Today's date:
Winter 2004

To Lead, United States Must Give Up Paranoiac Policies

Zbigniew Brzezinski was National Security Advisor to US President Jimmy Carter. His forthcoming book on US foreign policy is titled The Choice. This commentary was adapted from a recent talk for a session on new American strategies for the Democratic Party.

Washington -- Paradoxically, American power worldwide is at its historic zenith while its global political standing is at its nadir. Why?

Since the tragedy of 9/11, which understandably shook and outraged every American, we have increasingly embraced, at the highest official level, what fairly can be called a paranoiac view of the world. This is summarized in a phrase repeatedly used at the highest level -- 99 times since 9/11 by my count -- "He who is not with us is against us."

Let's not forget this was a phrase popularized by Lenin when he attacked the social democrats on the grounds that they were anti-Bolshevik and, therefore, " he who is not with us is against us" and can be disposed of accordingly.

There are two troubling conditions that accompany this mindset.

First, making the "war on terrorism" the central preoccupation of the United States in the world today reflects a rather narrow and extremist vision of foreign policy of the world's primary superpower, of a great democracy, with genuinely idealistic traditions.

The second troubling condition, which contributes to the crisis of credibility and to the isolation in which the US finds itself today, is the absence of a clear, sharply defined perception about what is actually happening abroad. This kind of blindness is of particular concern regarding the spread and availability of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It is terribly important not to plunge headlong into the tempting notion that we will unilaterally take preemptive action on suspicion that a country possesses WMD, which is what the doctrine right now amounts to. Absent a revitalized American intelligence service, we simply do not know enough to be able to preempt with confidence.

In recent months we have experienced what is perhaps the most significant intelligence failure in the history of the US. That failure was contributed to by extremist demagoguery that emphasizes worst-case scenarios, stimulates fear and induces a very simple dichotomous view of world reality.

All of this calls for a serious debate about America's role in the world. Can a world power provide global leadership on the basis of fear and anxiety? Can we mobilize support, particularly the support of friends, when we tell them that "you are against us if you are not with us"?

The need for such a serious debate cannot be satisfied by theologizing the challenge as "terrorism," which is "used by people who hate things" while we are "people who love things," as our highest spokesman has put it.

Terrorism is a technique for killing people. That can't be an enemy. It's as if we said that World War II was not against the Nazis but against blitzkrieg. We need to ask who is the enemy, and what springs him or her to action against us? And how can we work with those who share our values to engage the threat?

BRING EUROPE BACK INTO THE MIX | The first and most important policy shift the US should now undertake is to emphasize the enduring nature of the alliance relationship, particularly with Europe, which does share our values and interests even if it disagrees with us on specific policies.

We cannot have that relationship if we only dictate to or threaten and condemn those who disagree. Sometimes we may be right. Sometimes they may be right. But there is something transcendental about shared values that shouldn't be subordinated to tactical requirements. We should seek to cooperate with Europe, not to divide Europe into a fictitious new and a fictitious old.

And we should recognize that in some parts of the world, particularly the Middle East, Europeans have more experience and more knowledge than we do and certain interests as important as ours.

We should be therefore supporting a larger Europe as a zone of peace and prosperity in the world that is the necessary foundation for a stable international system in which American leadership could be fruitfully exercised.

Part of the process of building a larger zone of peace involves also engaging Russia and drawing it into a closer relationship simultaneously with Europe and with the euro-Atlantic community. But we can only do that if we are clear as to what we are seeking in pursuing that strategy.

Unambiguously, we ought to be seeking the promotion of democracy and decency in Russia, and not tactical help of a very specific and not always very useful type purchased at the cost of compromising our own concept of democracy. This is especially important now with the new confrontation revealed between President Vladimir Putin and the Russian business class.

I am troubled by the unqualified endorsements of a government, in which former KGB types are preponderant, as a successful democracy.

Furthermore, if Russia is to be part of this larger zone of peace it cannot bring along its imperial baggage. It cannot bring in its policy of genocide against the Chechens. It cannot kill journalists and repress the mass media.

In short, we have to consistently strive to draw in Russia while at the same time be quite unambiguous in what it is that disqualifies Russia still from genuine membership in the community of democratic, law-abiding states.

MIDDLE EAST | Whether one supported the war on not, failure in Iraq now is not an option. But what is the definition of success? More killing, more repression, more effective counter-insurgency, the introduction of newer devices of technological type to crush the resistance?

Or is it a deliberate effort to promote a political solution? Two prerequisites have to be fulfilled as rapidly as feasible for a successful political solution -- the internationalization of the foreign presence in Iraq and the transfer of power as soon as possible to a sovereign Iraqi authority.

There is nothing to be lost in prematurely declaring the Iraqi authority as sovereign if that helps it to gain political legitimacy in a country that is searching to define itself, that has been humiliated, in which there is a great deal of ambivalence, welcoming on the one hand the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as the majority does, and on the other hand resenting America's presence and domination.

The sooner America transfers sovereignty, the sooner an Iraqi authority under an international umbrella will itself become more effective in dealing with the residual terrorism and opposition that we continue to confront.

For what we face now is less a Vietnam than a Battle of Algiers, in which the Algerian Liberation Army, having been defeated in the field by the French, turned to urban bombings and assassinations to wear down the occupying power.

TWO-STATE SOLUTION ASAP | Ultimately stability in the region, of course, depends on peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinian terrorism has to be rejected and condemned, yes. But it should not be translated de facto into a policy of support for an increasingly brutal repression, colonial settlements and a new wall.

At stake is the destiny of a democratic country, Israel, to the security of which the US has been committed for more than half a century. But soon there will be no option of a two-state solution.

Soon the reality of the settlements -- which are colonial fortifications on the hill with swimming pools next to favelas below where there is no drinking water and where the population is 50 percent unemployed -- will scuttle the viability of a two-state solution with a wall that cuts up the West Bank even more and creates more human suffering.

If this continues, Israel will become increasingly like apartheid South Africa -- the minority dominating the majority, locked in a conflict from which there is no extraction. If we want to prevent this, the US above all else must identify itself with peace and help those who are the majority in Israel, who want peace and are prepared to accept peace.

All public opinion polls show that. I also believe the majority of the Jewish community in the US -- which is liberal, open-minded and idealistic -- is not committed to extremist repressions.

The political cowardice of US political leaders on this issue is unjustified. Both the Israeli people and the American Jewish community, like all Americans, prefer a moderate peaceful solution.

NON-PROLIFERATION | Fortunately, the Bush administration is learning that we can only deal with the WMD threat from North Korea and Iran by cooperation with other major powers. If we try to resolve the North Korean problem by arms alone, we will produce a violent reaction against the US in South Korea and precipitate a nuclear-armed Japan, thereby creating a whole new dual strategic dynamic with China in the Far East.

It is in the interest of the West that the theocratic despotism in Iran fade, which it is beginning to do. The revolution is in its Thermidorian phase. The young people of Iran are increasingly alienated. The women of Iran are increasingly assertive and bold. Notice the reception given to the Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi when she returned to Tehran. That is a symptom of things to come.

And if we take preemptory action we will reinforce the worst tendencies in the theocratic fundamentalist regime, as well as widen the zone of conflict in the Middle East.

Ultimately at issue is the relationship between the new requirements of security and the traditions of American idealism. We have for decades and decades played a unique role in the world because we were viewed as a society that was generally committed to certain ideals and that we were prepared to practice them at home and to defend them abroad.

Today, for the first time, America's commitment to idealism worldwide is challenged by a sense of security vulnerability. We have to be very careful in that setting not to become self-centered, preoccupied only with ourselves and subordinating everything else in the world to an exaggerated sense of insecurity.

We are going to live in an insecure world. It cannot be avoided. Like everyone else, we have to learn to live in it.