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Zbigniew Brzezinski At Large, Part Two

Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg
Zbigniew Brzezinski, At large, Part 1
TTBW 1208 PBS feed date 3/25/2004

Funding for Think Tank is provided by:

At Pfizer weíre spending over five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have twelve thousand scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer. Life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

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BEN WATTENBERG: Hello, Iím Ben Wattenberg. Today, Think Tank is joined by one of the significant voices in American foreign policy, Zbigniew Brzezinski. Dr. Brzezinski served as National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, where he played a key role in the 1978 peace accord between Israel and Egypt. He has been a principal advisor on foreign policy and intelligence issues to successive American administrations. Now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, Dr. Brzezinski is the author of many books, including The Grand Chessboard, American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives and his just published book The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership.

The Topic before the House: Zbigniew Brzezinski at Large, Part 2

This Week on Think Tank.

(opening animation)

BEN WATTENBERG: Zbigniew Brzezinski, welcome to Think Tank. I have been reading your new book, The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership. It is a very good book, but quite gloomy. And let me go through a couple of the items.
You write about the role of American popular culture - the movies and the music and the television and some of the uglier things about it also. And that we sort of no longer even control it ourselves, if we ever did - America has just sort of become part of the world and a very important part. Is that a good thing?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well you put it very well. You said we donít even control it and I think youíre right. I think we are in a sense in the hands of a Frankenstein that we have created, because this mass culture of ours is partially the product of our preferences; itís partially the product of a machine that runs on its own. And a lot of it is, at least to my subjective taste, extraordinarily vulgar and pernicious and I think even demoralizing in terms of basic values. And unfortunately we are the purveyors of that. And unfortunately a lot of that defines America to the rest of the world and Iím not too happy about that because I think some of that will bounce against us, in the mean time creating an image of a society thatís hedonistic, opportunistic, materialistic, crude. Without real standards. And the thing that really bothers me the most ultimately is this. Iím increasingly troubled by the fact that in America the only thing that makes us comfortable in saying that something is immoral is if at the same time you can prove that itís illegal. And if you reduce morality to legality youíve eliminated morality from human conduct.

BEN WATTENBERG: When you talk to European - when I talk to Europeans these days and when you read about it from some of them, they always say 'well, this anti-American feeling is very complicated', meaning that thereís - I mean thereís a love/hate relationship going on. Is that sort of the way you see it?



ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Oh, absolutely and itís true not just of the Europeans. I think - letís take the Muslim world because thatís so much upper most in our minds these days. I have the sense that in most Muslim countries, most people, like to live the way we do. They like our films, they like our movies, they like our decadence. But the hate some things about us, including some of the things we do. So itís everything about America today in the world is very ambivalent and almost contradictory. Itís clear that weíre distrusted now. Itís clear that our policies are disliked. But itís also clear that Americaís kind of a miracle land for a lot of people at the same time.

BEN WATTENBERG: You say that the demographic pressures in the world today can turn illegal immigration into violent migrations. What do you mean by that?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well I mean by that the increasing pressures from the highly underdeveloped parts of the world, but overpopulated parts of the world, on the areas of prosperity, in some cases islands of prosperity. Take one sort of dramatic example, which is very much in my mind, because it has geopolitical implications. If you look at the map of Eurasia, letís say everything east of the Urals from the Arctic Sea through the Urals down to the Caspian Sea down to Iran.

BEN WATTENBERG: Is that your arc of crisis?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, no but everything east of that.


ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: North of it - Siberia, the Russian Far East, thirty-five million people. Thirty-five million people. Everything south of that line from Iran all the way to the end of China, three and a half billion... and growing. And youíre a great student of demographics. Thatís going to increase dramatically in the next twenty years. The point is, itís not sustainable. The pressure in Europe, the number of immigrants the Europeans need and in some cases they want to let in. These are all pressures that at some point can become quite violent.

BEN WATTENBERG: There are intense feelings of literally hatred against the illegal immigrants in Europe, and I guess even more so in Japan. And in Europe itís for obvious reasons, particularly directed at the Arabs and the Muslims which is where their primary...

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well the Muslims but there arenít that many Arabs in Europe actually. There are Turks...

BEN WATTENBERG: Well in France there are.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well theyíre Algerians.


ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Algerians, but theyíre not Arabs.


ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Algerians, Moroccans but also Turks in Germany. Youíre quite right. Yes. Thereís a lot of hatred but look, even in the United States the attitude towards Hispanics is ambivalent.




ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: They do things that most of us unfortunately are not willing to do, but thereís a lot of resentment and a feeling of unease, desire to pull up the drawbridge and so forth. Itís going to be a problem.

BEN WATTENBERG: You mention that India, which I regard--Iím writing about demographics and economics of the less developed countries--which I regard as one of the great success stories and just coming into its own now, you say it may implode over ethnic violence. And yet in fact we have some Indian scholars that we deal with here at the American Enterprise Institute - thatís not their take on the situation. Is that a serious threat?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, itís my view. That doesnít make it a serious threat. I could be totally wrong.


ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I know that the prevailing opinion, not only just the conventional but the prevailing opinion is that India is a secure state. The reason I feel that way is that I am historically very conscious of the role of ethnicity and national identity and that multinational states at some point tend to begin to fragment when the entire population becomes politically activated. My view since the í50s was that the Soviet Union would implode because it was a multinational empire. I remember having an argument with the Yugoslav foreign minister when I was in the White House, saying to him that after Tito goes Yugoslavia will break up, and he was equally outraged. And most people disagreed with me. I noticed the fact that in India the vast majority of the population still is politically inert, inactive, a very high percentage illiterate. But once they begin to have a sense of their political identify which tends to be associated with ethnicity, language and religion, then the divergences, differences will begin to surface.

BEN WATTENBERG: The Indians claim that because there are literally hundreds of ethnic groups and hundreds of languages and dialects they have no choice but to keep the democrat - I mean itís been going...

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Thatís a very sensible...

BEN WATTENBERG: ... for almost fifty years.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Yes, itís a very sensible argument. The Soviet Union lasted for seventy.


ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: But you know, that is true of the small groups but there are some large groups and those are the ones that are the most dangerous. First of all a hundred and forty million or so Muslims.


ZBIGNEIW BRZEZINSKI: And the sort of Hindu/Muslim conflict is a serious reality and thousands have already died because of it. Secondly there are a few entities like the 'Tamils, like the Sikhs and others who very well may aspire for separate statehood at some point. Kashmir itself, you know, increasingly the Kashmirís are saying 'we donít want to be part of India; we donít want to be part of Pakistan. We want to have our own state. So I think itís an open issue.

BEN WATTENBERG: I mean, talking about multiethnic states you write, and again very eloquently, about the large wave of immigration thatís come into the United States from non-European sources in the last forty years I guess, or since 1965. And you are concerned that because so many previous ethnic groups - I mean the Jews, the Greeks, you can just go through a whole - the English - you can go through a whole list - have attempted to influence American diplomacy, that we now are getting so many groups that American diplomacy may end up as a shambles...that everybodyís going to be pulling in separate directions.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Yes. And I know I could add to the list the Cuban-Americans, the Polish-Americans and so forth. And down the line Chinese-Americans, Indian-Americans and so forth. Well, that is connected with something which I sense is happening, namely when I was growing up in America there was a kind of drive towards assimilation, which was not coercive; it was more magnetic, but there was a kind of a tendency to assimilate. Now I think weíre moving increasingly into a kind of highly legitimated multiculturalism. You tend to emphasize your antecedents, your origins, your distinctive ...

BEN WATTENBERG: Well those are the people with the loud media megaphones. And Iím not saying they donít have a real influence. On the other hand you look at the public opinion polls and not only are Americans the most patriotic country in the world, but the immigrants are even more patriotic than the Americans as a whole.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: No thatís quite true. The tendencies are contradictory, but it does mean that increasing a different groups begin to claim almost a veto right regarding foreign policy towards their point of origin or interest. This is clearly very evident with the Jewish community in Israel. And I think itís probably a fair proposition that right now with regards to policy towards Israel and the Palestinians, the Jewish community has close to a veto right. The same is true of the Cuban-Americans regarding Cuba. The same has been claimed by the central Europeans towards central Europe. Polish-Americans towards Poland. I think weíre beginning to see some of that with the Hispanic-Americans, particularly Mexican-Americans, and before too long I think weíll see it with the Asian-Americans.

BEN WATTENBERG: The argument, something I once wrote, is that you have to decide, and itís case by case I guess, whether a given act is in the national interest of America or in the interest of Americans.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: All Americans or some Americans?

BEN WATTENBERG: Well, no - some Americans. I mean but if the totality of Americans are made up of lots of some Americans.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well thatís true, but if these pools become to contradictory and to diversified then simply the making of policy will become a kind of a calculus almost of votes or of setting interests rather than any larger notion of the national interest. Wait until you get Arab-Americans really activated. And once they begin to use money as well as concentrated votes and you will see what will happen to Middle Eastern policy. Iím not sure thatís a healthy development. But Iím not condemning it.

BEN WATTENBERG: But youíre not for cutting back immigration?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: No. No. And Iím not for some coercive assimilation.


ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Iím simply saying this is now an increasing problem. And our society may find it more difficult to articulate a shared notion of national interest than in the past where everybody either was WASP, and the WASPS dominated, or most people aspired to becoming kind of quasi-WASPS, including changing their names and so forth. Probably was easier then to say this is the national interest. Now itís much more complex.

BEN WATTENBERG: Neither of us changed our names so thatís...


BEN WATTENBERG: ...thatís right...

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: But our antecedents probably would have had.

BEN WATTENBERG: You have said that Americaís facing its major challenges in an area that you call the global Balkans. Are those the ones you described before, the - the...

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Yes, the global Balkans. I mean that area roughly from Suez to Chinaís western borders--Xin Jiang. From southern Russian frontier all the way down to the Indian Ocean. Itís a large conglomerate of entities, weak states, lots of ethnic, religious conflicts. Itís an area of internal instability, which has a suction affect on external powers much like the European Balkans did in the 19th century.

BEN WATTENBERG: Your priorities or some high priorities are central Asia as weíve talked about and energy. Where do you come out on the whole energy situation?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Iím not an energy expert, but just using common sense and the knowledge available to all of us, it seems to me evident weíre going to be dependent on natural gas and oil for some decades to come, even if we do things that we need to do. More importantly, not only will we be dependent; Europe is going to be dependent and the Far East - China and Japan--are going to be increasingly dependent. Therefore, for us to have a strong position in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf is not only an economic necessity; itís potentially a source of enormous strategic leverage on others.

BEN WATTENBERG: You regard - I mean we all talk about terrorists these days, but before 9/11 the big potential threat in the geopolitical community was China. You still regard that as a possibility that thatís a...

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I have not argued that China was a threat. I donít think it is...

BEN WATTENBERG: A potential threat.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well potential threat, yes, in the longer run but itís going to take quite some time for China to really be a major global power. A regional power, yes, if it continues in its development and is stable. There are some question marks regarding that.

BEN WATTENBERG: Tell me, what do you consider the high points and the low points of your foreign policy career? You came to Washington - I was on the Johnson staff. I remember you coming down there occasionally as an adviser but then you - where - from where? From Harvard or from Columbia?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all - from Columbia - but I also served on the Johnson administration.

BEN WATTENBERG: On the policy planning...

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: On the Policy Planning Council in the Department of State.

BEN WATTENBERG: I see. And then under President Carter you were the national security advisor...

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Thatís right. I headed the National Security Council staff.

BEN WATTENBERG: What do you consider the high points and the low points of your career?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well if youíre talking of my political career so to speak, I would say the high points clearly were the defeat of the Soviet Union, the success of the policy of peaceful engagement which I advocated and strategized and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Those were clearly the high points. More specifically some things such as Camp David, the first peace treaty ever between Israel and any Arab state; normalization of relations with China where I was very actively involved and in affect on behalf of the president, did it. And the low point clearly the debacle in Iran - the collapse of Iran.

BEN WATTENBERG: The hostages.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: The hostages, sure. Yes. Which I would have handled differently but I didnít have my way.

BEN WATTENBERG: What would you have done?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I would have tried to impose a military blockade on Iran. Also when we undertook the rescue mission, which I favored, openly. The helicopters. And which I thought had a high probability of success but a reasonable danger of failure. I felt and I said so that if it fails we should immediately combine it with an immediate strike, retaliatory strike against Iran, so we could immediately say that our patience has run out; that we have taken military action to punish them. We undertook a rescue mission, which unfortunately didnít succeed, and if they harm any hostages our military strike is a preview of what will happen if they hurt anybody. In other words to obscure the failure, and to begin to implement military pressure. That perhaps would have been risky, but I thought we should have done that.

BEN WATTENBERG: Given the circumstances, I guess, at the time and looking back on it in retrospect were we right in giving American support to the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan after the...

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Oh, yes. Absolutely, because donít forget the invasion of Afghanistan happened in the wake and almost in the context of the collapse of Iran. Our position in the Persian Gulf was collapsing. If the Soviet Union had been able to get away with the success in Afghanistan, its sense of momentum - aggressive momentum - would have continued. Remember that at that time the Soviet Union was actively abetting international terrorism. There were scores of camps in the Soviet Union training terrorists and the problem we today confront with terrorism would have been vastly greater than it is if we still had a Soviet Union actively engaged in exploiting and abetting it.

BEN WATTENBERG: Let me ask you a final question. If you had to give President Bush - youíve been a professor - if you had to give him a final grade as an elected politician, not as a geo-strategic theoretician, on his foreign policy, where would you place - Iíve heard some conservatives said he may well end up being the most successful one-term loser in American presidential history.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well thatís very cruel. Itíll be particularly cruel to him because I know that heís quite concerned over what happened to his father and he doesnít want to repeat that in the sense for the sake of his father. So I understand the human feelings involved. You know, I almost hate having to answer you because youíve asked such good questions. And I donít want to put a partisan spin on what Iím saying.

BEN WATTENBERG: No, go ahead.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: But Iím willing to answer you, but I do so with some hesitation. I honestly donít think much of his foreign policy at this stage. I think that as I go around the world there are a number of things that bother me. To the Europeans who were totally with us after 9/11, heís been saying since then if you are not with us youíre against us. How can you have friends if you say to your friends 'if youíre not with me youíre against me'? The essence of friendship is the ability to disagree. That bothers me. With the Russians, he looks into the eyes of Putin and discovers a wonderful soul in him, even though Putin is killing the Chechens by the thousands and is repressing democracy. That bothers me. I am uneasy about the demagogy that was used to stir up the popular support for going against Iraq. I think a democracy cannot thrive if it goes to war on the basis of false pretenses. And the pretenses were false. I am bothered by the loss of American credibility around the world. You know, Kennedy could send Atcheson to see de Gaulle during the Cuban missile crisis, to tell him there are Russian missiles pointed at us and that weíll go to war, if necessary. And then he says to de Gaulle 'and now let me show you the photographs to bear out what I was saying.' And de Gaulle says to Atcheson, 'I donít want to see your photographs. The word of the president of the United States is good enough for me. Go back and tell him France is with the United States.' Would any leader do that today in similar circumstances? Not after what has happened. These things bother me. I thought that Bush started off well and I have been regretfully disappointed. I think that 9/11 did something to him and maybe this sort of politically attractive notion of being a 'war president' quote, unquote...

BEN WATTENBERG: And thatís what he calls himself.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: ...thatís what he calls himself - in a sense turned him in the wrong direction. And America can compete politically without becoming divisive. That is the strength of America. Now our competition is becoming internally antagonistic. And unfortunately I think a lot of that is due to the rhetoric of the last two years.
I am very often critical of some very liberal Democrats and I have at times preferred Republican foreign policies to democratic foreign policies. But, since you forced me to the wall, Iím troubled. I think the president is surrounded by a group of people who reinforce each other. I donít think he gets any dissents of any serious degree. Dissent is not encouraged. Ultimately, you know, dissent cannot be the basis for governing, but you do want in a democracy for dissent to be heard, considered and seriously considered. Thatís not the atmosphere in this administration.

BEN WATTENBERG: And youíre not going to give him any specific grade as a professor.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I donít want to give him a grade but I would...

BEN WATTENBERG: Youíre not happy.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: No, I would say you know, take another look, think it over; itís not headed in the right direction.

BEN WATTENBERG: Okay, thank you very much Zbigniew Brzezinski for joining us on Think Tank. And thank you. Please remember to send us your comments via email. For Think Tank, Iím Ben Wattenberg.


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Funding for this program is provided by:

At Pfizer weíre spending over five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have twelve thousand scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer. Life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

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