"Victory would be a Fata Morgana", Interview With Zbigniew Brzezinski
Nov 16 2006, 11:51 AM
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Author of "The Grand Chessboard":American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives
which was the Bible and the blueprint of PNAC's "Rebuilding Americas Defenses"
in an interview with German Magazine "DER SPIEGEL":
link to source
SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI (9/12/06)
"Victory Would be a Fata Morgana"
Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski discusses the errors committed
by the Bush administration in its war on terror, the disastrous campaign in Iraq,
and the risks of a global uprising against inequality.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, 78, served as National Security Advisor to US President Jimmy Carter
from 1977 to 1981. Today he is Professor of American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University's
School of Advanced International Studies and an advisor at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, in Washington, DC.
Dr. Brzezinski, President Bush compares the dangers of terrorism with the dangers
of the Cold War. He has even spoken repeatedly of a "nation at war" and will only accept
"complete victory." Is he right or is he using exaggerated rhetoric?
He is fundamentally wrong. Whether that is deliberate demagoguery or simply
historical ignorance, I do not know. For four years I was responsible for coordinating the U.S.
response in the event of a nuclear attack. And I can assure you that a nuclear war between
the United States and the Soviet Union on a comprehensive scale would have killed
160 to 180 million people within 24 hours.
No terrorist threat is comparable to that in the foreseeable future.
Moreover, terrorism is essentially a technique of killing people and not the enemy as such.
If one wages war on an invisible, unidentifiable phantom, one gets into a state of mind that
virtually promotes dangerous exaggerations and distortions of reality.
What are these distortions?
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States was energetic
and determined, and during the 40 years of the Cold War it was patient and deliberate.
In neither case did any U.S. president intentionally preach fear as the major message to the
people - on the contrary.
With his very loose formulations, the president is now creating a climate of fear that is destructive
for American morale and distorting of American policy.
Is fear, as at the thought of a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists, not something
Certainly, such a notion is not entirely unrealistic, but on the other hand we are not
confronted with the Soviet nuclear weapons arsenal. I do not wish to minimize the danger of a
single or even multiple terrorist acts, but their scale is simply not comparable.
Yet sometimes the discussions, in the United States but also in Europe, create the
impression that radical Islam has taken the place of the former Soviet Union and that some form
of Cold War is continuing.
Radical Islam is such an anonymous phenomenon that has arisen in some countries
and not in others. It has to be taken seriously, but it is still only a regional danger most prevalent
in the Middle East and somewhat east of the Middle East. And even in those regions,
Islamic fundamentalists are not in the majority.
Fear-mongering is therefore not a valid response?
We have to formulate a policy for this region which helps us to mobilize our potential
friends. Only if we cooperate with them can we contain and eventually eliminate this phenomenon.
It is a paradox: During the Cold War, our policy was directed at uniting our friends and dividing
our enemies. Unfortunately our tactics today, including occasional Islamphobic language,
have the tendency of unifying our enemies and alienating our friends.
So it is exaggerated rhetoric which ensures that Osama bin Laden is elevated to the
level of a Mao or Stalin?
Correct. And that is of course a distortion of reality - notwithstanding the fact that
Bin Laden is a killer. He is a criminal and should be presented as such, and not intentionally
elevated into a globally significant leader of a transnational, quasi-religious movement.
Has there been any progress at all in the fight against terrorism for the past five years?
Yes and no. Knock on wood. So far, there has been no repetition of a terrorist attack
in the United States, and that - as was the case with the recent plot in London - is probably partly
due to preventive measures we have taken.
Also, there is a growing realization among the modern elites in the Moslem world that Islamic
terrorism is a threat to them as well - but it is a slow process. Moreover, this process has been
handicapped, as with our invasion of Iraq, which has galvanized a lot of hostility in the Islamic
world towards the United States. Our insensitive and ambiguous posture in the Israel-Palestinian
conflict is also a very important reason for the hostility towards us. All this helps terrorism.
Is complete victory, as demanded by the president, actually possible?
That depends on your definition of victory. If we act intelligently and form the
necessary coalitions, the appeal of terrorism may diminish and limit its capacity to find
sympathizers or even would-be martyrs. Then it will probably gradually fade away.
If, however, we envision victory as the equivalent of a Hitler shooting himself in the bunker,
that will not happen. This is precisely why the whole analogy with the war is so misleading.
It is not helpful for making the public understand that we are dealing with a long-term problem
in a very volatile region, the solution of which depends on mobilizing moderate forces and
What advantages does President Bush see in his war rhetoric?
First of all it helped him get reelected - a nation at war does not dismiss its commander in chief. Secondly it enhances his ability to exercise his executive powers on a
scale no other president before him has done. This of course brings risks with it,
such as the infringement of civil rights. And, it gives him the claim that he can use the U.S.
Armed Forces as he wishes, even without congressional sanction involving a declaration of war.
Is there an inherent danger for democracy?
In the long run, yes. However, democracy is ingrained so deeply in the psyche and
fabric of American society that such a threat could only arise if such a president were able to
implement such policies over a prolonged period of time. But Bush cannot be reelected.
Therefore it will all be over in two and a half years.
European politicians have never accepted the concept of a war on terror.
Furthermore, there are fierce differences concerning interrogation techniques or prison camps
such as Guantanamo. Given such diverse opinions, how can the United States and Europe
cooperate at all?
This is exactly what makes it so difficult to deal with the problem collectively.
However, realistically one also has to take into consideration that there is, in a quiet way, extensive cooperation, especially among our police forces.
But precisely this cooperation reflects the realization that fighting terrorism is ultimately an
operation against criminal behavior. Although I share Europe's criticism about Guantanamo
and Abu Ghraib, the mistreatment and even torture of prisoners, Europeans should in their
indignation not lose sight of their own past - not the Germans, but also not the French,
who have had extensive experience in the Algerian war.
The U.S. administration has declared Iraq the central front in the war on terror,
but instead of disseminating democracy, Iraq today serves as a magnet for new terrorists.
How can the United States extricate itself from its own trap?
We should neither run nor should we seek a victory, which essentially would be a fata morgana.
We have to talk seriously with the Iraqis about a jointly set withdrawal date for the occupation
forces and then announce the date jointly. After all, the presence of these forces fuels the
insurgency. We will then find that those Iraqi leaders who agree to a withdrawal within a year or
so are the politicians who will stay there. Those who will plead with us, please, don't go,
are probably the ones who will leave with us when we leave.
That says everything we need to know about the true support Iraqi politicians have.
Would such a rapid withdrawal not leave chaos behind?
The Iraqi government would have to invite all Islamic neighbors, as far as Pakistan
and Morocco, for a stabilization conference. Most are willing to help. And when the United States
leaves, it will have to convene a conference of those donor countries that have a stake in the
economic recovery of Iraq, in particular the oil production.
That is foremost a concern of Europe and the Far East.
The donor conference will take place in the fall anyway.
Yes, but I doubt that it will create much enthusiasm as long as U.S. soldiers are in
the country indefinitely. Incidentally, this is not just my argument.
All this corresponds almost verbatim with the proposals of the new Iraqi security advisor.
Opponents of a rapid withdrawal make the case that the sectarian war between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis would become even more violent than it is already.
Everyone who knows the history of occupying armies knows that foreign armed forces
are not very effective in repressing armed resistance, insurgencies, national liberation
movements, whatever one wants to call it. They are after all foreigners, do not understand the
country and do not have access to the intelligence needed. That is the situation we are in.
Moreover, there is this vicious circle inasmuch as even professional occupying armies become
demoralized in time, which leads to acts of violence against the civilian population and thus strengthens resistance. Iraqis can deal with religiously motivated violence in their country much
better than Americans from several thousand kilometers away.
So there is no alternative to troop withdrawal, even if there is an initial escalation of violence?
Iraqis are not primitive people who need American colonial tutelage to resolve their problems.
In reality, isn't the president worried that Iraq will fail to become the model democracy
he envisages after the Americans have left?
That's for sure, and therefore any attempt to seek his definition of victory is pure
fantasy. Still, there will be a government dominated by Kurds and Shiites, and some Sunni elements.
That in itself is already an improvement compared to the regime of Saddam Hussein and
therefore at least a partial success.
Are you sure that a religious civil war can still be prevented?
Of course I cannot be sure. But was de Gaulle sure when he decided that it would be fine for France to end the Algerian war?
Everybody around him warned him of the terrible consequences of his decision.
Are you not afraid that such a religious conflict could ignite the whole region?
Quite the contrary. The longer we stay the more likely it will ignite.
The fact is that we have been there for three years and the situation today is a lot worse than it was then.
At least logically, there is some evidence to support my proposition.
Bush presented the "axis of evil" to the world.
Did he not make it all too easy for himself by simply attacking the least dangerous part of this axis?
Yes, Iraq was not dangerous.
North Korea and Iran seem to presently be very calculating.
However, Iran is a genuinely historic nation that has to play an important role in the region.
My guess is that Iran will find some form of accommodation with the rest of the world, at least
easier to achieve than for North Korea.
If negotiations with Iran fail, will America intervene militarily?
There are some members of the administration who favor that.
However, in view of the experiences in Iraq I consider it more likely that the government,
together with its allies, will impose significant sanctions, which then have to be given a few years
to show effects, which makes it highly unlikely that Bush will be the one to undertake such a
dangerous course of action.
What would be the consequences of such an attack?
The Iranians have a number of options open to them.
Among them is the destabilization of Iraq and the western part of Afghanistan as well as the
everpresent option of activating Hezbollah in Lebanon.
They could cut down oil production, damage the Saudi oil production and threaten the passage of
tankers through the Strait of Hormuz - with all the devastating consequences for the world economy.
They could of course also accelerate the production of weapons of mass destruction,
which then quite possibly would lead to renewed and more comprehensive military attacks -
a vicious circle.
You said that the United States needs solid European counsel to avoid an unrealistic
view of the world. Is Europe even in the position to give such counsel?
In the Middle East, the United States is unintentionally slipping into the role of a colonial power,
repetitive of extensive European experiences. A combination of self-interest, a sense of mission
and an arrogant ignorance resulted in Americans doing what they do right now.
Because Britain and France have had the same experiences in the past,
they have a better sense for the fact that the American course in the Middle East is a political mistake and, in the long run, also dangerous for America.
In the short run, it damages America's principles and its international legitimacy.
Do you really believe that this is the kind of advice the British Prime Minister Tony Blair delivers to Bush?
It is what he should deliver.
But I think the British made a decision after the Suez crisis in 1956 to never again collide with
the United States and to achieve an alternative source of global influence by becoming America's
There is fear in Europe that Bush could return to unilateralism should he regain
his freedom of action in foreign policy.
For that, he would miraculously have to achieve his phantom-like victory.
But that recedes ever farther. It is exactly like it was with the Soviets, who used to insist that the
victory of socialism was just over the horizon, overlooking the fact that the horizon is an
imaginary line which recedes farther as you walk towards it. Moreover, in two and a half years he
will no longer be president, and no successor will want to embrace the slogans and demagoguery
of the past three years.
Are there any conditions under which America could lose its current political supremacy?
One would only have to continue the current policies and, also, in future not give a
serious response to increasingly louder complaints of global inequality.
We are now dealing with a far more politically active mankind that demands a collective
response to their grievances from the West.
Is your demand to eradicate global inequality not as illusionary as Bush's demand that America
free the world from evil?
Achieving equality would indeed be an illusionary goal. Reducing inequality in the age of television
and Internet may well become a political necessity.
We are entering a historic stage in which people in China and India, but also in Nepal,
in Bolivia or Venezuela will no longer tolerate the enormous disparities in the human condition.
That could well be the collective danger we will have to face in the next decades.
You call it a "global political awakening."
Yes, and it is essentially a repetition, but now on a global scale, of the societal and political
awakening that occurred in France at the time of the revolution.
During the 19th century it spread through Europe and parts of the Western hemisphere,
in the 20th century it reached Japan and finally China. Now it is sweeping the rest of the world.
The Islamic countries as well?
Not really in the same way. It is a turbulent, multi-directional process which, however,
is a challenge to global stability. If the United States, Europe and Japan, but also China,
Russia and India cannot find a mechanism for effective global collaboration, we will slide
into a growing global chaos, which will be fatal to American leadership.
Therefore I consider the American leadership role vulnerable,
but irreplaceable in the foreseeable future.
Dr. Brzezinski, thank you for speaking with us.
The interview was conducted by Hans Hoyng and Georg Mascolo.
link to source
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