Saturday, January 02, 2010

17 notes about Zbigniew Brzezinski's "Hope to Audacity" article in Foreign Affairs

Zbigniew Brzezinski represents views very close to the mainstream US foreign policy communities' understanding of the world. This is especially true under a Democratic president, but the differences between US Democrats and US Republicans on foreign policy are so small that I do not think they are meaningful outside of the United States. Neocons do not dispute Brzezinski's basic assumptions. As an example, there is not much practical difference in policy between late George W. Bush in 2007 and Barack Obama in 2008. Obama has not even given a foreign policy speech that George W. Bush could not have given with fairly minor revisions. Brzezinski's article (text) puts a wide range of these views in one place and I think it can be instructive to examine them. I have to point out that this article was written before early December so there may have been developments that Brzezinski could not have been aware of when he wrote. Quotes from Brzezinski's article are numbered and bold.
• Islam is not an enemy, and the "global war on terror" does not define the United States' current role in the world;
• the United States will be a fair-minded and assertive mediator when it comes to attaining lasting peace between Israel and Palestine;
This is a good place to start. Most Americans do not understand that Brzezinski's first statement simply is not true. Most Americans would like it to be true. And in fact, given the limits to the American ability to examine America's own basic consensus premises, it appears true. But it is not true. The US really is at war in a very real sense against Islam.

There need not be a war between the US and Islam. The US could support one state that accepts all refugees and guarantees individual rights to Jewish people which would end the need for a host of policies undertaken by the US in the region that harm mostly Muslims, but also non-Jewish Christians, non-religious people and followers of other religions in the region. But the US does not support a one state solution. The US today does not seem capable of even envisioning a one state solution which would mean the failure of the Zionist project. As long as this is the case, the US will, naively and to some degree unknowingly, continue to wage war against the non-Jewish people of Israel's region.

The United States is participating and in many ways enabling the starvation of 1.5 million people in Gaza. That is what enemies do. There is a long list of provocations the US implements in the Middle East. The list includes efforts to deny political representation to huge populations of countries in Israel's region. It includes multiple sanctions, it includes the two occupations the US is now implementing and it includes the current destabilization of Pakistan.

The US mainstream consensus accepts as a basic premise that there must be a Jewish state in Palestine. Given that constraint, US efforts are both reasonable and necessary. When Brzezinski uses the term "fair minded" he implicitly includes his premise that there must exist a Jewish majority state in that term. This is a failure on Brzezinski's part to perceive that there can be a different understanding of fairness than his own.

Hamas must be starved out of office or they would set a precedent that would threaten the security of Israel as a Jewish-majority political entity. Dictators should be supported, because they are "good for the region". Countries that are not good for the region must be punished. The US can and should occupy countries that otherwise would use their resources to threaten the status of Jewish majority Israel or its supporters. Massive bribery that distorts the entire political system of a country is acceptable and preferable to that country following the preferences of its population which would be to leave alone elements of their societies that would strike back against Israel or its supporters.

If you are unable, as Brzezinski, Obama and most members of the US foreign policy are unable, to question the cosmic necessity of the existence of a Jewish state, then the US is making reasonable and fair efforts to bring about peace and coexistence. If you are able to question the necessity of a Jewish state in Palestine, then the US is siding with injustice and in doing so imposing entire swathes of needless and unprovoked misery on a tremendous number of Muslim people.

With Brzezinski's premises, the US is not at war with Islam. For people who do not accept his premise that there must be a Jewish state, the US is at war with Islam, at least in Israel's greater region. The general US failure to question the premise that there must be a Jewish majority state in Palestine comes from the fact that supporters of Israel have successfully established the threat to falsely accuse anyone who examines that premise of being an anti-Jewish bigot. We'll come back to this because it is very interesting how much the US as a nation pays for this established threat of false accusations of anti-Semitism. Of course the non-Jewish people of the Middle East pay an immeasurably higher price.
As a result, his grand redefinition of U.S. foreign policy is vulnerable to dilution or delay by upper-level officials who have the bureaucratic predisposition to favor caution over action and the familiar over the innovative. Some of them may even be unsympathetic to the president's priorities regarding the Middle East and Iran.
I read this and think Dennis Ross. But Hillary Clinton herself and others in the Obama administration are far more strident in their inclination to put US resources at the disposal of the objective of securing Israel's status as a Jewish majority state that can threaten but cannot be credibly threatened by its neighbors. It is really difficult to put responsibility for the Obama administration policies, or the failure of their implementation anywhere but on Obama himself.
It is not fashionable to say this, but it is demonstrably true that -- deservedly or not -- much of the current hostility toward the United States in the Middle East and the Islamic world as a whole has been generated by the bloodshed and suffering produced by this prolonged conflict. Osama bin Laden's self-serving justifications for 9/11 are a reminder that the United States itself is also a victim of the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum.
What an interesting statement by Brzezinski. Actually, this statement alone left me no choice but to write a blog post about Brzezinski's article. Yes. Much of the current hostility against the US is generated directly or indirectly by the conflict over Zionism.

The first thing I want to look at is "deservedly or not". This is a reflection back to Brzezinski's premise that there must be a secure Jewish-majority state, so US actions to ensure the security of Israel do not deserve to create hostility, regardless of the misery those actions may cause. If you do not accept the premise that there must be a secure Jewish majority state, then the US has the option of not starving the people of Gaza, but instead of demanding Hamas to recognize Israel, demanding that they respect the rights of Jewish individuals, which Hamas likely would do. By Brzezinski’s view of the world, the US has no choice and does not deserve the hostility it has attracted. By the view of the world that is free from his false premise, the US has a choice and has deliberately decided to harm the non-Jewish people of the region.

If the question is deservedly or not, the answer is deservedly. Brzezinski is unable to see that, as are most of his colleagues in the US foreign policy establishment. But the people of the region are able to understand that. This divergence in perceptions threatens to become increasingly expensive for the United States.

Then I want to look at "It is not fashionable to say this". How cute. No, it is not fashionable to say it at all. And it is not fashionable for a reason. The true statement that Israel imposes heavy costs on the United States often leads supporters of Israel to accuse the maker of that statement of anti-Jewish bigotry. This accusation of anti-Semitism is often false, but a false accusation of bigotry can still exact a psychic cost on its target. The avoidance in the background of potential false accusations of anti-Semitism has distorted US foreign policy in very basic and harmful ways.

Lastly and least important, Bin Laden is self serving only in the sense that the ideology for which he sacrificed a life of wealth and comfort is himself. But Brzezinski is correct that Bin Laden has stated clearly that 9/11 was in retaliation for acts the US commits in the name of protecting Israel. If the US had advocated a one state solution in the 1990s, the US would not have been the target of 9/11 if that attack happened at all and the huge expense of invading Afghanistan would have been avoided.
First, Palestinian refugees should not be granted the right of return to what is now Israel, because Israel cannot be expected to commit suicide for the sake of peace. The refugees will have to be resettled within the Palestinian state, with compensation and maybe some expression of regret for their suffering. This will be very difficult for the Palestinian national movement to swallow, but there is no alternative.
There is an alternative. It is really an unexamined, false and very destructive premise that allows Brzezinski to believe there is not. Politically-White South Africa committed suicide for peace. The post World War II world has seen many examples of political entities committing suicide for peace.

"This will be very difficult for the Palestinian national movement to swallow". Umm. Yes. And what if they do not? What if the Palestinians vote against this condition that Brzezinski admits would be very difficult to swallow? Then the US is justified in continuing to starve anyone in the region who does not accept Israel as a Jewish-majority state? Then if the US continues to pay billions in annual bribes to autocratic Arab dictators to repress their populations, any hostility that engenders will be undeserved?

This is an example of how Brzezinski's premise that there must be a Jewish-majority state truly limits his ability to understand the people of the Middle East. It is as if there is a physical barrier preventing him from seeing past that question. The Palestinians just have to accept that there cannot be a right to return for people who aren't Jewish. They just have to, and because of his premises, no further discussion is needed. These blinders systematically cause Western analysts to crash into unexpected behaviors of non-Jewish people in the region when they try to put their ideas in place in the real world.
Third, a settlement must be based on the 1967 lines, but with territorial swaps that would allow the large settlements to be incorporated into Israel without any further reduction of the territory of the Palestinian state. That means some territorial compensation for Palestine from parts of northern and southern Israel that border the West Bank. It is important to remember that although the Israeli and Palestinian populations are almost equal in number, under the 1967 lines the Palestinian territories account for only 22 percent of the old British mandate, whereas the Israeli territories account for 78 percent.
It is interesting that Brzezinski knows that Jewish people have 78 percent of the territory for a smaller proportion of the population but is unable to draw what for every non-Jewish person in the region - whether Arab, Persian, Copt, Druze or whatever, whether Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian, atheist or whatever - is an obvious implication: that Zionism as applied in and before 1948 and as is maintained today is fundamentally an injustice that cannot be rectified in a way satisfactory to those Jewish people who would benefit from the injustice persisting, if those Jewish people have the option of just maintaining the injustice in place. Just another example of his unexamined, false and destructive premise that there must be a Jewish majority state.
Fourth, the United States or NATO must make a commitment to station troops along the Jordan River. Such a move would reinforce Israel's security with strategic depth. It would reduce Israel's fears that an independent Palestine could some day serve as a springboard for a major Arab attack on Israel.
Wow. Now it is a testament to the pliancy of Mahmoud Abbas that this is even under discussion. But this is the first time I'm really examining the idea of US bases in Palestine to be held indefinitely regardless of the wishes of the people of Palestine. This is a move towards classical colonialism, the thing is that colonialism has been discredited not because of the recognition of the inherent value of man, but because it does not pay. The cost of these troops, if history is a guide, would vastly outweigh any benefit the US would get from having them there.

More generally, Brzezinski's conception of the concessions the Palestinians would have to make for a two state solution are enough that they would not in the end be a solution at all. We'd be left with Palestinians told that they would starve if they do not vote for this arrangement - which alone would render the outcome illegitimate for many people in the region. But to ensure that the Palestinians are unable to continue to resist, Jordan still has to remain under its US-supported colonial rulers. Egypt has to continue under its dictator. When the Palestinians vote wrong, once again they'll have to starve. The provocations against the non-Jewish people of the region would continue, and the impulse to respond would continue.

The costs the US would be required to expend for dealing with regional responses to Israel would continue to increase and this Jewish-majority Israel would still be threatened by other states in the region breaking its monopoly on the threat to use nuclear weapons. Brzezinski's conception of a two state solution is not easy to distinguish from what we see today, so that even if it was to be reached, it would still be unfashionable but true to say that Jewish-majority Israel still deservedly creates costly-to-manage regional hostility against the US as its supporter.
[On the subject of Iran]
Without quite saying so, he has basically downgraded the U.S. military option, although it is still fashionable to say that "all options remain on the table." But the prospects for a successful negotiation are still quite uncertain.
Obama has not downgraded the option, but left it in the same position it occupied when he came into office. Bush late in his term continued to say all options remain on the table, but is widely known to have vetoed any military option. The fact of the matter is that by 2007, Iran had achieved, partly because of the US positions in Iraq and Afghanistan "escalation dominance" in which as hostilities ratchet up in plausible scenarios, the US would end up hurt enough that the US would regret the conflict as much or more than Iran.

I'm not sure why the US insists on saying publicly that there is a military option on the table, maybe it makes US politicians feel strong or virile. Nobody believes it anywhere, while saying it strengthens hard-liners in Iran.
The United States has to be realistic when discussing this aspect, since the clock cannot be turned back: the Iranians have the capability to enrich uranium, and they are not going to give it up. But it is still possible, perhaps through a more intrusive inspection regime, to fashion a reasonably credible arrangement that prevents weaponization.
True, the United States at this point cannot prevent Iran from continuing to enrich. Further, Iran can develop, as is its right, the ability to build a weapon if it felt it needed to in an emergency. Further still, Iran developing that ability threatens Israel whose strategic doctrine, in the opinion of Israelis, depends on Israel being able to issue overwhelming and unanswerable threats to its neighbors.

But while everyone knows Iran cannot be coerced or forced to give up enrichment, Barack Obama is not willing to say so. Iran will not commit to a more intrusive inspection regime before Obama commits to Iran enriching uranium. Where Obama is stuck is that to make the concession to reality that he cannot prevent Iran from becoming nuclear capable, he would have to take a position that could call into question his commitment to the security of Israel as a Jewish state. In the US foreign policy community, to lack a commitment to Israel's security threatens to provoke the accusation of anti-Jewish bigotry.

We possibly will see sanctions against that harm the lives of Iranian people in tangible ways, that make it more difficult to find a job or that increase the rate of inflation throughout Iran's economy and causing Iranians relying on their savings to do with less because Barack Obama would be made uncomfortable by false accusations of anti-Semitism. Brzezinski may believe that hostility that results from this is undeserved, or that the deservedness of such hostility is questionable. Few in Iran or the wider region would agree.
Iran's credibility was undermined by the convoluted manner in which Tehran complicated a promising compromise for a cooperative Iranian-Russian-French arrangement for processing its enriched uranium.
I think almost everyone in the US foreign policy community wrongly interprets what happened with this deal. The deal as presented - Iran shipping out almost all of its uranium at once instead of in pieces - is only beneficial to the West if the West does not intend to return fuel until Iran suspends enrichment. Otherwise, one batch or many lead to identical outcomes. Iran was not going to stop enrichment, so since the US would not relent on its insistence that there be one batch, the deal died. Brzezinski can think what he wants about Iranian credibility, but it was a bad deal.
The position of Russia is ambiguous since as a major energy supplier to Europe, it stands to benefit financially from a prolonged crisis in the Persian Gulf that would prevent the entrance of Iranian oil into the European market. Indeed, from the Russian geopolitical perspective, a steep rise in the price of oil as a result of a conflict in the Persian Gulf would be most economically damaging to the United States and China -- countries whose global preeminence Russia tends to resent and even fear -- and would make Europe even more dependent on Russian energy.
This is a very interesting issue that I've thought about but never fully fleshed out. To the degree Russia and even China see themselves as rivals of the United States, watching the US sink resources into the Middle East, trying to pin down every non-Jewish person in the region while Russia and China get to position themselves as the good side must seem only partially bad. If the US was to make the mistake of allowing its hostility with Iran to escalate to full scale war, it could be good for Russia the way the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was good for the US and China.

It is difficult to figure out exactly what motivates Russia in this situation, but Russia may well quietly hope the US falls deeper in and remains engaged longer in the project of making the Middle East safe for Zionism in all of the forms this project takes. China's motivations may be similar. If the US looks like it really would go to war, I'm not sure it could count on Russia or China to prevent it.
Should the United States' long-term goal be the evolution of Iran into a stabilizing power in the Middle East? To state the issue even more sharply and simply: Should its policy be designed to encourage Iran to eventually become a partner of the United States again -- and even, as it was for three decades, of Israel?
This is a very important point. Westerners really have to stop this. The Shah's foreign policy was not normal. The Shah's foreign policy is not a model for modern Iran to emulate. The Shah was a pro-US stooge dictator who followed US commands because his rule depended on the US for legitimacy rather than the views of those he ruled. I often see the sentiment expressed that Iran has "historically" had good relations with Israel. Iran is a majority Muslim country. It's good relations with Israel were very ahistorical. Presenting it as something to return to is an insult to the Iranian people.

To make the point again, one day Egypt will overthrow Mubarak and whoever else the US has propped up to replace him. When that happens, do not tell a democratic Egypt that since it had good relations with Israel under Mubarak, who depended on the US Congress allocating him an allowance, the democratic Egypt might have the same relations.

One day Palestine will have a leader who is able to win an election against organized opposition. When that happens, do not tell a democratically endorsed Palestinian leader that he should replicate the good relations with Israel that existed under Israel's chosen puppet Abbas.

This should be common sense and I'm always stunned when I see this idea that Iran had good relations with Israel under the Shah presented as if that is meaningful. But for Brzezinski, with Brzezinski's unexamined, false and destructive premise that there must be a Jewish state, it seems the Shah pursued a reasonable foreign policy while the Islamic Republic is mysteriously and unexplainably hostile to Israel. This premise is a real problem for his analysis.
The Taliban are not a global revolutionary or terrorist movement, and although they are a broad alliance with a rather medieval vision of what Afghanistan ought to be, they do not directly threaten the West.
Good and not often mentioned point about the Taliban. The Taliban never hated the US and never had any interest in attacking the United States. But the Taliban did, accurately, see the US as engaging in a war against Muslims and allowed Bin Laden's group to organize on its territory. Any Muslim controlled territory would do that, unless the US has some form of leverage.

What that means is that because the US supports Israel, it now has a national security objective in acquiring leverage over every Muslim-majority territory. It is a process that in itself creates more provocations against the Muslim world that create still more impulse for responses. This is a spiral that ends with the entire Muslim world colonial zed or the US unable to afford to continue. Bin Laden's calculation in orchestrating the 9/11 attack is that it is more likely to end with the second.
Additionally, the United States needs to develop a policy for gaining the support of Pakistan, not just in denying the Taliban a sanctuary in Pakistan but also in pressuring the Taliban in Afghanistan to accommodate. Given that many Pakistanis may prefer a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to a secular Afghanistan that leans toward Pakistan's archrival, India, the United States needs to assuage Pakistan's security concerns in order to gain its full cooperation in the campaign against the irreconcilable elements of the Taliban.
Pakistan is a case of another country that does not intrinsically hate the US, but that left to its own devices does not mind providing resources for parties that would punish the US and West for their attacks on the Muslim world. Bribing the corrupt leader Zardari to prosecute a war against the Taliban in which the people of Pakistan otherwise would not engage just continues the cycle.
The consequences of a failed peace process in the Middle East, a military collision with Iran, and an intensifying military engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan all happening simultaneously could commit the United States for many years to a lonely and self-destructive conflict in a huge and volatile area. Eventually, that could spell the end of the United States' current global preeminence.
This dramatic conclusion is true, except that what Brzezinski considers a successful peace process would, for the purposes he's trying to achieve of ending the US war against Islam, still be a failed peace process. The US has to begin looking to the resolution in South Africa for an example of an outcome that treats every individual equally, allows a right to return regardless of ethnicity and does not require a spiraling cycle of increasingly emotive provocations and increasing responses between the US or the West and the Muslim world.

The US was in a position of relative power in 1945 that has never been seen before in history, and the US had the right to use that power as it saw fit. One way the US has been using its power is managing the project of keeping a region of over 200 million non-Jewish people unable to pose a threat to the political majority status of 5 million Jewish people in Palestine. Today the US has a far smaller margin of power over its rivals while the over 200 million people who have to be subjugated are growing more resourceful and capable. Those non-Jewish people of the region are also increasingly coming to understand the role the US plays and becoming more inclined to strike against the US directly.

The process by which the US is losing its position is certainly accelerated by the inability of its foreign policy establishment to question the necessity of a Jewish majority state in Palestine. There is a remaining question of will this process be arrested or will it continue to its conclusion. Arresting it sooner is better for the interests for the over 300 million US citizens as well as the hundreds of millions of people in Israel's extended region. But this is a choice the US can only make for itself.
[On US domestic problems that interfere with the formulation and application of good foreign policy]
The first is that foreign policy lobbies have become more influential in U.S. politics. Thanks to their access to Congress, a variety of lobbies -- some financially well endowed, some backed by foreign interests -- have been promoting, to an unprecedented degree, legislative intervention in foreign-policy making. Now more than ever, Congress not only actively opposes foreign policy decisions but even imposes some on the president. (The pending legislation on sanctions against Iran is but one example.) Such congressional intervention, promoted by lobbies, is a serious handicap in shaping a foreign policy meant to be responsive to the ever-changing realities of global politics and makes it more difficult to ensure that U.S. -- not foreign -- interests are the point of departure.
I have to say that I find lobbies, including the pro-Israel lobby that I sometimes see humorously described (with capitalization) as "The Lobby", are over-estimated in their importance in distorting US foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. Of course, any argument that lobbies have no effect are wrong, but given Brzezinski’s premises, if he was put into power and every lobby dismantled, he would make the same mistakes Obama is making. In a long essay, Brzezinski makes a minor mention of lobbies, which is about right. The real problem is not the lobby, but the premises upon which foreign policy conclusions are generally constructed in the US.

The resulting polarization not only makes a bipartisan foreign policy less likely, but it also encourages the infusion of demagogy into policy conflicts. And it poisons the public discourse. Still worse, personal vilification and hateful, as well as potentially violent, rhetoric are becoming widespread in that realm of political debate that is subject to neither fact checking nor libel laws: the blogosphere.

Seriously though, there was once a far higher barrier preventing non-specialists from getting information about foreign policy. Specialists who become familiar with the Middle East for many reasons tend to be more stridently pro-Israel than the US lay population. In the terms of this essay, specialists accept the unexamined, false and destructive premise that there must be a Jewish-majority state in Palestine more uncritically than the vast majority of Americans who have never put much thought into the matter.

Here we have a situation where, if information can be spread quickly enough, non-specialists who are able to examine premises the specialists are blind to, just may be able to prevent the US from harming a lot more people while wasting a huge amount of resources and spiraling towards irrelevance.
Last but not least, of the large democratic countries, the United States has one of the least informed publics when it comes to global affairs. Many Americans, as various National Geographic surveys have shown, are not even familiar with basic global geography. Their knowledge of other countries' histories and cultures is not much better. How can a public unfamiliar with geography or foreign history have even an elementary grasp of, say, the geopolitical dilemmas that the United States faces in Afghanistan and Pakistan? With the accelerating decline in the circulation of newspapers and the trivialization of once genuinely informative television reporting, reliable and timely news about critical global issues is becoming less available to the general public. In that context, demagogically formulated solutions tend to become more appealing, especially in critical moments.
The insularity of Americans, which I guess comes from the historical lack of threats since the US is oceans away from its rivals, has allowed the US to develop in a naive and uninformed way. The oceans are becoming smaller though. US citizens are becoming more informed. I have not seen a poll, but I'd guess more Americans can identify every Middle East state, not only Iraq and Afghanistan - but Egypt, Saudi Arabia and more than could just ten years ago in 2000. The US will never be a country of foreign affairs students, but no country is. I think information has the potential to be a strong, not a weak point for the creation and application of US foreign policy in the future.

So what we've seen in Brzezinski's essay is that in defense of Obama's policy he shows the failures of analysis that he shares with Obama and most of the US foreign policy establishment. On the other hand, he is unusually candid about the challenges the US faces, even if as of today, he would not be prepared to meet those challenges.


Lysander said...

Thanks, Arnold. That was very good reading.

What are your thoughts on Iran's counter ultimatum? That is, accept our version of the swap by end of January or we will make our own uranium. It was announced in a press conference by the Foreign Minister so it sounds like they really mean it.

Arnold Evans said...

Iran does fetishize independence. Going to 20% will end all argument that Iran could go to bomb grade. Once it goes, Iran will keep a stock. This could be a significant escalation.

I figure Iran's end game is having three or four bombs worth of LEU at 3.5% and one or two at 20%, in different places and if it has to Iran will be making its own fuel until Arak comes on line.

The US, by refusing to get of no enrichment is going to leave Iran with a much more formidable weapons option than it could have gotten.

lidia said...

"the way the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was good for the US and China"

You are right, I only have to add that Russia has NOT organised trap for USA in the ME (unlike Brzezinski's trap for USSR in Afghanistan). USA did it all single-handed (and by trapping USSR in Afghanistan as well)