Some good advice about the Iraq War from Zbigniew Brzezinski

The late American strategist John Boyd (Colonel, USAF) said that a grand strategy focused our nation’s actions — political, economic, and military — so as to:

  • Increase our solidarity, our internal cohesion.
  • Weaken our opponents’ resolve and internal cohesion.
  • Strengthen our allies’ relationships to us.
  • Attract uncommitted states to our cause.
  • End conflicts on favorable terms, without sowing the seeds for future conflicts.

Since then sensible people have repeatedly given us versions of that advice.  Such as Zbigniew Brzezinski’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 1 February 2007 (source).  It’s worth reading, and applies as well (or better) to the Af-Pak War.  Brzezinski’sbio and major policies appear at the end.

Mr. Chairman, your hearings come at a critical juncture in the U.S. war of choice in Iraq, and I commend you and Senator Lugar for scheduling them. It is time for the White House to come to terms with two central realities:

  1. The war in Iraq is a historic, strategic, and moral calamity. Undertaken under false assumptions, it is undermining America’s global legitimacy. Its collateral civilian casualties as well as some abuses are tarnishing America’s moral credentials. Driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris, it is intensifying regional instability.
  2. Only a political strategy that is historically relevant rather than reminiscent of colonial tutelage can provide the needed framework for a tolerable resolution of both the war in Iraq and the intensifying regional tensions.

If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a “defensive” U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about WMD’s in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the “decisive ideological struggle” of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism. In that context, Islamist extremism and al Qaeda are presented as the equivalents of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and then Soviet Russia, and 9/11 as the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack which precipitated America’s involvement in World War II.

This simplistic and demagogic narrative overlooks the fact that Nazism was based on the military power of the industrially most advanced European state; and that Stalinism was able to mobilize not only the resources of the victorious and militarily powerful Soviet Union but also had worldwide appeal through its Marxist doctrine. In contrast, most Muslims are not embracing Islamic fundamentalism; al Qaeda is an isolated fundamentalist Islamist aberration; most Iraqis are engaged in strife because the American occupation of Iraq destroyed the Iraqi state; while Iran—though gaining in regional influence — is itself politically divided, economically and militarily weak. To argue that America is already at war in the region with a wider Islamic threat, of which Iran is the epicenter, is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Deplorably, the Administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East region has lately relied almost entirely on such sloganeering. Vague and inflammatory talk about “a new strategic context” which is based on “clarity” and which prompts “the birth pangs of a new Middle East” is breeding intensifying anti-Americanism and is increasing the danger of a long-term collision between the United States and the Islamic world. Those in charge of U.S. diplomacy have also adopted a posture of moralistic self-ostracism toward Iran strongly reminiscent of John Foster Dulles’s attitude of the early 1950’s toward Chinese Communist leaders (resulting among other things in the well-known episode of the refused handshake). It took some two decades and a half before another Republican president was finally able to undo that legacy.

One should note here also that practically no country in the world shares the Manichean delusions that the Administration so passionately articulates. The result is growing political isolation of, and pervasive popular antagonism toward the U.S. global posture.

… After World War II, the United States prevailed in the defense of democracy in Europe because it successfully pursued a long-term political strategy of uniting its friends and dividing its enemies, of soberly deterring aggression without initiating hostilities, all the while also exploring the possibility of negotiated arrangements. Today, America’s global leadership is being tested in the Middle East. A similarly wise strategy of genuinely constructive political engagement is now urgently needed.

About the author

Political scientist, geostrategist, and statesman.  He served as United States National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981. Known for his hawkish foreign policy at a time when the Democratic Party was increasingly dovish, he is considered a foreign policy “realist”.  He is currently professor of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).  (from Wikipedia)

From Wikipedia, about his actions during and after the Carter Administration

While serving in the White House, Brzezinski emphasized the centrality of human rights as a means of placing the Soviet Union on the ideological defensive. With Jimmy Carter in Camp David, he assisted in the attainment of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. He actively supported Polish Solidarity and the Afghan resistance to Soviet invasion, and provided covert support for national independence movements in the Soviet Union. He played a leading role in normalizing US-PRC relations and in the development of joint strategic cooperation, cultivating a relationship with Deng Xiaoping, for which he is thought very highly of in mainland China to this day.

In the 1990s he formulated the strategic case for buttressing the independent statehood of Ukraine, partially as a means to ending a resurgence of the Russian Empire, and to drive Russia toward integration with the West, promoting instead “geopolitical pluralism” in the space of the former Soviet Union. He developed “a plan for Europe” urging the expansion of NATO, making the case for the expansion of NATO to the Baltic states. He also served as William Clinton’s emissary to Azerbaijan in order to promote the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline. Further, he led, together with Lane Kirkland, the effort to increase the endowment for the US–sponsored Polish-American Freedom Foundation from the proposed $112 million to an eventual total of well over $200 million.

He has consistently urged a US leadership role in the world, based on established alliances, and warned against unilateralist policies that would destroy US global credibility and precipitate US global isolation.


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10 thoughts on “Some good advice about the Iraq War from Zbigniew Brzezinski”

  1. From Mr. Brezinski

    Vague and inflammatory talk about “a new strategic context” which is based on “clarity” and which prompts “the birth pangs of a new Middle East” is breeding intensifying anti-Americanism and is increasing the danger of a long-term collision between the United States and the Islamic world.

    In a wierd way, I think Brezinski’s warning applies to Mark Steyn-esque rhetoric as well, like the article you posted the other day (“Pantybomber Exposes Naked Bureaucracy“, Mark Steyn, Orange County Register, Jan 5, 2010). Steyn appears to be arguing for racial or religious profiling by the TSA:

    Against radical Yemen-trained Muslims wearing weaponized briefs? Of course not. That would be too obvious. So instead they imposed a slew of constraints against you.

    He appears to think that such profiling would be an “obvious” good, that the TSA can’t or won’t see because they’re idiots. But has he really considered the big picture cost/benefit? If you start explicitly saying that Muslims are going to be searched more, and will be subject to different rules than everyone else because they are a special threat, you are drawing a bright line between two groups of people, the Muslims and everyone else, and saying group A is safe but group B is dangerous.

    I must admit that maybe there really is something to the idea of a “Clash of Civilizaions”. Maybe there really is a kind of low-grade tribal war, inflamed by geopolitics, going on between Muslims and “the West”. But it seems like only very few Muslims feel the magnetic field of this war, and align themselves with it. There are American Muslims like the Ft. Hood shooter. But there are so many more unlike him, as in the Juan Cole link ya posted: (“Little Support for Terrorism Among Muslim Americans“, The Pew Forum, Dec. 17, 2009):

    Support for suicide terrorism among Muslim Americans is similarly rare: 78% believe that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets to defend Islam from its enemies can never be justified, and another 5% say these types of attacks are rarely justified. Fewer than one-in-ten American Muslims say that suicide bombing is sometimes (7%) or often (1%) justified.

    I’m well aware that, in reality, many Americans already consider Muslims totally separated from them. But I find it strange that a policy of explicit demarcation of Muslims is taken as an obvious good by the Mark Steyns of the world, who don’t appear to consider that such a policy could lead to a long-term collision, as Brezinski puts it.

  2. I am very slowly (and very reluctantly) coming to the conclusion that most of the GWOT is all about internal US politics instead of suppressing terrorism. Iraq and the Af/Pak war seem to me to be noisy sideshows that are intended to distract the media and the US citizens from what is happening at home. The strategy and tactics we are using to “suppress terrorism” are pretty much guaranteed to expensively fail over the long-haul.

    The goodwill of Islamic Fundamentalists will not improve no matter how frequently we beat them. We can’t possibly kill or jail them all and killing or jailing any of them on a large scale is guaranteed to create more terrorists than originally existed. Turning their countries into failing western-style democracies won’t help because that only infuriates them even more.

    And getting us more and more heavily involved in more and more failing states is a recipe for Imperial Overstretch, not peace and prosperity.

    It has become apparent to most of the American people, as it did in the Vietnam war, that these wars are doing us vastly more harm than good and we can’t win. I expect that the US government will also come to this conclusion in the next 5-15 years and finally turn us towards the policing strategy we should have adopted in the first place.

    In the meantime, we’re stuck in these annoying, useless wars until the government has exhausted ALL non-WMD solutions and finally decides to pull out. There is going to be a tremendous amount of Kabuki theater between now and then and Mr. Brzezinski’s testimony is part of that.

    I urge you, FM, to stop playing the theater and concentrate on more useful topics. There is NOTHING in this world that will stop our militant idiots from having their little wars and almost nothing we can do at this time to change their minds or force them to change their actions.
    FM reply: About the last paragraph — Never. I utterly reject your counsel of despair and surrender.

  3. I think you misunderstand me, FM. I’m not urging you to stop posting about the Af/Pak war, I’m urging you to stop posting about the Kabuki parts and concentrate on the internal US politics that have spawned the wars and continue to feed them. If we can change the US politics for the positive the wars will likely end on their own.
    FM reply: You’re correct, I did misunderstand your comment.

  4. And let’s never forget Col Boyd’s sly footnote to his advice about keeping one’s moral stance higher than that of the opposition: ‘If you cannot realize such a political program, you might consider changing sides!’ I wonder if ZB has the address to which we should apply? Blue skies! — Dan Ford

  5. I recall reading with great approval Zbig’s remarks at the time they were uttered three years ago. The first sentence of para. 1 says it all — no comment on the Iraq War should proceed without first acknowledging that it was a catastrophic strategic error. In this light the much-acclaimed “surge” was as pointless as the Ardennes Offensive. We are on track to get our troops out in a year or so, and we should continue the steady drawdown while putting on the blinkers in response to internal political developments in Iraq. All we should endeavor to preserve is the Kurdish enclave in the north.

  6. Sorry guys. WAR is an economic and industrial necessity for America.

    If I was really so inclined I would post many links to the economic reality of the entire YEARLY WAR-MONGERING BUDGET (not yelling just “highlighting for emphasis”) and the multiplier effect thereof in the USA but suffice it to allow me to offer that we spend over $600,000,000,000.00 (Billions) per year on “basic” DOD stuff.

    Then add the Iraq/Af/Pak as “suplementary” additions outside the Budget for what….maybe another $100,000,000,000.00 (Billions) At the end of 2008 I think we had spent over $900,000,000,000.00 (Billions) so far in Iraq/Af/Pak…..directly but not to leave out the continuing care for almost 40,000 wounded men/women. PLUS add the non DOD military expenditures—like “Homeland Security Dept”, Interst on past wars, VA Benes, FBI Counter Terrorism (that alone is one third of full FBI Budget!) etc for another $300,000,000,000.00 (Billion)

    So. Well over a TRILLION bucks a year! Try maybe 5% GDP! Ha. Imagine what would happen IF we reduced that by say—–20%. Heck you would really need to cook the Statistics to even have a positive GDP without WAR! Recall we no longer have the CASH out REFI component of “GDP”
    HELOCs are so passe. Imagine a recurring Unemployment in M3 of maybe 7%?

    I mean I love FM’s “utter rejection of despair and surrender” but golly folks this baby is on a road to nowhere. Lovely calm version: Nouvelle Vague-Road to Nowhere, YouTube video.
    FM reply: This makes zero sense to me. You show how much the war costs, then say that this spending is a “necessity” for America. That’s like telling someone that their 5 foot-long tapeworm is a “necessity”.

    Military spending can quickly and easily turned off. For the extreme case, see the years following WWII. Our current wars involve a far smaller fraction of our population (the money itself can be easily re-directed), and we have learned from the experience of the post-WWII, Korea, and Vietnam War periods.

  7. FM reply: “This makes zero sense to me. You show how much the war costs, then say that this spending is a “necessity” for America.

    You sometimes amaze me with your unwillingness to observe things that conflict with the predetermined point of your Post. You are simply wrong here: I did not show you how much the “War” costs then say it is a necessity. Re-read the Reply.

    Leave the tapeworms to the Surgeons or Internists. Then have the intellectual integrity to dispute the numbers then couple that with the willingness to dispute the calculations re: DOD et. al. as a % of GDP, for example.

    I will not even ask that you back up your assertions with a Graph showing your contention that the DOD budget can be “quickly and easily” turned off (and please do not resort to Post WWII rhetoric and wishful flag waving)….we are witnessing a Country run amok just as warned by the General of WW II.

    People like ZB refuse to consider the entire Weltanschauung of the USA today and think one can tinker with a small part like Foreign Policy. I simply offer economic facts that could call that operational and cognitive orientation into question.
    FM reply: I don’t understand any of your reply.

    “a Graph showing your contention that the DOD budget can be “quickly and easily” turned ”
    This really makes no sense to me. How could a graph possibily show what we can do in the future?

    “please do not resort to Post WWII rhetoric”
    Ditto. First, I pointed not to “rhetoric” but to historical fact about our post-WWII demobilization. There were fears this would create another depression or choas. Instead it was done smoothly, although with a severe but brief recession, and relatively little social disruption. Second, the usual way to illustrate what we can do in the future is look at what we did in the past. It’s probably the strongest type of evidence in such debates.

    “simply offer economic facts”
    Yes you did, about current military spending. But you did not relate them in any convincing way to your conclusion that such spending is necessary to our prosperity (or that it could not be withdrawn without painful adjustments).

  8. From #7: “I will not even ask that you back up your assertions with a Graph showing your contention that the DOD budget can be “quickly and easily” turned off (and please do not resort to Post WWII rhetoric and wishful flag waving)….we are witnessing a Country run amok just as warned by the General of WW II.”

    Actually you’re the one I don’t get. If the USA is running amok just like Eisenhower said would happen, then do we try to stop the madness? Or do we keep running amok just like Germany & Japan did not long ago, until the rest of the world decides we are too much of a pain in the ass and decides to put the kibosh on us? Economics are important but they are somewhat flexible. The question is, how will we psychically orient ourselves?
    FM reply: All good questions! But unrelated to your original point, so far as I can tell.

  9. To the guy who says war is necessary to our economy… War is the ultimate stimulus package. It takes money from taxpayers and gives it to wasteful institutions. We end up with less overall cash because to many bureaucrats touch the money and of course squander it. War only takes money away. We don’t get any money from spending it. And it’s not really an investment either. France and China are picking up the sweet deals in Iraq. American companies are predictably unpopular there. So what gives? Where is all this profit from war coming from?
    FM reply: Is the spending on our wars conceptually (i.e., not morally) different than Japan’s stimulus spending in the past 20 years. Bridges to empty islands. Big train stations for small villages.

    This is what Richard Koo (Director of research for Nomura) predicted, that we would stimulate our economy not with worthwhile investments (e.g., building infrastructure in communications, transportation, or environmental sytems) but just flowing the money.

  10. Terrorists are backwards ass people. They are in the past. They do not exist in the future. Who really cares about all their non-sense about Allah and all this crap about virgins or not drinking alcohol, or wearing special clothing or treating women differently etc.? They are fools with emotional problems. Their kids are going to hit up iphones, the net, facebook and so on. They aren’t going to give a damn about stupid strifes blah blah blah. They’ll only care about their friends’ statuses. Come on! There is no future in the GWOT!! At least from islamic fascists anyway.

    We don’t need to play nice. We need to play Father to these Rtards. Show the kids how dumb their dads are by sniping their ass. Only idiots become terrorists because your going to die, and with enough info tech these poor kids are going to realize their isn’t really an Allah or a heaven, and that they should enjoy life.

    I suggest you guys watch the Homeless World Soccer Cup. It’s a doc I watched on Netflix. Super good. Their was an Afghan kid who got an Argentinian girl to be his girlfriend through 2 translators. It was cute as hell. He didn’t hate Americans, he hated the Taliban for keeping him away from girls.

    Just a matter of time. Free the kids and I think it will all work out. And by free them, I mean, kill the screwballs who are keeping them from having fun. Yeah, Tban and AQ.
    FM reply: To fundamentalist Islam, we are the Pied Piper — taking away their children. I discussed this in How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I.. Esp note this: The impact of western culture on Islam was clearly foreseen by Sayyid Qutb, Egyptian intellectual and Islamist (1906 – 1966) when studying in 1949 at the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley, Colorado.

    Established as a utopian community in 1870, the city proudly maintained in the 1940’s the moral rigour, temperance, and civil-mindedness that were the hallmarks of its founding fathers. Greeley’s highly touted civic virtue, however, made very little impression on Qutb. In his mind, the inhabitants of Greeley, far from representing a kinder and gentler population of Americans, carried within themselves the same moral flaws of materialism and degeneracy that were characteristic of Occidental civilization in general. He recounted how he once attended a church dance and was scandalized by the occasion’s “seductive atmosphere”. As Qutb wrote, “the dancing intensified,” and the “hall swarmed with legs”. … Qutb’s American writings are laced with such anecdotes, which reveal a strong concern with moral issues, especially concerning matters of sexuality.
    — “Sayyid Qutb in America,” ISIM Review, newsletter of the International Institute for the Study of Islam, March 2001 (PDF here)</

    “Show the kids how dumb their dads are by sniping their ass.”

    This must be the dumbest sentence among the 15,000 comments on the FM website.

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