Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that the deadlock in the Middle East peace process is undermining U.S. influence and may pose an existential threat to America’s key ally Israel.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who joins us in our studio. Dr. Brzezinski, thank you for being here.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Nice to be with you.
HUNT: Let’s start with Russia. Vladimir Putin going to come back and be president, maybe through 2024. Your take?
BRZEZINSKI: In some ways, it’s not unexpected, because everybody knew that Putin was the real power and Medvedev just a front, yet it was still a bit of a surprise, because it eliminated what was still one major hope regarding Russia in the near future, namely that this current arrangement would continue, and that created small openings for more democracy, for more serious discussion -
HUNT: And this closes that?
BRZEZINSKI: And this closes that. And that’s too bad.
HUNT: And what are the implications for U.S.-Russian relations and Russian cooperation in areas like Iran and the Middle East?
BRZEZINSKI: I would say fundamentally not much, because after all, it wasn’t Medvedev. It was Putin who was making the decisions in the background. But the tone of the relationship will be less friendly. The possibility of Putin again bursting out with some complaints or some of their openly expressed nostalgia for the past, for the imperial past of Russia, that can happen again.
HUNT: Speaking of U.S. relationships, our relationships with Pakistan seem to have hit a low, Admiral Mullen infuriating them by saying that the Haqqani terrorist network is a veritable arm of the ISI. Reports they were involved in the ambush in our embassy and they killed an Army major four or five years ago.
What should we do now?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, I would like to know whether Admiral Mullen’s statement was orchestrated in advance. Did the U.S. decide to have him say that, the National Security Council, the president, the commander in chief, or not?
HUNT: I’ve been told the White House knew that.
BRZEZINSKI: That’s very important. If we did do that deliberately, then the question arises, what are we going to do about it? Because if we did it deliberately, we had to ask ourselves, what are going to be the consequences, not just for us, but also for them? How might they react? What should we be doing about it?
What I’m worried about is that this may have been some instinctive, impulsive decision or one made casually, but not thought through strategically.
What we have to face I think now, going beyond that specific incident, is that there are several Pakistans existing at the same time. And by this, I do not mean just the democratic structure, the furniture (ph), and the army, and the ISI, and then the extremists. I also mean that within each of these segments, there are sub-segments. It’s a very fractured country.
And we have some Pakistans as our friends. We have some Pakistans as kind of neutral regarding us and the Taliban. And we have some Pakistans - we obviously now (ph) - quite hostile to us. And we have to maneuver between them.
HUNT: As you know, another top al-Qaeda operative, al- Awlaki, was killed by drones this weekend. Are we just wiping out all of al-Qaeda, or can they simply replace whoever we wipe out?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, they can certainly replace them, but whether they can replace them at the same level of competence and same degree of unity, that is to say al-Qaeda as a large transnational terrorist organization, that I think is open to questions. And therefore, there’s no doubt that it is a tactical step forward in dealing with the threat. It is not a strategic breakthrough, but a significant tactical breakthrough which points towards the gradual fragmentation of al-Qaeda into autonomous national components and then probably towards a disappearance of any united strategy for al-Qaeda. So it’s progress. It’s progress.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, quite frankly, I don’t think we can do very much. The Europeans, as the former imperial powers in the region, really have limited capacity and are not very welcome.
And secondly, our position in the Middle East is just declining so rapidly that it’s really appalling. We went into the Middle East 50 years ago or so, a little more than 50 years, 55 years ago, at the invitation of the Arabs, who wanted the British and the French displaced. We were welcomed. At one point, we had good relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey. Each in a different was a close friend.
We barely have a decent relationship with some of them now. And some of them are gradually turning away from us. I think we’re stuck, and I deplore the fact that we don’t have a policy. We don’t have a policy. And as a consequence, we are in the process of being pushed out.
HUNT: What would a post-Assad Syria look like, would you think?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, it depends on who influences the outcome. If it’s the Iranians, it will be some sort of a mild version of what we see in Iran. If it is the Turks, it might be a mild, but hopeful version of what we see in Turkey. But we have very little influence there.
HUNT: Well, let’s go to what you were talking about, the overall - what you consider, you know, bad American policy there in the Middle East. What would you like to see the United States do?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, for one thing, we have to face something that some people are not willing to face. Every public opinion poll tells us, every single one, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a salient issue for the publics in the region.
Until recently, we could ignore that, because we dealt with the governments and not with the publics. But now the publics are becoming more important. And that means that this issue continues to fester. The Middle East will become more anti- American. We are in the process of being pushed out, as I said. And eventually, Israel is going to be fatally threatened.
My view is, we should have been doing what we were saying we were doing, but which we have never done very consistently: face the fact that, given the complexities, the histories, the geographies, so much at variance between Israel and the Palestinians, the two sides on their own will never reach agreement by their own.
We have not been willing to move up to the plate. The president started moving as if he would, and then, you know, he made a speech at the UN, which was extremely limited in scope and for which he received a badge of honor from Netanyahu, which I’m not sure is a terribly flattering thing for the president of a large country to find himself being given.
We don’t have a policy right now. And as a result, I think the issue’s going to get worse, rather than better.
And there is a way out, incidentally. For example, if we could - instead of vetoing the Palestinian resolution, which is going to be a blot in our discussion vis-a-vis the Middle East for years to come, we supported heroically Israel 60 years ago. We should be willing to do the same for the Palestinians.
If instead of that we introduce the resolution welcoming the existence of a democratic Jewish state in Israel -explicitly - at the same time saying the Palestinians are entitled to something similar, negotiations should be resumed on the basis of et cetera, et cetera, as Obama said, ‘67 frontiers, and the United States and the quartet propose that, then quietly the Israelis at the last moment could even vote for it.
HUNT: Right. Right.
BRZEZINSKI: Because they wouldn’t lose anything from that. And I think the atmosphere would change. It would be a win-win- win situation for the three parties.
HUNT: Dr. Brzezinski, thank you so much for being with us today. We covered a lot of ground.
BRZEZINSKI: Good to be with you.
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