Monday, April 09, 2007

NY Times Review of Brzezinski's Latest Book

I keep going back to Zbigniew Brzezinski's anaylsis of the current situation in American foreign policy for the simple reason that I feel he has about the best take out there on the current world situation. The New York Times has a book review by Jacob Heilbrunn that captures several key aspects of Brzezinski's thinking in his latest book, Second Chance:
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, has steadily warned that American arrogance might well lead to catastrophe abroad. And unlike his ingratiating Republican counterpart, Henry Kissinger, he was an early and vociferous opponent of the Iraq war.


If Bush senior lacked the vision and boldness to reinvent American foreign policy after the cold war, Clinton was bedazzled by the notion that globalization would bring an end to world conflict. Brzezinski awards Clinton good marks for successfully enlarging NATO. But he argues that Clinton badly erred in failing to achieve an accord between the Israelis and Palestinians. At his marathon sessions with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat at Camp David in July 2000, Clinton may have striven for peace, but there was too much “emphasis on immediately assigning blame for the parties’ failure to emerge from the meeting with an agreement in hand.” Overall, Brzezinski says, Clinton “did not leave a historically grand imprint on the world.”

So disdainful is Brzezinski of George W. Bush that he barely even pauses to discuss him. Instead, the neoconservatives surrounding Bush trigger his ire. According to Brzezinski, the Iraq war’s “only saving grace is that it made Iraq the cemetery of neocon dreams. Had the war been more successful, America by now might be at war with Syria and Iran, pursuing a policy driven more by Manichaean notions and dubious motivations than by any sober definition of its national interest.”

Had the war been more successful..... This is the observation so many people in the media and even some of the more hawkish Democrats miss. Bush's foreign policy in the Middle East, as defined and conceived by the neoconservatives, had built into it an essential flaw and that flaw can be summarized most easily by simply saying that Bush's new conception of foreign policy (or archaic, since his policy harks back to the 19th century) was defined by hubris, a hubris that had little conception of the limits of American military and economic power in the current, post-colonial era and how much Bush was overreaching with the tools he had, mainly military and diplomatic. From its inception, Bush's foreign policy was strategically flawed. His foreign policy and military policy was also hampered by a level of incompetence rarely seen in the last 75 years of American administrations. In a sense, the incompetence of the Bush inner circle prevented the larger fiasco from happening. There is, of course, still the risk of stumbling into a wider war, a war that will do absolutely no one any good and may do profound damage to the United States and also the world economy which has the potential to damage the United States even further.

My understanding of world affairs is still evolving and one thing is becoming clear: the neglect of a serious energy policy on the part of the United States for the last 30 years has put us into a situation in 2007 that undermines what we can do and not do in world affairs. We are a superpower with increasing self-inflicted vulnerabilities. Our enemies understand these vulnerabilities far more than the average American (in some respects, Cheney seems to understand those vulnerabilities as well, but his conservative ideology led him to foolhardy conclusions about how to deal with those vulnerabilities). We still produce a significant amount of oil but the fact we have to import so much at a time when world oil production is having trouble keeping pace with the demands of the next five to ten years does not leave us much room to play the dangerous games favored by Bush and Cheney; in regards to Iran and the lack of a serious effort at diplomatic talks, those dangerous games can easily backfire at any time to everyone's peril.

It is important for the sake of our national security to keep boxing in Bush and Cheney to keep them from damaging us any further. And it is important to get public discussions about energy on a much higher plane with a much greater sense of urgency. Even if Iraq stabilizes and our relations with Iran improve, we have an array of problems that have been neglected and that need to be dealt with, particularly in the area of energy.

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