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America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy Paperback – September 1, 2009
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From "The Washington Post"
Reviewed by Moises Naim
As octogenarian white guys with high-level U.S. foreign policy experience go, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft could not be more different. Brzezinski was born in Poland and Scowcroft in Utah. The former made his name as a professor at Harvard and Columbia, the latter as a general in the Air Force. Brzezinski became Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, and Scowcroft was Richard Nixon's military assistant before serving as national security adviser to Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush. Today, Scowcroft is one of the Republican Party's elder statesmen in the foreign policy arena, while Brzezinski plays a similar role for the Democrats.
Given the bitterness of partisan debates about foreign policy, now exacerbated by a tight race for the presidency, one might expect Brzezinski and Scowcroft to disagree vehemently about the challenges America faces abroad, the decisions that have shaped the nation's current travails and what the next president should do. Instead, they seem to see eye to eye on nearly every major foreign policy issue facing the United States. We know this because last spring Washington Post columnist David Ignatius sat down with both men for several days of wide-ranging discussion. America and the World is an edited transcript of their conversations. And, contrary to the operative assumption behind Sunday morning TV talk shows, it turns out that two wise interlocutors who concur can be as interesting and informative as experts with completely divergent views.
One of the issues on which Brzezinski and Scowcroft largely agree is Iraq. When the idea of striking Iraq was first floatedin the aftermath of 9/11, both voiced doubts about its wisdom. For Scowcroft, criticizing the invasion must have been particularly difficult, given his close ties to the Bush family. Nonetheless, he published a prescient article in the Wall Street Journal titled, "Don't Attack Saddam." In that August 2002 piece, Scowcroft warned that invading Iraq would "seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken" and would be "very expensive -- with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy." But in this book, Ignatius ably steers Scowcroft and Brzezinski beyond criticism of the decisions that led to war and toward consensus on what to do now: Exit slowly -- and only after a more stable regional context has been nurtured, especially by engaging Iran and reinvigorating the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
As Scowcroft and Brzezinski move on to discuss China, Russia and Europe, a central point they repeatedly make is that the United States must shed the bunker mentality that has infused its foreign policy since 9/11. According to Ignatius, both men want "to restore a confident, forward leaning America. . . . Their idea of a twenty-first century American superpower is a nation that reaches out to the world -- not to preach but to listen and cooperate and, where necessary, compel."
That position, in turn, is rooted in a recognition of what Brzezinski calls the global political awakening. "For the first time in history," he contends, "all of the world is politically activated . . . creating massive intolerance, impatience with inequality . . . jealousies, resentment, more rapid immigration." These demands fordignity and higher living standards (which governments often are unable to meet), coupled with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, lead Brzezinski to observe ominously that "today, it's much easier to kill a million people than to govern a million restless, stirred-up, impatient people."
To both Scowcroft and Brzezinski, the conviction that globalization is spreading not just trade and technology, but also resentment and impatience, is cause "for flexibility, for openness, for a willingness to talk with friends and enemies alike," as Ignatius summarizes their views. Their advice is reminiscent of George W. Bush's remark in a 2000 presidential debate: "If we are an arrogant nation they will resent us. If we are a humble nation, but strong, they will welcome us." The next president would do well to heed their counsel but should not underestimate the difficulty of sticking to it. -
Moises Naim is editor in chief of "Foreign Policy" magazine
From "The New York Times"
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani
In the months before the American invasion of Iraq, among the few members of the foreign policy establishment to speak out forcefully about the dangers of going to war unilaterally against Saddam Hussein were Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to the first President Bush, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter.
In August 2002 Mr. Scowcroft warned that a "virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq" would degrade "international cooperation with us against terrorism," and he presciently predicted that such a war "would not be a cakewalk," as some members of the George W. Bush administration contended, but could involve "a large-scale, long-term military occupation" and "would be very expensive -- with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy."
That same month Mr. Brzezinski cautioned that "war is too serious a business and too unpredictable in its dynamic consequences -- especially in a highly flammable region -- to be undertaken because of a personal peeve, demagogically articulated fears or vague factual assertions." In February 2003, he added that "an America that decides to act essentially on its own regarding Iraq" could "find itself quite alone in having to cope with the costs and burdens of the war's aftermath, not to mention widespread and rising hostility abroad."
In a trenchant new book, "America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy," Mr. Brzezinski and Mr. Scowcroft (along with the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, acting as moderator) incisively discuss the fallout of the Bushadministration's war in Iraq, including the empowerment of Iran, the recruitment of more terrorists and the inflaming of hatreds within the region. They also survey the foreign policy landscape as a whole: the consequences of globalization, the rise of China as a new economic behemoth, the ambitions of a new Russia under the leadership of Vladimir V. Putin and Dmitri A. Medvedev.
Their wide-ranging dialogue gives the reader an acute sense of the daunting challenges (including nuclear proliferation, global warming and terrorism) confronted by America in a rapidly changing international environment, even as it emphasizes the importance of the coming presidential election in picking a leader to grapple with those issues at what could well be a hinge moment in modern history.
In addition to the continuing problems in Iraq, Mr. Scowcroft says, there exists now the overarching "possibility of a general Middle East conflict in which the costs of Iraq would look minuscule." Both he and Mr. Brzezinski underscore the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process -- which they suggest could change the psychology of the region and act as a catalyst for dealing with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran -- and both stress the importance of the next president's engaging in that process immediately.
"We have an unusual moment now," says Mr. Scowcroft, noting: "We have an Israeli government that is weak. We have a Palestinian entity that is weak. And, really for the first time, we have Arab countries ready to support a solution." He adds that "the region is incredibly fragile right now" and worries about the time it will take for the new president to get up to speed.
Although they come from opposite sides of the political aisle (Mr. Scowcroft is a Republican, Mr. Brzezinski a Democrat), both are foreign policy realists who believe that the United States must constructively engage with a rapidly changing world, not react defensively to it. And while they disagree on aspects of the expansion of NATO and the timing of an American withdrawal from Iraq (Mr. Scowcroft says that "simply withdrawing is an impediment to a solution," while Mr. Brzezinski contends that America's continuing presence there is "part of the problem"), they agree on a remarkable number of basic strategic and diplomatic principles.
Unlike neoconservative ideologues in the current administration, the two former national security advisers say that talks with hostile parties can be a useful tool, and they argue that in the wake of 9/11, the Manichean language employed by President Bush has alienated allies and aggravated resentments in many parts of the world.
They point to the importance of alliances in an increasingly complicated and interconnected world. And they object to what Mr. Scowcroft refers to as the propagation of "an environment of fear" at home, which Mr. Brzezinski says has made Americans "more susceptible to demagogy" and to "a fearful paranoia that the outside world is conspiring through its massive terrorist forces to destroy us."
What makes these discussions between Mr. Brzezinski and Mr. Scowcroft so bracing is their combination of common sense and an ability to place America's relationship with a particular country in both a historical perspective and a regional context of competing interests and threats. Their book should be required readingnot only for the next president elect but also for any voters concerned with the foreign policy issues that will be on the next administration's plate.
"An accessible survey of important questions..."
"The American Conservative"
"In the coming years, we can only hope that policymakers embrace the enlightened realism of Brzezinski and Scowcroft."
.,"had Sarah Palin read this handy primer before the election, she might have had more to talk about than the view of Russia. The rest of America should read it now to understand what lies before us."
About the Author
Brent Scowcroft is president of The Scowcroft Group, an international business and financial advisory firm. He served as National Security Advisor to both President Ford and President George H.W. Bush and the Military Assistant to President Nixon. He is the coauthor, with former President George H.W. Bush, of A World Transformed. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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Top Customer Reviews
But there is another tradition as well, involving agreement on broad principles - the Monroe Doctrine, the containment policy of the Cold War - as well as restraint in name-calling and judging motivations - dissent is not termed un-American and intelligence mistakes are not called lies - combined with a vigorous bipartisanship that actively seeks consensus.
When this tradition is ascendant, as it was, for example, in the 1940s, American foreign policy tends to be more successful than when it is not, for example, in the Vietnam era and since 2003.
This book, as defined in its introduction, is "an experiment to see if a prominent Democrat and a prominent Republican - speaking only for themselves and not for or against either party - could find common ground for a new start in foreign policy." The experiment succeeded, and it produced what its dust jacket blurb correctly calls "a deeply informed and provocative book that defines the center of responsible opinion on American foreign policy."
The book consists of a series of discussions during the spring of 2008 between Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to Jimmy Carter, and Brent Scowcroft, who held the same position under Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, moderated by David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist and former Executive Editor of the International Herald Tribune.
Brzezinski and Scowcroft might be considered foreign policy realists, in that they tend to begin with consideration of the national interest. But they both resist categorization as realists or idealists, agreeing that U.S. policy must strike a balance between the extremes of either school, combining power with principle, acknowledging limitations, and recognizing that everything can't be done at once.
They agree that the next president should stress bipartisanship in his foreign policy.
Here are some other important points of agreement:
A Cold War mindset that obscures new global realities, including the reduced role of the nation state, persists among U.S. policymakers.
The United States has become "too frightened in this age of terrorism, too hunkered down behind physical and intellectual walls."
While the "global center of gravity" is shifting toward Asia, a strong Atlantic community is vital for the United States as well as Europe, and the West will remain pre-eminent for some time.
Chances are good that China can be peacefully assimilated into the international system, and there is no need for the United States to choose between China and Japan as its principal "anchor point" in Asia.
A vigorous U.S. effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem should be a high priority for the next president.
In spite of its limitations and current problems, the United States remains the country most able to "exercise enlightened leadership" for the global community.
There are also some significant points of disagreement:
While both publicly opposed the invasion of Iraq before it was launched, Scowcroft believes it has "created new conditions" requiring that we stabilize the situation before leaving. As he put it, "I think simply withdrawing is an impediment to a solution. And Zbig thinks it helps."
Both believe that Russia is trying to re-assert pre-eminence in the territory of the former USSR, especially Georgia and Ukraine; both are skeptical of the utility of putting missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic; but Brzezinski favors the option of NATO membership for Ukraine while Scowcroft opposes it.
Scowcroft is more concerned than Brzezinski about a nuclear Iran, fearing that "we stand on the cusp of a great flowering of proliferation if Iran is not contained in its attempt to develop a capability for nuclear weapons;" but neither seems to have a good prescription for thwarting this development other that continuing the thus-far-futile effort to mobilize greater international pressure.
These wise men agree that U.S. policy has not adapted well to a world that is changing in fundamental ways. They want to "restore a confident, forward-looking America," and they are optimistic about the country's future - but only if it "can rise to the challenge of dealing with the world as it now is, not as we wish it to be."
I love the format. You feel like you are sitting with Brzezinski, Scowcroft and Ignatius just listening as a child who seemingly should be in bed would sit on the stairway listening to grownups talk about important issues in the living room below.
What I especially like is the way you can stop and ponder what they are saying, or look up a point that is unfamiliar to you on the internet. I am new to foreign policy, and I'm hooked. A glossary or endnotes and a map would have been nice since many events, terms, etc. are new to me (what is the "green zone" or the "Perm Five", etc.) but this should not deter anyone.
I also like the gentlemenly way they discuss differing points of views as well as how they agree with each other. And you can almost smell the leather chairs... Enjoy!
The authors are so knowledgeable and so wise about about how America can be a positive influence on world affairs (and how we have failed at times in the past). They both are highly critical of the attitude that America can push people around and go to war with anyone that we think is a threat.
They offer so much hope for our country and the world if we are led by people who truly understand the best way to go about our foreign poilicy. But to do that, we will need leaders who are willing to take the time to read and listen and be willing to explore a new way of being part of the world.
If most Americans would take the time to read and think about the important ideas in this book, we would have a so much better informed electorate when choosing those who will get our vote.