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Zbigniew Brzezinski: "The Neo-Conservative Formula Doesn’t Work"

by Open-Publishing - Thursday 21 October 2004

By Marie-Laure Germon Le Figaro

An interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to Jimmy Carter in the White House from 1977 to 1981 and today an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. A great foreign policy strategist, he is credited with the success of the first Camp David summit. He is the author of several works, including Le Grand Echiquier (Bayard) [The Big Chessboard] and Le Vrai Choix: l’Amérique et le reste du monde (Odile Jacob) [The Real Choice: America and the Rest of the World], in which he presents a critical vision of today’s global stakes and the role of the United States and pleads for a reinforcement of the Transatlantic Partnership.

Le Figaro - How do you judge George W. Bush’s first term presidential record?

Zbigniew Brzezinski -The Bush Administration has not kept its promises, as much on the domestic as the foreign policy front. Domestically, Bush committed himself to elaborating a compassionate social policy. On the diplomatic front, he promised to reinforce alliances with foreign powers in order to improve international cooperation so as to make it more efficient and effective. I do not believe that Bush has fulfilled either of these fundamental commitments. On the contrary, the Administration has chosen domestic policies that benefit those who are already the best provided for and has not troubled itself at all about the fate of the most destitute. With regard to foreign policy, the United States has chosen a unilateral policy that has only become more radicalized since the September 11 attacks.

Do you think that Senator Kerry’s election to the White House could substantially modify the American diplomatic approach?

I am convinced that it could. If George W. Bush were reelected, he would make use of this new popular mandate to prolong the action to which he has committed the whole country, and do it bringing a new level of attention to the Middle East and Iran. If, on the other hand, Kerry wins the White House, there is little doubt that he will take allied countries’ opinion more into account, particularly that of Europe - which must contribute to resolution of the crises shaking the planet, including the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

You’ve written in Le Grand Echiquier that Europe was having difficulty finding its place in the new world order...

There is no doubt but that Europe constitutes an essential economic and cultural entity in the heart of the contemporary world. That said, the Union at present is still far from representing an adequate political and a fortiori military power. This lack considerably limits its margin of maneuver, as well as its influence on the international scene, and prevents it from fulfilling the role that could, however, be its own.

Could the Union’s recent enlargement to 25 countries change the balance?

An effort as substantial as it is fundamental must be agreed upon with regard to military matters for Europe to constitute a defense worthy of the name. And that effort rests on one of the most crucial, critical, and simple of criteria: money. If Europe is not prepared to invest considerable amounts in the military, it is to be feared that this dissuasive and defensive force will never see the light of day. In the present state of affairs, not a single member country, unfortunately, seems ready to meet this financial requirement, the keystone to growth in Europe’s power on the international scene.

Are you saying that the United States is bound to maintain its hegemonic status?

The whole world is confronted with a crisis of unprecedented scope. This vast portion of the world stretching from Russia’s southern borders to the Indian Ocean and Suez to Sinkiang is crisscrossed with tremendous political tensions. This territory describes an ideological fault line that opposes it, not only to the United States, but to the whole Western world, and I believe that the most adequate response to the crisis this fault line imposes can only come from the United States in the first place and also from Europe. In fact, as the Iraq crisis demonstrates, America alone cannot settle all these conflicts.

So you give credence to Samuel Huntington’s "Clash of Civilizations" theory...

I don’t believe in it, but I do fear that we are running a great risk of seeing this dark prophecy realized. The only way to avoid this deadly outcome is to improve the cooperation between the United States and Europe. That’s why I maintain and repeat that the Union’s military inadequacies are key to the global dilemma. The EU’s critical attitude towards the American decision to declare the war on Iraq has proved itself partially justified to the extent that the United States has proven to have managed the crisis badly. However criticism alone cannot constitute a valid position, unless it is accompanied by an alternative option. If Europe wants to really be able to influence the United States, it must be willing and able to fully participate in the conception and implementation of an effective plan for the resolution of the crisis in Iraq.

As far as the Neo-Conservatives are concerned, democracy must be exported to the world to guarantee peace. What do you say to that?

Neo-Conservative ideology goes a lot further than that! Its theoreticians, like its practitioners, never imagined for a moment that democracy could be established in a country like a deus ex machina. They believe in the will to action, even to the point of recourse to force to achieve their ends. This conception singularly complicates things and experience has demonstrated its limits in the Middle East. The Neo-Conservative formula doesn’t work.

You participated in the Israeli-Palestinian-Egyptian 1978 discussions: do you think peace in the Middle East depends on American power and arbitration?

The way to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis necessarily goes through the United States. The Israelis and the Palestinians obviously cannot resolve the problem by themselves; such is the bitterness between the two peoples, mutual suffering and hatred having accumulated the last few years to the point of no return. Only, once again, if the United States publicly states the core principles and general outline of a peace plan, it must associate Europe to this effort. It is equally indispensable for Europe to agree to assume some of the financial and military costs of a formula that will of necessity be imposed from the outside on the two peoples. The animosity between Israelis and Palestinians is so great that it seems impossible that they should devise a peace agreement that does not heavily disadvantage one side or the other among themselves, without the intervention of foreign powers.

So you share Madeleine Albright’s idea of the United States as the "indispensable country"?

Is it possible to imagine global security in which the United States does not play a predominant role? What problems will the new United States President have to address as priorities? The next White House resident will be confronted with escalation of the budgetary crisis on the national front and an intensification of hostility against the United States on the international front.

Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.