive war against them if we suspected it.

CHAPTER 3: TWO UNSOLVED PROBLEMS

This chapter rests solely upon the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. They both detail the modern development of Israel and how this confrontation between these two peoples needs to be solved by developing a two-state solution. They hold to the mainstream argument that the Muslims would be so much more peaceful and tolerable to live next to if they were awarded partial statehood within Isaeli territory.

CHAPTER 4: THE VIRTUE OF OPENNESS, CHINA AND THE FAR EAST

Brzezinski: “And we have to bear in mind that in the interactive age, xenophobia is a psychological phenomenon of retardation.”

This comment stems from the belief both men have on China and her rise to industrial superpower. They believe that the transferring of American industries to the Far East has opened many global foreign policy doors fomenting positive relations in the Asian world. Their argument justifies the loss of these industries to America. They see no problem with global corporations leaving and going elsewhere. They could care less about the average American and justify this with the condescending comment above. To stereotype those who would rather have a more nationalist and closed border mentality as “retarded”.

CHAPTER 5: THE STATE WITH UNNATURAL BOUNDARIES

This chapter focuses on the Soviet Union and her collapse; how it affected the Russian people and the peoples they were occupying. There are predictions of what Vladimir Putin’s aims are as President and how his term will shape the future with the West.

Brzezinski:…..”I don’t think he (Vladimir Putin) has assimilated the fact that the old imperial system cannot be recreated. He’s motivated a great deal by nostalgia. He’s also rational, and he’s not going to try to create a new Soviet Union, but he is going to do two things. First, he’s going to try to isolate central Asia in order to keep the West out as much as possible. He’s doing that very effectively by making all of the oil and gas of central Asia funnel through Russia. Secondly, he’ll try to subordinate states such as Ukraine and Georgia because they are geopolitically critical. Ukraine, because if Ukraine goes there’s no longer any chance of a Slavic Union and Russia becomes only a national state. Georgia, because its critical in the Caucasus, and the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline gives us access to the Caspian, which the Russians would like to cut.”

They both go into detail about how now that the Soviet Union is gone, these Central Asian states are not wanting to be subordinate to Moscow, and this is a great struggle the Russians are having keeping their influence there. These newly “liberated” states recognize their potential wealth in their resources and are resentful of Russia taking sole claim. They are also linguistically different (having had Russian forced upon them), culturally different, and ethnically are not white Russians. They adhere more to the Asians in their looks and culture and the Middle Eastern Semites in their Muslim religion. They both agree that time will tell how well Moscow plays this game of control.

In regards to Medvedev being handpicked by Putin:

Brzezinski: “And that option, therefore, is there. Medvedev could get sick.” (if he goes against the Russian oligarchs).

Ignatius: “Yes, he could get hit by a bus one day or take an accidental overdose of polonium.”

Brzezinski: “I think in different ways, both Brent and I have already at least implied what we think it ought to be. We would like to see Russia, one way or another, close to the West….and therefore, it is a reasonable goal, even if distant, to think of Russia evolving increasingly towards democracy. I think the next generation of Russian leaders, beyond Medvedev, is going to be more democratic, more wordly, more European than the present, and certainly more than the previous generation. I expect someday that the Russian President- maybe the one after Medvedev, if Medvedev lasts that long and Putin doesn’t come back- may even be a graduate of the Harvard Business School or the London School of Economics…This is why I believe creating a geopolitical context that sucks Russia towards the West, even through some painful stages, is not an unreasonable, though very long-range goal.”

Scowcroft: ….”I would resist giving away too much. Zbig talked about pipelines, for example, I think we ought to push very hard for an oil pipeline from Kazakhstan under the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan. That would not hurt Russia; it merely destroys the chance of monopoly against Europe.”

Ignatius: “If those are our goals, do you think it’s wise for us to push ahead with our plan for missile defense installations in the Czech Republic and Poland- a proposal of the Bush administrations that has really upset Putin and the Russian leadership? Will that process advance America’s goals as you define them, or will it hurt them?”

Scowcroft: “I’m puzzled by the project. The President has announced that we cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weapons. And yet we ostensibly are building a defense against those weapons, apparently assuming they will be built anyways. So I am confused about the purpose of the deployment. Also it’s not clear to me whether its goal is to defend Europe or the United States.”

Brzezinski:……”So first of all, what I say to the Poles and Czechs is essentially this: It’s in your interest to be a close ally of the United States. If the United States really feels strongly about this, you should try to accomodate it. But you have to be practical in how you do it, and that depends a great deal on the political context. If NATO is for this system and Russia accedes to it, then there’s no real problem. You can have an arrangement with America and get some compensation, maybe modernization of the armed forces.

The difficult arises if NATO’s lukewarm, western European countries are against it, and the Russians are strongly against it- and in fact are making threats. You should still go along with it if America really wants it. But then you really have to get compensatory commitments from the United States, that if the Russian threats are real, or if there are political or economic sanctions from the Russians, you will be compensated. That gets to be very complicated since, understandably, the United States is not eager to give such bilateral assurances. So that’s my formal negotiating position. Now, putting on my hat as an American policy strategist, I am, like Brent, a little bit baffled. We say the system now proposed, the latest version, is meant to defend the Europeans. But the Europeans are not asking for that protection. Secondly, the system we want to deploy is nonexistent, and the threat against which it is to be deployed is also nonexistent.

……This is incidentally, one of the elements that makes me concerned about the discussion over Ukraine. It’s one thing if the Russians object to the possibility of Ukraine being in NATO on the grounds they are a neighbor. It’s another thing to publicly state, as Putin did in a press conference with Yushchenko, “if you move towards NATO, we’re going to target you with nuclear weapons.””

CHAPTER 6: THE INDISPENSABLE PARTNERSHIP

This chapter focuses on the European Union’s partnership with the United States.

Brzezinski: ….”That, at some point, will raise some complicated questions about the nature of the European relationship with Russia, which we discussed rather fully in the last chapter. But I see this historic progression as something that far-sighted leaders on both sides of the Atlantic now recognize as desirable. And I think it is almost inevitable, unless the West commits suicide.”

In regards to Europe having its own independent armed defense force:

Brzezinski: “One has to ask, “Independent for what?”. I don’t think it’s likely that Europe is going to have an independent capability for a really large new war. I don’t think Europe is going to have an independent capability to deploy hundreds of thousands of troops abroad.”

Brzezinski, Zbigniew, et al. America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy. BasicBooks, 2009. 

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