Zbigniew Brzezinski: More Bad Advice on Iran

Gen. Douglas MacArthur ended his farewell address to Congress on April 19, 1951, by quoting the refrain of a barracks ballad that went, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." Former presidential national security advisers, in contrast, neither die nor fade away. They're too busy drumming up business for their inevitable consultancies and tweaking their "legacies" by writing op-ed pieces and testifying before legislative committees.

Zbigniew Brzezinski was Jimmy Carter's national security adviser. He advocated the cessation of U.S. support for the shah of Iran, thereby contributing to (and some would say resulting in) the Islamist takeover of the country 30 years ago. On March 5, Brzezinski testified alongside his Bush 41 counterpart Brent Scowcroft at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S. policy toward Iran. Both called for talks with Tehran and said the main problem posed by Iran's nuclear program is not that nuclear-armed Iranian missiles will threaten Western cities, but that Iran's possession of such weapons will spur other countries in the region and around the world to acquire nuclear weapons.

In his testimony, Brzezinksi lambasted an Israeli government memorandum that was leaked to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz just before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Jerusalem this month. The document, drafted to provide talking points for the officials who would be meeting with Clinton, contained four recommendations:

1. Any dialogue must be both preceded by and accompanied by harsher sanctions against Iran, both within the framework of the UN Security Council and outside it. Otherwise, the talks are liable to be perceived by both Iran and the international community as acceptance of Iran's nuclear program.

2. Before the dialogue begins, the U.S. should formulate an action plan with Russia, China, France, Germany, and Britain regarding what to do if the talks fail. Specifically, there must be an agreement that the talks' failure will prompt extremely harsh international sanctions on Iran.

3. A time limit must be set for the talks, to prevent Iran from merely buying time to complete its nuclear development. The talks should also be defined as a "one-time opportunity" for Tehran.

4. Timing is critical, and the U.S. should consider whether it makes sense to begin the talks before Iran's presidential election in June.

Brzezinski warned against tightening sanctions before beginning talks and against publicly consulting with other countries about measures to be taken if negotiations fail. "The alternative approach, of course, should be rather different," he said. "It should seek to engage Iran in a process in which there emerges the possibility of some consensual agreement. We should be very careful," he added ominously, "not to become susceptible to interested parties."

Brzezinski's snide denigration of Israel as an "interested party" -- as if every country that will be within the range of Iranian missiles, which can now reach southern Europe and will eventually be able to hit American cities, ought not to be an "interested party" with regard to Tehran's nuclear-weapons program -- is of a piece with his castigation of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and his claim that substantive objections to his views expressed by American supporters are the product of  "a McCarthyite tendency among some people in the Jewish community."

In May 2008, Brzezinski told Britain's Daily Telegraph:

They operate, not by arguing but by slandering, vilifying, demonizing. They very promptly wheel out anti-Semitism. There is an element of paranoia in this inclination to view any serious attempt at a compromised peace as somehow directed against Israel.

It's arguable that Brzezinski was doing a bit of slandering, vilifying, and demonizing in his Telegraph interview, but the fact that there is "an element of paranoia" in his own thinking is beyond argument. On February 1, 2007,  Brzezinski gave testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that was probably as paranoid as anything that has ever been said in public about U.S. policy toward Iran by an ostensibly serious observer:

A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a "defensive" U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Whew. Aren't we glad none of that happened.

But the value of the opinions of the Carter administration official, who has been advising Barack Obama and whom the president has called "someone I have learned an immense amount from" and "one of our most outstanding scholars and thinkers," becomes especially questionable when viewed against the background of Brzezinski's astonishingly poor judgment when it comes to the Islamism (Islam as a political ideology) that drives Iranian foreign policy. Brzezinski bears more responsibility for the fact that the Iranian people are subjected to -- and everyone else in the world is threatened by -- an authoritarian Islamist regime than any single Westerner besides, perhaps, ex-President Carter. Eleven years ago, Brzezinski  revealed the gaping breach in his brain through which the mullahs poured in 1979.

In January 1998, Brzezinski gave an interview to the French news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur:

Question: Former CIA director Robert Gates stated in his memoirs that the American secret services started to help the Afghan mujahideen six months before the Soviet intervention. At that time you were President Carter's national security adviser; therefore you played a role in this affair. Do you confirm this?

Brzezinski: Yes. According to history's official version, the CIA's aid to the mujahideen started during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army had invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. But the reality, kept secret till now, is entirely different: It was in fact on July 3, 1979, that President Carter signed the first directive on clandestine assistance to the opponents of Kabul's pro-Soviet regime. And on that day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to result in a military intervention by the Soviets.

Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you even wanted this Soviet entry into war and were looking to provoke it?

Brzezinski: It isn't exactly that. We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would do so.

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against secret interference by the United States in Afghanistan, nobody believed them. However, it had a basis in truth. You don't regret anything today?

Brzezinski: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan pit and you want me to regret it? The day the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, in substance: "We now have the opportunity to give to the USSR its Vietnam war." In fact, Moscow had to carry on, for almost 10 years, a war that was unbearable for the regime, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q: You don't regret having favored Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms, advice to future terrorists?

Brzezinski: What is most important with regard to world history? The Taliban, or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Islamists, or the liberation of central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Q: Some stirred-up [Islamists]? But it's said and it's repeated: Islamic fundamentalism today represents a worldwide menace.

Brzezinski: Foolishness! The West, it's said, should have a global policy toward Islamism. That's stupid: There isn't a global Islamism. Let's look at Islam in a way that's rational and not demagogic or emotional. It's the leading religion of the world, with 1.5 billion adherents. But what is there in common among fundamentalist Saudi Arabia, moderate Morocco, militarist Pakistan, pro-Western Egypt, or secularized central Asia? Nothing more than what unites the countries of Christianity.

It's remarkable that almost five years after the first attack on the World Trade Center, 19 months after the attack on Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, seven months before the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam, and 33 months before the attack on the USS Cole, Brzezinski could dismiss the Taliban -- whom troops from 22 countries would be fighting in Afghanistan less than four years after the Nouvel Observateur interview, and who were complicit in the carnage of 9/11 -- as "some stirred-up Islamists." It's also remarkable that he could characterize the contention that "Islamic fundamentalism today represents a worldwide menace" as "foolishness" with an exclamation point. Yet this man was invited to put his two cents in on the subject of U.S. policy toward Iran.

Brzezinski is the most discredited foreign policy official in U.S. history. The fact that the president considers him "someone I have learned an immense amount from" is not reassuring. All Barack Obama should have learned from Zbigniew Brzezinski is what not to do.