Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former Democratic national security adviser, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney lacks a grasp of foreign policy and would return the U.S. to the policies of George W. Bush.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with former National Security Adviser to President Carter, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski. Thank you for coming in the studios, Zbig. Your new book is called “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power.”
I get the impression in your book - you suggest that America’s role as a global superpower is in the balance and say a vigorous America is really indispensable. I get the impression, though, that you’re pessimistic, that you think the country is becoming intrinsically weaker, and you’re worried whether we’ll be prepared for those challenges.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Yes, I am. I have to admit I am. I’m not a fatalist. I’m not convinced it has to be so bad. I think we can avoid it. But I am a little pessimistic about our ability to marshal our national will to set a course and to make the necessary compromises, as well as sacrifices. So that makes me worried. But I also don’t think anyone else is going to replace us.
HUNT: Well, what - let me get that - what are the two or three things you’d like to see America do, if you can simplify like that, that would - that would make you more optimistic?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, I think we have to get our financial system under control, because it really is out of control, that it is to say, enormous transactions take place all the time with relatively little supervision and driven very much by speculative greed, so that the money that gets transformed and transmitted doesn’t really end up subject to effective national control for national purposes. We are creating enormous fortunes, totally unrelated, for example, to job creation.
Secondly, we have, I think, a sociopolitical crisis in terms of our values. I’m worried about the fact that an increasing number of young Americans are born without family structures, without family frameworks and shared ambitions. That I think is dangerous. There is a kind of self-indulgence in our society, which I think in the long run is damaging.
And, thirdly, America in the world has become more isolated. We have had a foreign policy over the last decade or so which plunged us into military engagements, which increasingly were viewed by the world as unilateral, self-serving, and on top of it, not very successful.
HUNT: For all of your concerns about America, you don’t, for instance, see China becoming an equal global superpower in 25 years.
BRZEZINSKI: No, I don’t. Now, conceivably in 50 years, but who knows where we’ll be in 50 years? No, I think - and this is also a worry of mine - if America doesn’t recover, doesn’t re-establish its appeal, its legitimacy internationally, we’re going to slide into a more chaotic world. That is to say, we’ll have a lot of turmoil, a lot of sort of conflict, but not global wars for hegemony, but more sporadic violence. And that will be very destructive, too.
HUNT: You were an early supporter of Barack Obama, 2007, during the primary. He’s obviously disappointing you. What went wrong?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, he hasn’t obviously disappointed me, in the sense that I think on some fundamental issues he has been right. And I think his sense of what this new century’s about is fundamentally correct, namely, it’s not going to be a century dominated by a single hegemony. That is finished. The era of struggle for global supremacy is over. The world is now too complicated and too much alive. So I’ve written a great deal about what I call the global political awakening, and he understands that.
My disappointment comes not so much in terms of his understanding, but his ability to set a firm course of action and to, in effect, combine his tendency to sermonize with his capacity to strategize, and strategize means setting clear goals and then assertively -
HUNT: And he hasn’t done that enough?
BRZEZINSKI: - pursuing them. And he hasn’t done that.
HUNT: As you know, Hillary Clinton is stepping down as secretary of state -
BRZEZINSKI: No, I don’t know that.
HUNT: Well, she says she is. She says she’s going to step down as secretary of state at year end. Who would be in your short list of who would be a good secretary of state to succeed her?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, I would think, of course, John Kerry comes first to mind. I think, for example, Chuck Hagel would be awfully good. I’m sure there are other people I could think of if you give me a couple more minutes. And I’m worried that I’ve already said too much, because my friends may be offended in some cases.
HUNT: Mitt Romney, you’ve heard the Republican - he’s the certain nominee, really. He’s going to run against Obama. He has been very critical of Obama’s foreign policy. What kind of a foreign policy would we get under Mitt Romney?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, if we take seriously what he has been saying in the course of the campaign, we have every reason to be very worried. I mean, his comments, for example, on Iran, which poses a very serious challenge to the United States, are just so casual and at the same time so militant that one has to wonder whether he’ll feel bound by what he said in the course of the campaign.
I have a sense he doesn’t really have a broad grasp of what is unique about this century, how it differs from the preceding one. He probably subscribes to the notions articulated by his Republican predecessor, George Bush II -
HUNT: So it would be a reprise of the George W. Bush administration foreign policy?
BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. You know - well, he seems to have a lot of people around him from that administration who are generally described as neocons.
HUNT: Let me talk - you mentioned Iran, and you have written very strongly that an Israeli attack on Iran to take out the nuclear facilities would really be a cataclysm. What could and what should the Obama administration be doing now to pressure or persuade Netanyahu and Barak not to attack?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, I think we shouldn’t take the position that the issue is Iran versus Israel or Israel versus Iran or, for that matter, Israel plus America versus Iran. The issue is really Iran and the international community, the challenge that Iran is posing to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
But that also means that the international community has to address the issue, and we should be in the forefront of that, and the issue should focus on the implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty by Iran, no less, but no more.
I’m afraid we are being pushed into a position in which in the course of the negotiations that are about to open we’ll essentially give Iran the choice of either a humiliating capitulation in which they’re not even allowed to have what NPT allows, but have to be much more restricted, which they’ll reject, or essentially strangulation economically, in which case they may be even tempted to lash out. In neither case will we get an agreement.
I think we have to be patient in pursuing that agreement and reinforce it publicly with a statement that the United States would view any threat emanating from Iran at any country in the Persian Gulf, including Israel, as a threat directed against the United States. We did that. We have done that successfully in protecting South Korea and Japan from North Korea.
HUNT: Same model for the Middle East?
BRZEZINSKI: We did the same thing for decades in Europe against the Soviet Union. We have deterred the would-be nuclear threats, but we didn’t preempt and go to war in a preventive attack, which, of course, would have produced disasters then. An attack on Iran will produce disasters now.
HUNT: You mentioned the economic strangulation. What do you think are the odds today of an attack on Iran?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think clearly Netanyahu and Barak, according to the New York Times and other papers, seem to be dedicated to doing that, but I think they would like to maneuver us into a situation in which we feel we have to support them and in which then the Iranians in responding to the attack will retaliate mostly against us, because that’s where they can be most effective.
HUNT: Dr. Brzezinski, another fascinating book. Thank you very much for being with us.
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