Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Brzezinski on Bush's foreign policy mess

Business Times - 07 Jun 2007
Bush's legacy is America's albatross
It will take years of effort and genuine skill to restore political credibility and legitimacy


IN my 15 years of covering Washington, I cannot recall a time when the elite and the public in the capital of this ageing global superpower have been more pessimistic about the future their country and so cynical about and distrustful of their political leaders.

The sour mood of the country has been reflected in the most recent The Washington Post-ABC News poll which indicated that three-quarters of the American people believe that the country is 'pretty seriously on the wrong track'. And only a minority of Americans approve of the job that President Bush (35 per cent) and Congress (39 per cent) are doing.

The poll also suggests that the gloomy outlook of most Americans have to do with the war in Iraq and US foreign policy in general. Fifty per cent of Americans do not think that the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States; 64 per cent share the view that the US is not making significant progress towards restoring order in Iraq; and six out of 10 Americans agree that the additional troops sent to Iraq since the beginning of the year (the 'surge') will not help improve the conditions in Iraq.

Hence, it is not surprising that 55 per cent of Americans say that the number of US troops in Iraq should be decreased.

In fact, the growing disenchantment among Americans with the performance of the Democratic-led Congress reflects public disappointment with the failure of the Democrats on Capitol Hill to force the White House to come up with a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Mesopotamia.

But this Democratic failure is a direct result of the outcome of the congressional elections last year which provided only a slim majority for the Democrats in the House of Representatives as well as in the Senate and thus not giving them the power of override the veto power of the White House.

To put it in simple terms, the Democrats just don't have enough votes to force Republican President George W Bush to start withdrawing US forces from Iraq.

And in any case, it is the US president, as the nation's commander-in-chief, who continues to dominate US foreign policy and national security agenda.

As Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton, who is her party's leading presidential candidate, has noted in the recent debate between her and the other Democratic aspirants in New Hampshire, the site of the first presidential primary: 'This is George Bush's war. He is responsible for this war. He started the war. He mismanaged the war. He escalated the war. And he refuses to end the war.'

Indeed, there is almost no doubt that the Iraq War will be referred to by future historians as 'Bush's War' and that the responsibility for its outcome will rest on the shoulders of the current White House occupant.

And as former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski argues in his recent book, Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower, President Bush has offered 'catastrophic leadership' after 9/11 that has already stamped his 'presidency as a historical failure'.

The former aide to president Jimmy Carter who also grades in his book the foreign policy conduct of the two other post-Cold War US presidents (George HW Bush and Bill Clinton), gives the current president a devastating 'F' while his father Bush 41 earns a 'B' and Bill Clinton gets a 'C'.

Brzezinski is clearly unimpressed by the performance of Bush 43's two predecessors and insists that all the three leaders who managed US foreign policy since the fall of the Berlin Wall failed to devise a coherent geopolitical strategy for the world's only remaining superpower.

But he blasts Bush the Younger for creating the conditions - an explosive situation in the Middle East and the Muslim world; alienated allies in Europe; an increasingly assertive China that is becoming the central player in Asia; rising anti-Americanism in Latin America - in which the US has been transformed from a symbol of hope into an isolated and reviled power.

'Though in some dimensions, such as the military, American power may be greater in 2006 than in 1991, the country's capacity to mobilise, inspire, point in a shared direction and thus shape global realities has significantly declined,' contends Mr Brzezinski.

'Fifteen years after its coronation as global leader, America is becoming a fearful and lonely democracy in a politically antagonistic world,' he declares.

The US is 'widely viewed around the world with intense hostility', with its 'credibility in tatters', its military bogged down in the Middle East, and 'its formerly devoted allies distancing themselves'.

And Mr Brzezinski considers whether the US under a new president would have a second chance to advance the kind of effective leadership and inspiring vision that could make it once again a political and economic model for the emerging global community.

In short, is there any chance for America to restore its leadership in the world in the aftermath of 'Bush's War?'

In particular, Mr Brzezinski who has addressed several audiences in Washington in recent weeks, is concerned about the ability of the next president - or Global Leader IV - to manage what he described as a 'global political awakening', as the global 'have-nots' try to challenge those who seem to block their aspirations.

'Will the next president succeed in exercising self-restraint in the use of US military power while listening to the concerns of others?' he asks.

Mr Brzezinski is hopeful - but not very confident - that Global Leader IV will be able to turn things around in 2009. America will be facing an international system that is more anti-imperialist, anti-Western and anti-American, where there are already signs of growing cooperation between China, Russia, India, and Iran.

Under these conditions, 'it will take years of deliberate effort and genuine skill to restore America's political credibility and legitimacy', as the next president will have to use his or her diplomatic and strategic skills 'to fashion a truly post-Cold War globalist foreign policy'.

'Nothing could be worse for America, and eventually the world,' Mr Brzezinski concludes, 'than if American policy were universally viewed as arrogantly imperial in a post-imperial age, mired in a colonial relapse in a post-colonial time, selfishly indifferent in the face of unprecedented global interdependence, and culturally self-righteous in a religiously diverse world. The crisis of American superpower would then become terminal.'

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