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March 12, 2007 All Things Considered National
Brzezinski Grades Presidents, U.S. Foreign Policy
The most optimistic note in Zbigniew Brzezinski's book about current U.S. foreign policy is the title, Second Chance.
(Excerpt and interview below)
Washington has squandered its first chance at global leadership, says
Brzezinski, who was national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter.
Excerpt: 'Second Chance'
Each of the three presidents since America's victory in the Cold War has been
the world's most important player in the world's most important game, and each
has played in his own way. At this stage, suffice it to say that Global Leader
I [George H.W. Bush] was the most experienced and diplomatically skillful but
was not guided by any bold vision at a very unconventional historic moment.
Global Leader II [Bill Clinton] was the brightest and most futuristic, but he
lacked strategic consistency in the use of American power. Global Leader III [George W.
Bush] had strong gut instincts but no knowledge of global complexities and a
temperament prone to dogmatic formulations.
TEN MAJOR TURNING POINTS, 1990–200606
2. The U.S. military victory in the first Gulf War is politically wasted.
Middle Eastern peace is not pursued. Islamic hostility toward the United States
begins to rise.
3. NATO and the European Union expand into Eastern Europe. The Atlantic
community emerges as the predominant influence on the world scene.
4. Globalization is institutionalized with the creation of the World Trade
Organization, the new role of the International Monetary Fund with its bailout
fund, and the increased anticorruption agenda of the World Bank. "Singapore
issues" become the foundation for the Doha Round of WTO negotiations.
5. The Asian financial crisis sets the foundation for a nascent East Asian
regional community, to be characterized either by Chinese dominance or by Sino-
Japanese competition. China's admission to the WTO encourages its ascent as a
major global economic player and a center of regional trade agreements with
politically more assertive and impatient poorer countries.
6. Two Chechen wars, the NATO conflict in Kosovo, and Vladimir Putin's election
as president of Russia contribute to a rise in Russian authoritarianism and
nationalism. Russia exploits its gas and oil resources to become an assertive
7. Facing a permissive attitude from the United States and others, India and
Pakistan defy world public opinion to become nuclear powers. North Korea and
Iran intensify their covert efforts to acquire nuclear capabilities in the face
of inconsistent and inconsequential U.S. efforts to induce their self-
8. September 11, 2001, shocks the United States into a state of fear and the
pursuit of unilateral policies. The United States declares war on terror.
9. The Atlantic community splits over the U.S. war in Iraq. The European Union
fails to develop its own political identity or clout.
10. The post–1991 worldwide impression of U.S. global military omnipotence and
Washington's illusions about the extent of America's power have been shattered
by U.S. failures in postvictory Iraq. The United States acknowledges the need
for cooperation with the European Union, China, Japan, and Russia regarding
major issues of global security. The Middle East becomes the make-or-break test
case of U.S. leadership.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I’m Robert Siegel. The most optimistic note in
Zbigniew Brzezinski’s book about current U.S. foreign policy is the title,
“Second Chance.” In the view of Brzezinski, who was national security advisor
in the Carter White House, Washington has squandered its first chance at global
leadership. Brzezinski writes about our three most recent presidents, the only
three leaders who have led the U.S. after the Cold War, after Washington’s
Soviet rival imploded. And Dr. Brzezinski, ever the political science
professor, gives grades to George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush
with their conduct of foreign policy. The elder Bush scores the best.
Mr. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI (Author, “Second Chance”): The overall grade for
him, I give him a B. Missed opportunities, though initially a great tactical
performance. Clinton gets C because he did some good things, but he had eight
years to do some major things and he was too self-indulgent and too
deterministic in his attitude to do more than he might have done, and he
didn’t. So he gets a C. And then the third one is, of course, our current
SIEGEL: I think we can hear it coming, yes.
SIEGEL: I hope you’re grading in the way that you graded, say, when you
were a professor back at Columbia some time ago. This is the current era of
grade inflation because those would be terribly bad grades into the
SIEGEL: Not to get a fat head.
SIEGEL: I see.
If we surmount the next 20 months without the war in Iraq getting worse and
expanding to a war with Iran, I think there’s a good chance we’ll recoup
because we still have the potential to recoup. But if we do get into that
larger conflict, then I’m afraid the era of American global preeminence will
prove to be historically very, very short.
SIEGEL: There’s an area of the world that you speak of, you write of, as
the global Balkans, and it stretches from the Middle East off into western
China, where there are Muslim minorities. The global Balkans, capable of what
we saw in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s?
SIEGEL: You write a great deal about the possibility of China and Russia
developing a deeper strategic partnership and presenting real competition to
the United States in that region and generally around the world. What evidence
is there, first of all, that the Chinese and the Russians have overcome the
mutual suspicions of the communist era?
And secondly, the Chinese are also significantly expanding their dependence on
energy supplied by Russia, and that of course is critical to their economic
development. And they are beginning to cooperate on some international issues
For example, their position on Iran is certainly closer between the two of them
than either of them with us.
SIEGEL: You quote - I believe its Raymond Aron, the French political
philosopher as saying that - I believe he’s saying that power in the world is
wielded only effectively in this era when it’s attached to some idea. And one
thing that I found very interesting in your analysis is that while we all have
come to identify Bush II foreign policy with neo-conservatism, you find that
the idea in Clinton foreign policy, which was globalization, was an embrace of
globalization - do you detect on the political scene right now any large idea
that any of the potential presidents who might be elected next time out have
attached themselves to?
But whether we can become identified with that appreciation of diversity, which
means tolerance for other people’s views; dignity, which means social justice
for people who live in an age in which they know that social injustice exists
because they see it on television, through Internet; and only through that
process with democracy, whether that may not be too complicated an option for a
large populace democracy such as America is.
SIEGEL: Well, Zbigniew Brzezinski, thank you very much for talking with
SIEGEL: Former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. He’s the
author of “Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American
Superpower.” You can read Dr. Brzezinski’s list of the 10 key events which have
shaped U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War at our Web site,
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