One of America’s most influential foreign policy advisors over the past several decades has been Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor under President Jimmy Carter. His new book “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power” contends that the United States cannot afford to be the world’s police force.
No single country today has the power to enforce its will around the globe. U.S. attempts to do so could lead to bankruptcy and social unrest at home — much as the Soviet Union’s attempt to impose its will in Asia by invading Afghanistan led to bankrupting itself through excessive defense spending and to the eventual breakup of their union.
Polish born Brzezinski opposed George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. However, in 1979 he advised President Carter to support the Afghan “mujahideen,” anti-Soviet Muslim fighters. He explains away the contradiction by saying that it was necessary to oppose Russian expansionism as the Cold War was in full swing at the time.
Today, in view of the resurgence of Asia, he advises that in order to have a global balance of power, it is necessary for Europe and America to enlist the support of countries like Russia and Turkey to settle the thorny issues that have arisen in the Middle East.
After all, Russian (along with Chinese) vetoes in the U.N. Security Council have hindered international condemnation of the Syrian government’s bloody reprisals against internal opposition, and Turkey shares a long border with Syria.
What about China?
The former national security advisor believes that avoiding a direct confrontation would be wise. The two countries are in the same position as in the fable of the scorpion crossing the river on the back of the turtle. If the scorpion stings the turtle both will drown, and if the turtle tries to dump the scorpion off its back, it will get stung.
Likewise if the U.S. starts a trade war with China by imposing high tariffs on Chinese-made goods, the Chinese may stop buying U.S. debt instruments (i.e. loaning us money). Both countries’ economies would suffer greatly.
As a Harvard professor in the 1960s, Brzezinski voiced opposition to the Vietnam War, and later even President Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara wrote in his memoir of the war years that U.S. participation in that conflict had been an enormous mistake.
Although Brzezinski has held advisory positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations, he has been an Obama supporter since 2008. Recently, Brzezinski has been criticized for suggesting that the U.S. must not further destabilize the Middle East by attacking Iran as he believes this would be an act of “unilateralism” and would further isolate America from much of the rest of the world.
Furthermore, he has stated that America should not sit idly by and allow Israel to attack Iran — for much the same reason.
Remarkably, Brzezinski’s views on foreign policy do not differ greatly from presidential candidate Ron Paul, who has been accused of “isolationism.” Paul wants to close many of the 900 military bases that the U.S. maintains overseas in over a hundred countries and subtracting military spending overseas and bringing it back home could help America’s balance of payments and the economy.
If countries like Iraq, Afghanistan or perhaps Iran or Syria constitute an immediate threat to the national security of the United States, then it is the president’s responsibility to bring that information to the joint session of Congress to obtain a declaration of war. The president should never exercise war powers without an act of Congress.
The 83-year-old Brzezinski’s legacy will probably be a mixed bag for historians. Some will point to the fact that Iran under the Shah was a staunch U.S. ally, but became fanatically anti-U.S. under the Ayatollah Khomeini. This was while Brzezinski was serving Jimmy Carter as national security advisor.
Also in 1979, Carter signed the Torrijos-Carter treaty, which relinquished U.S. control over the Panama Canal. During the same year the C.I.A. started funding the anti-Soviet Muslim fighters in Afghanistan, which included radical elements of the Pakistani intelligence services as well as the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda.
On the positive side, efforts to support Eastern European countries like Poland, the Ukraine and the Baltic states, succeeded eventually in freeing them from Soviet domination and allowed President Reagan to tell Soviet President Gorbachev in his famous speech in Berlin to “tear down this wall.”
Dan Norvell, who has a M.A. in international studies, retired to Danville after a career in educational publishing and more than 20 years working overseas.