An elder foreign-policy statesman looks at the global fallout from the Bush doctrine.
Reviewed by David Ignatius
Sunday, February 29, 2004; Page BW05
Domination or Leadership
By Zbigniew Brzezinski. Basic. 256 pp. $25>
Few prominent foreign-policy analysts have emerged from the Iraq debate with their reputations enhanced, but Zbigniew Brzezinski is one of them. In hindsight, it's clear that his criticisms of the Bush administration's policies were generally correct and, perhaps more important, that he had the gumption to speak out even when he risked losing a place at the Establishment table by doing so.
Back in August 2002, when President Bush was making up his mind to invade Iraq, Brzezinski warned in an op-ed piece in this newspaper that war was too serious "to be undertaken because of a personal peeve, demagogically articulated fears or vague factual assertions." As late as February 2003, on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion and at a time when nearly all prominent former officials had decided to keep quiet and salute the flag, Brzezinski was still admonishing in these pages that "how and when that force is applied should be part of a larger strategy, sensitive to the risk that the termination of Saddam Hussein's regime may be purchased at too high a cost to America's global leadership."
And it was Brzezinski, again, who sounded the clearest early warning about the cost of the CIA's mistaken intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He wrote bluntly last November: "The recent conduct of U.S. foreign policy, by distorting the threats facing America, has isolated the United States and undermined its credibility." These dissents mattered because Brzezinski was a certified national-security tough guy -- the man who famously pointed his rifle sight toward Soviet troops in Afghanistan and symbolically declared war on the Soviet empire.
Given his recent acuity, Brzezinski's new book, The Choice, deserves careful attention. It is the work of a demonstrably wise man who got it right when it counted, and whose views may now offer the country some help in getting out of the woods into which it has wandered. Readers who come to The Choice expecting radical new proposals or detailed scholarship will be disappointed. It isn't that sort of book. Rather, it is the latest of a series of extended essays by Brzezinski over the past decade that have explored variations on the same theme -- the paradoxical requirement for the United States, even in its new role as the world's only superpower, to work effectively with other nations to achieve its ends.
Brzezinski's argument may seem thumpingly obvious today, but it was easy enough to ignore a year ago: The Bush administration got off the track of leadership when it tried to impose its view of Iraq on reluctant allies; it will regain that path of leadership only when it assembles a strong alliance of support. Attempts to impose American dominance will be self-defeating, in Brzezinski's view, because they will undermine the structure of collective security that only America can uphold. That collective commitment is crucial, given the likelihood that it may take America and its allies years to stabilize the mess in Iraq. Brzezinski especially stresses the importance of Europe as a security partner for a powerful America. He writes that "an essentially multilateralist Europe and a somewhat unilateralist America make for a perfect global marriage of convenience. . . . Neither America nor Europe could do as well without the other. Together, they are the core of global stability."
This analysis is powerful because it is rooted in the entirety of Brzezinski's intellectual life and public service. As a Polish refugee, he understood the fragility of a Europe that had come apart in 1914 and 1939 -- and the need after 1945 for a militarily strong America to contain the Soviets. As Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, he was early to see the vulnerability of the Soviet empire; and, by challenging the Soviets' 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, he set the stage for the great rollback of the Reagan years. But Brzezinski wasn't simply a sturdy Cold Warrior; like Henry Kissinger, the other European-born former national security adviser, with whom he is inevitably compared, he was shaped by European ideas of mutual security and a stable "balance of power."
Brzezinski's stress on the indispensability of European-American partnership is what brought him to prominence in the first place. Back in the early 1970s, he was director of the Trilateral Commission, an organization now so shrouded in conspiratorial mist that it's easy to forget that its original mission was simply to encourage greater dialogue among the three global power centers -- the United States, Europe and what was then a robust Japan. Brzezinski recounts in his memoir Power and Principle that he went looking for a governor "who would be congenial to the Trilateral perspective" -- and found Jimmy Carter.
By 1975, he had become Carter's main foreign policy adviser. When Carter became president in 1977, he made Brzezinski his national security adviser, giving him the same corner office of the West Wing where Nixon had installed Kissinger. The Carterites used to joke about Brzezinski's Henry-esque hunger for the public spotlight; the memoirs of Carter's chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, even included a wicked mention of Brzezinski's habit of "slipping positive articles and editorials about himself into the President's 'in' box." Carter understood Brzezinski's abrasiveness, and also his brilliance. "Next to members of my family, Zbig would be my favorite seatmate on a long-distance trip; we might argue, but I would never be bored," Carter wrote in his own memoirs.
That passion to teach (and to provoke and occasionally to lecture) is still Brzezinski's style. The Choice barrels along through its mega-themes -- from the danger of America's garrison state to the threat of a new global inequality based on biotechnology -- sometimes with only scant exposition. Some topics will seem like rewrites from his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard. (The "Global Balkans" in the new book looks very much like "The Global Zone of Percolating Violence" in the previous one; it has wider boundaries than the "Eurasian Balkans" of '97, when Brzezinski was more worried about an imploding Russia than about Iraq and Pakistan.) And in its bold highlighting of topics, The Choice occasionally seems halfway between a book and a PowerPoint presentation. But these are quibbles.
Brzezinski emerges from the carnage and confusion of Iraq with an enhanced role as one of the nation's most important voices on foreign policy. That he has been saying pretty much the same thing for 30 years only makes his message more powerful. •
David Ignatius is an op-ed columnist and associate editor of The Washington Post and the author of five novels.