Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Path out of Bush's 'Manichean' Abyss

At last, a Plan.

Wikipedia introduces Zbigniew Brzezinski as a Polish-American political scientist, geostrategist, and statesman. He served as United States National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981. He was known for his hawkish foreign policy at a time when the Democratic Party was increasingly dovish. He is a foreign policy realist, he is currently a professor of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

I remember him as the co-author of my college textbook on totalitarianism. Today, he testified before the recently liberated Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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.

It is obvious by now that the American national interest calls for a significant change of direction. There is in fact a dominant consensus in favor of a change: American public opinion now holds that the war was a mistake; that it should not be escalated, that a regional political process should be explored; and that an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation is an essential element of the needed policy alteration and should be actively pursued. It is noteworthy that profound reservations regarding the Administration's policy have been voiced by a number of leading Republicans. One need only invoke here the expressed views of the much admired President Gerald Ford, former Secretary of State James Baker, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and several leading Republican senators, John Warner, Chuck Hagel, and Gordon Smith among others.

The urgent need today is for a strategy that seeks to create a political framework for a resolution of the problems posed both by the US occupation of Iraq and by the ensuing civil and sectarian conflict. Ending the occupation and shaping a regional security dialogue should be the mutually reinforcing goals of such a strategy, but both goals will take time and require a genuinely serious U.S. commitment.

The quest for a political solution for the growing chaos in Iraq should involve four steps:
  1. The United States should reaffirm explicitly and unambiguously its determination to leave Iraq in a reasonably short period of time.

    Ambiguity regarding the duration of the occupation in fact encourages unwillingness to compromise and intensifies the on-going civil strife. Moreover, such a public declaration is needed to allay fears in the Middle East of a new and enduring American imperial hegemony. Right or wrong, many view the establishment of such a hegemony as the primary reason for the American intervention in a region only recently free of colonial domination. That perception should be discredited from the highest U.S. level. Perhaps the U.S. Congress could do so by a joint resolution.

  2. The United States should announce that it is undertaking talks with the Iraqi leaders to jointly set with them a date by which U.S. military disengagement should be completed, and the resulting setting of such a date should be announced as a joint decision. In the meantime, the U.S. should avoid military escalation.

    It is necessary to engage all Iraqi leaders -- including those who do not reside within "the Green Zone" -- in a serious discussion regarding the proposed and jointly defined date for U.S. military disengagement because the very dialogue itself will help identify the authentic Iraqi leaders with the self-confidence and capacity to stand on their own legs without U.S. military protection. Only Iraqi leaders who can exercise real power beyond "the Green Zone" can eventually reach a genuine Iraqi accommodation. The painful reality is that much of the current Iraqi regime, characterized by the Bush administration as "representative of the Iraqi people," defines itself largely by its physical location: the 4 sq. miles-large U.S. fortress within Baghdad, protected by a wall in places 15 feet thick, manned by heavily armed U.S. military, popularly known as "the Green Zone."

  3. The United States should issue jointly with appropriate Iraqi leaders, or perhaps let the Iraqi leaders issue, an invitation to all neighbors of Iraq (and perhaps some other Muslim countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Pakistan) to engage in a dialogue regarding how best to enhance stability in Iraq in conjunction with U.S. military disengagement and to participate eventually in a conference regarding regional stability.

    The United States and the Iraqi leadership need to engage Iraq's neighbors in serious discussion regarding the region's security problems, but such discussions cannot be undertaken while the U.S. is perceived as an occupier for an indefinite duration. Iran and Syria have no reason to help the United States consolidate a permanent regional hegemony. It is ironic, however, that both Iran and Syria have lately called for a regional dialogue, exploiting thereby the self-defeating character of the largely passive -- and mainly sloganeering -- U.S. diplomacy.

    A serious regional dialogue, promoted directly or indirectly by the U.S., could be buttressed at some point by a wider circle of consultations involving other powers with a stake in the region's stability, such as the EU, China, Japan, India, and Russia. Members of this Committee might consider exploring informally with the states mentioned their potential interest in such a wider dialogue.

  4. Concurrently, the United States should activate a credible and energetic effort to finally reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace, making it clear in the process as to what the basic parameters of such a final accommodation ought to involve.

    The United States needs to convince the region that the U.S. is committed both to Israel's enduring security and to fairness for the Palestinians who have waited for more than forty years now for their own separate state. Only an external and activist intervention can promote the long-delayed settlement for the record shows that the Israelis and the Palestinians will never do so on their own. Without such a settlement, both nationalist and fundamentalist passions in the region will in the longer run doom any Arab regime which is perceived as supportive of U.S. regional hegemony.
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.

It is also time for the Congress to assert itself.

15 Moderated Comments:

Blogger Messenger said...

Zbig-man says,
"It is necessary to engage all Iraqi leaders -- including those who do not reside within "the Green Zone"

It's a stretch for me and probably farther than Brzezinski would go, but I take him to mean to turn things over more to the indigenous tribal godfathers, militias and even the VIGILANTES! What an idea! Works for me! Let's get out now!

2/06/2007 07:06:00 AM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

I'll go along with you, Messenger, with your construction of Brzezinski's implications.

At the same time, I have to observe there's no bigger international vigilante than George W. Bush. He's a professional embarrassment.

I've said that before, I think.

2/06/2007 07:47:00 AM  
Blogger GetaLife-ReadUrNews said...

The Senate Republicans block the Iraq-Nam debate? They clearly want to own Bush's quagmire, lock, stock and barrel.

2/06/2007 08:10:00 AM  
Blogger skip sievert said...

Mr. Zbig is saying some interesting things. When this guy and the Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations are against you , you are no longer even kind of mainstream Political crooks.
Vigilante, perhaps you could publish a few comments by the current leader of the Council on Foreign Relations also. I think that Richard there is also somewhat in Mr. Zbigs camp.
Now. What are our serve and protect Generals going to do.?
Trouble is brewing.
I would just hate to be Bu$h right now.
A day of reckoning comes.
Sooner , ... or ..

2/06/2007 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger DB Cooper said...

Hitchhiking on Messenger's indigenous tribal godfathers, militias and even the vigilantes, does it not occur to us that Bush's regime change has accomplished nothing but creating hundreds of Saddams?

2/06/2007 08:50:00 PM  
Blogger DB Cooper said...

Where there had been only one?

2/06/2007 08:51:00 PM  
Blogger Indicted Plagiarist said...

In November '06, Brzezinski appeared on CNN's Late Edition with Henry Kissinger and said Iraq

. . . .already is the new Afghanistan. In fact, the lethality is much higher. But the point to understand is that if you undertake a historically mistaken adventure, the longer you stick with it, the higher the cost you pay for it.

Blitzer asked Brzezinski if he were comparing it to Vietnam. Brzezinski went on:

Yes, ours — or to Algeria. And when Henry says that the Baker commission is going to help us resolve it, I think that’s an illusion. The Baker commission will probably come out with some sound advice on dealing with the neighborhood, with Iran, with the Israeli- Palestinian issues, which is relevant but essentially will offer some procrastination ideas for dealing with the crisis.

The fact of the matter is, the undertaking itself is fundamentally wrong-headed. And I’ve been arguing this on your program with Henry for the last three years. And I invite viewers to go on the Internet and look what we have been saying, respectively.

This is a mistaken, absolutely historically wrong undertaking. The costs are prohibitive. If we get out sooner, there will be a messy follow-up after we leave. It will be messy, but will not be as messy as if we stay, seeking to win in some fashion.

2/06/2007 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger Non-Partisàn said...

Get-A-Life, remember their names if you can't remember their faces.

2/07/2007 08:26:00 AM  
Blogger Recidivist said...

The American people have only two enemies: Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda and George Bush's Neoconservatives.

2/07/2007 09:17:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Quite correct. Iraqi Shi'ites and Sunnis are not our enemies once we remove ourselves from Iraquagmire, and Bush from the White House, whichever comes first. Of the remaining two, GWB has hurt the American people more than OBL, by a wide margin.

2/08/2007 06:43:00 AM  
Blogger skip sievert said...

Bush himself has done nothing. Only been rewarded for bad behavior that they system demands for success in the economy. It is the system that demands constant growth and warfare is how we achieve that. Congress O.K.`d Bush and the war , and now has abrogated any duty to the American people , by not pulling the plug on the war.
It is a systemic problem with our Price System dysfunctional governance at base that is the problem. Our very system is a failure , and the longer we hang on to it the worse things will become.
Our system values only money , and when choices are made using that as the arbiter of judgment , all choices ultimately are wrongly made, profit being the only goal.
Not only Bush is a miserable failure.
Our system is a miserable failure.
Things are compounded now with resource destruction, and population growth.
Our Class/Caste system has become more and more striated.
Wrong choices pile up , and will threaten our survival in this Price System.
Change is possible. If we try to grasp and keep this current bubble of disaster , we will destroy our resource base.

2/08/2007 09:04:00 AM  
Anonymous J.G.B. said...

Nonpartison, the Republicans are so frightened of public opinion that they won't even allow debate on the resolutions opposing President Bush's "surge" (despite the fact that the resolutions are nonbinding and that Bush has indicated that he thinks he's above the law anyway)? Incredible.

The American people might not have been paying attention four years ago when Bush manipulated Congress into approving his war, but they're watching now. And if you think there was a Democratic landslide in 2006, just wait until 2008.

2/09/2007 05:14:00 AM  
Blogger Urbanpink said...

I'm very interested to read Brzezinski's analysis closely again. I saw him on the Lehrer newshour and was really impressed with his observation that this war is anti-historical...a colonial attempt in a post-colonial world. It so consisely undermines its existence that the logic follows that we must stop, NOW. However, I'm suspicous of Brzezinski's hawkishness during Carter's presidency--so I want to parse out his judgements there.

Skip, the evidence is that Bush/Cheney chose Iraq in particular. For the oil or for some Freudian father battering, or both, and the Neocons have a very dangerous and twisted idealogical theology motivating them that involves the Middle East in particular. Every time I see a Neocon sympathizer on TV I think I'm seeing an alien--these people just don't seem real--unfortunately they are very real and running our country right now, quoting textbooks to justify their actions and reasonings. If going to war in Iraq was just an economic move, why couldn't we stay in Afghanistan longer and keep that LONG war raging for years? We could also fashion a separate and endless war on terror that funded our military with special ops that fight around the world...aka Team America. I'm not advocating any of these endless actions, but it seems like we could easily justify Military spending without Iraq, in other words, without an OBVIOUS UULUIUOI.

2/15/2007 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

An excellent criticism of Skip's materialist dialectic dogma, Pinks! I don't think he will respond, though. And if he does, he runs the risk of triggering my recently-installed Beta-tested anti-spam software. But, he's an artful dodger; he may be able to cover most your points without mentioning his 'price system'!

2/15/2007 06:26:00 PM  
Blogger LTE said...

I read the statements by the various presidential contenders, and I must say one stood out — the only one to demonstrate a broad, international geopolitical understanding and provide a comprehensive strategy including military, political, and social components. The best statement was the one by Brzezinski. Of course, he's not a native-born citizen, and he is almost 80 years old. So, the next best thing would be: Tell us who he is advising.

Why do the Republicans in Congress keep insisting that there is no other plan for Iraq than the "surge" proposed by President Bush? Zbigniew Brzezinski has given a thoughtful four-point plan in Sunday's Times. But it seems as though the president's supporters have simply closed their minds to alternatives.

Let's drop the euphemisms for a moment. If Brzezinski is right, Bush is reckless and incompetent for pushing the United States toward an even more catastrophic war in the Middle East. I think he's right. Is anyone paying attention?

2/17/2007 09:21:00 AM  

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