Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Brzezinski Speech

Think Progress has the Zbigniew Brzezinski speech that he gave last week; here's some excerpts:
Three years ago, almost to a day, just as the war was beginning, I appeared on the Jim Lehrer show, and at the end of the show, Lehrer, as his last question asked me, “What do you think is riding on this war?” And my response was as follows: Ultimately, American global leadership is at stake in this war. It’s not Saddam who is the issue, it’s whether America can lead, lead constructively, and in a way that others respect. Three years later, I think it’s appropriate to ask: Where are we? Where are we headed? And what should we do?

First, where are we? The answers to this are easy, and on this I can be quick. The war has proven to be prohibitively costly. American leadership, in all of its dimensions, has been damaged. American morality has been stained – in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. American legitimacy has been undermined – by unilateral decisions. American credibility – particularly the case for the war, has been shattered. Leadership depends on morality, legitimacy, credibility. The economic costs of the war are escalating into hundreds of billions of dollars. More importantly, American casualties are in the thousands, with more than tens of thousands maimed. We are not even counting Iraqi casualties; we prefer not to know what they are.

Former National Security Adviser under Carter, Brzezinski is a tough foreign policy analyst, sometimes a hawk but never careless in his thinking. He's no liberal but he's also no neoconservative. His analysis has a nasty habit of being right. He's saying things that the Republican establishment needs to come to terms with. Hearing former Senator Alan Simpson try to defend Bush's Iraq policies, as just one example, is embarrassing. Simpson has nothing at stake anymore and has the freedom to be honest and unfortunately it's apparent that Simpson is unable to be honest with himself. Bush's Iraq policy is failing. His entire presidency is failing and it's not in the interest of the American people to pretend otherwise.

Here's another excerpt from Brzezinski's speech:
It is a failed occupation as a consequence of a decision-making process that compounds errors, that involves a very narrow group of true believers, and that evades responsibility and accountability – for errors and even crimes. No one responsible for wrong judgments has been fired. No one responsible for setting in motion a chain of events that produced extraordinarily embarrassing crimes has been put on trial.

(snip)

The commander in chief appears largely as a cheerleader, and tough issues are hardly discussed.
Tough issues are hardly discussed. We are supposedly a superpower. We are supposedly the leader of the free world. But tough issues are hardly discussed. Even in a Congress led by Republicans, tough issues are hardly discussed. The Republican leadership does everything it can to avoid investigations or real debate. And the blunders pile on. Here's more from Brzezinski:
We could, I think, probably put an end to it – to both wars if we were to put in enough troops. Theoretically, if we were prepared to put in – and I’m pulling these figures literally out of a hat not as a result of any serious study – if we could put in 500,000 troops, we probably could crush the insurgency; we probably could stifle some of the sectarian conflict. But we can’t put in 500,000 troops. We’ve recently made a difficult decision to increase our force presence in Iraq. We are putting in 700 more troops, and that is not an accident.

We are not in a position to really increase the occupation force, unless we declare some state of national emergency and engage in actions which are simply politically not being seriously considered. So we are not able to crush these two conflicts, but our presence is perpetuating them and probably unintentionally actually intensifying them.
Brzezinski's statement about increasing troop level is tentative and I'm not sure he's right at this point. Putting in 500,00o troops by April of 2003 might have made a difference, particularly if Bush had truly sought international help on a large scale. In the late summer of 2003, analysts talked of the window of opportunity closing in a matter of months and urged more troops. I suspect the reality is that the so-called 'window of opportunity' closed some time ago, probably months before the 2004 election. I thought the decision to go to war in Iraq was the wrong one but Bush had an obligation to do everything in his power to get it right.

Here's one last excerpt from Brzezinski's speech:
And yet if the president is serious in saying that our choices have become more difficult, I think it behooves him to widen the circle of decision-makers. It is in his own interest as well as in the country’s interest. This does not necessarily mean reaching out to the opposition, but even reaching out even to members of his own party who have, in different ways, some subtly, some more directly, expressed an uneasiness about the course on which we have embarked.

I think it is clear to you by now, I hope, that I favor a decision by the United States to leave Iraq. And the way I would go about it would be that I would ask the Iraqi leaders to ask us to leave.

I would not announce it arbitrarily, but I would talk to the Iraqi leaders about our decision, our inclination, and I would encourage them to ask us to leave. And I think there would be Iraqi leaders who would ask us to leave. Some of them are openly opposed to the occupation. And others may be more ambivalent now that their own political positions would be strengthened if they identified themselves with the hostility of the Iraqi people to the occupation. And some of course would not wish to ask us to leave. And they would be the ones who would leave when we leave, which tells us something about the depth of their capacity for leadership. I think we should ask them to ask us to leave and to treat them as adults, and not as colonial wards, which is what we are doing.
Brzezinski is a pragmatist speaking to a broad audience and his words are not designed to win bonus points from many of Bush's critics. His fundamental point is that there are no good solutions from this point on. But some solutions are not as bad as others and that's a lousy place to be. Brzezinski doesn't say it and I don't want to put words in his mouth, but his analysis points to an important conclusion: the war in Iraq is becoming less important than the leadership problems that exist in Washington. That is the American crisis we presently face.

There have been times in the past when Republicans and Democrats in leadership roles could look at the same cold hard facts and pretty much come to the same conclusions. But times have changed. The times started changing long before 9/11 which is used as an excuse for a lot of nonsense. Most of the leadership of the Republican party is failing to act in the best interests of the nation as a whole. In place of rational decision-making and analysis based on hard facts and a developing history of democratic values, we currently have a government based on delusions, arrogance, appeals to political bases, lies, rationalizations, fear-mongering, old grudges, gut feelings, resentment and wishful thinking, none of which is restricted to the White House. I'm not going to waste time giving examples after a steady diet over the last five years (fifty years, I suppose, if we go back to Joe McCarthy and the John Birchers who certainly laid the seeds of the current era).

We became a great nation in spite of our politics, not because of them; leaders ranging from local communities to the oval office rose above the times. That is the lesson that Bush and so many of his colleagues on the Republican side have forgotten. I don't know how long the crisis in American leadership will last, but it is here.

3 Comments:

Blogger S.W. Anderson said...

Bush isn't a moron, as so many of his critics like to say. But he does exhibit the shallow intellect and direct, two-dimensional thinking of the small-scale Main Street merchant.

You bring goods bought at wholesale in the back door and you sell 'em at a higher price out the front door. The difference is your profit, and that's how you make your money.

That would be OK for running a hardware store in Crawford, Texas. It's not OK for running a nation.

Kennedy looked to Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt for his icons.

Eisenhower, as I recall, was impressed with the leadership of Washington, Lincoln and both Roosevelts.

Alone among presidents of either party, George W. Bush idolizes Calvin Coolidge.

I think that reflects a perversity that comes out in some of the things he does. Molly Ivins illustrates a Bush habit with a story about his visit to a Portland, Ore., job training center. He praised the people there and the work they were doing. Months later, he cut funding for job training centers generally and specifically de-funded the center he had visited and praised. Ivins said this was not an isolated thing with him, but rather a part of a pattern.

Small wonder, then, that Bush would get us into a blunder war as he got us into Iraq, then proceed to make an even bigger mess of things in the aftermath, never truly owning up to a mistake of historical proportions and consequences we'll be decades working off.

He surrounds himself with yes men because he lacks the intellectual depth, temperament and patience to accommodate, much less assimilate, conflicting views.

In Bush's two-dimensional understanding of the presidency, the fact he won the office entitles him to do as he sees fit. No one else need like what he's doing, but everyone on his payroll had better agree with what he's doing. As for the public, they made their choice on election day, giving him a blank-check contract for four years and then four more. He no doubt feels he's keeping his end of the deal by continuing to make decisions. The people's part of the bargain is to accept his decisions as final until his time is up.

This brings us to new territory: we're very close to having a de facto, if time-limited, dictatorship.

12:03 AM  
Anonymous Craig said...

We'll have a de facto dictatorship only when Congress, the media and the American people comply with it; unfortunately that's very close to where we are.

I happen to be heartened by Bush's falling poll numbers since it gives the impression the American people are waking up but we all know perfectly well that the numbers are soft and can go the other way depending on how well Bush and Karl Rove read the deeper numbers and play their games. Bush knows how to campaign. That's his one real specialty.

S.W., that's a real fine comment you wrote and it ought to be a post.

12:28 AM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Craig, I think your observations about the fluidity of the political situation and Bush and Rove's ability to channel public perceptions and opinions to their purposes are right on target.

Thanks for the compliment. Your certainly welcome to make it a post if you wish.

2:03 PM  

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