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Zbigniew Brzezinski

Think Tank
Ben Wattenberg - 'Zbigniew Brzezinski'
TTBW 1225 PBS Feed date 9/9/2004

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.

(opening animation)

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: Brzezinski at Large, This Week on Think Tank

(musical break)

WATTENBERG: Zbigniew Brzezinski, welcome to Think Tank.

BRZEZINSKI: Itís good to be with you, Ben.

WATTENBERG: I have been reading your new book, The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership. In fact I stayed up late last night reading it. It is a very good book, with your characteristic linear thinking, but quite gloomy. You pretty well predict a major catastrophe from weapons of mass destruction literally, as you put it, an end-of-the-world scenario; an Armageddon, and pretty soon. I mean you say a generation or two, I think. I mean weíve had now almost sixty years since Hiroshima and weíve kept the genie in the bottle. Why do you say that?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all I donít predict it. And thatís a very important point. What I do say is that itís now feasible, itís technically feasible. That is to say weíre reaching a stage in mankindís history in which means of destruction available to people to states or even to groups are getting to a point in which one could unleash forces that would destroy a country, maybe an entire civilization.

WATTENBERG: And this would be typical of a rogue state of somewhere.

BRZEZINSKI: Well a rogue state or some sort of a conflict or a provocation. You know unfortunately things in the world are never black and white. Theyíre usually much more ambiguous than that, and therefore one of the major themes of the book is that American unilateralism or American domination does not suffice to avoid these dangers. That America has to exercise a leadership that commands support, that inspires others. Because if it doesnít, then these kinds of dangers could become reality. So I repeat, I do not predict an apocalypse by any means. Itís not a pessimistic book. But it is a book, which says a certain danger now has manifest and we have the obligation to avoid it.

WATTENBERG: You came to Washington - I was on the Johnson staff. I remember you coming down there occasionally as an advisor but then you - where - from where? From Harvard or from Columbia?

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

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

BRZEZINSKI: Thatís right. I headed the national security council staff.

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

BRZEZINSKI: Well if youíre talking of my political career so to speak...


BRZEZINSKI: ... 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.

WATTENBERG: The hostages.

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

WATTENBERG: What would you have done?

BRZEZINSKI: I would have tried to impose a military blockade on Iran.
Also when we undertook the rescue mission, which I favored, openly.

WATTENBERG: With the helicopters.

BRZEZINSKI: 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 air strike against Iraq so it becomes part and parcel of a larger...


BRZEZINSKI: Iraq - excuse me. I take it back. 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, of 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.

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?

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.

WATTENBERG: You were quite critical of - sort of - President Bushís and the administrationís actions on homeland security, yet I mean, this obviously, as you know, the acts of 9/11 were unprecedented. What are you supposed to do except take harsh measures? It was an attack on our homeland and as you point out bigger and better ones, bigger and worse ones, may be coming right down the line at us.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes, but harsh measures is not necessarily the most intelligent response. Harsh measures produce only harshness. What worries me about some of the measures taken essentially are two things. One: are we really running the risk of crossing the borderline between prudent but constitutionally responsible reactions and panicky and maybe not even fully constitutional-quasi constitutional reactions. And thatís a serious problem.

WATTENBERG: And your view sort of leans toward the latter.

BRZEZINSKI: Well I think some aspects of the patriotic act give me pause. Secondly, Iím not sure that throwing money at a security problem and creating a huge security bureaucracy is the response, because ultimately you canít protect everything and you are just spending a lot of money trying to protect everything, which means that youíre really spreading yourself thin and you create an atmosphere of anxiety which the enemy can abet even by stimulating periodic alarms. If you are really interested in protecting everything, what you really need is much better intelligence.


BRZEZINSKI: And one of the things I argue in my book is that for every ten bucks spent on homeland security, one buck spent on better intelligence is a much better deal.

WATTENBERG: And you are in favor of human rather than technological intelligence. You think thatís where weíre short?

BRZEZINSKI: I think our technological intelligence is very good. I know for a fact that our human intelligence is very poor and I think what happened with regards to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq illustrates that dramatically. Iraq was a country that was actually pervasive. You could penetrate it - permeable. We knew just very, very embarrassingly little and thatís been an embarrassment to the United States and to the administration.

WATTENBERG: And yet we were on record as saying they had them and Chirac and the French were on record as saying they had them and the Russians were on the record as saying - I mean thereís this long list which youíve seen. Everybody thought it. It wasnít just Americans.

BRZEZINSKI: You know, itís a lot more qualified than that, Ben.


BRZEZINSKI: First of all, the others who were saying it were also saying letís check it out. We have time. The inspectors are looking and letís see what they say. And they donít seem to be finding anything. Maybe thereís something to that, because the record in the past was pretty good actually. So they are far more patient than we. Secondly, donít underestimate the impact on others of us proclaiming that the Iraqis have them. Because the fact of the matter is that historically we were trusted.

WATTENBERG: We were what?

BRZEZINSKI: We were trusted. When Kennedy said to the world, 'there are Russian missiles with nuclear weapons in Cuba', everybody believed us because we had a record of credibility. So when we declared here - when President Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, all of them, flatly said they have weapons of mass destruction, everybody was inclined to believe them. I was, too, although I became increasingly skeptical.

WATTENBERG: Did you support the war at that time?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, letís, um, you know, I canít say yes; I canít say no. I believed we had to do something about Iraq and I said that immediately after 9/11. But I also argued very strongly that we better do it together with others, emulate what we did in í91 - that is to say build a genuine alliance to act if necessary, but impose pressure on them through the U.N. And thereís no need to rush, because the evidence for an imminent danger is practically nonexistent. That was my position. But what we need to do in my view is to have much better intelligence if we want to have more security, not spend forty billion dollars a year on homeland security which as all these false alarms indicate is very manipulable.

WATTENBERG: But establishing...I mean Iím in favor of it also...but establishing human intelligence in countries in authoritarian, autocratic dictatorships, where you can lose your life pretty easily, this is a long-term project. This is not something...letís get a thousand human intelligence people...

BRZEZINSKI: Well, of course. Of course. We should have been doing this for years. I have felt for a long time now that this is an area of weakness and we are paying the price. But thereís no alternative to it. You know, if weíre going to position ourselves strategically into a posture in which we preempt on suspicion - I repeat, preempt on suspicion - weíre going to isolate ourselves totally in the world; weíll destroy our credibility totally - itís badly damaged already - and weíll precipitate reactions against us that are going to be seriously dangerous to our security.

WATTENBERG: Well, but President Bush says you canít sit back and wait for them to hit us and then say 'weíre going to get you'. The whole idea is we donít want to get hit. Iím mean, thatís the idea of preemption.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes, but if I suspect youíre about to hit me, I should hit you right now? I mean you know at some point suspicion has to be founded on something. It canít be simple as the president now says 'Well he was a madman.' Before we had a theory of an imminent danger. He has weapons; heís about to attack us. Later we said...

WATTENBERG: He never used the word imminent. Theyíre very, very proud of that, I mean...

BRZEZINSKI: Look, he said we are confronted with a mortal danger - those are the words. Mushroom cloud was used to justify going to war. He has weapons that are the most destructive mankind has ever devised. Those are actual quotes. Now after that they said, well, he didnít have them but he had the intent. Now we say he was a madman. So, shifting from hard evidence to presumption of intention and now to some psychological analysis. Are we going to go around attacking countries on that basis?

WATTENBERG: And now, and I want to talk about that in a minute, now weíre making the case that the establishment, even of a partial democracy in Iraq would have been worth the cost of this war because it could change the whole Middle East.

BRZEZINSKI: Well if it changes the whole Middle East, if it leads to some genuine stability, yes. But that requires moving not only on Iraq; that requires addressing actively the Palestinian-Israeli problem; it requires some movement in relations with Iran; it requires some gradual evolution in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, because itís precipitous. Itís going to be hurtful to our interests actually. But I donít see that happening and even then one has to ask oneself on what basis can a country attack another country if it isnít threatened? You know, something - sort of half-baked theory of democratization - doesnít give anybody a right to attack anybody. Otherwise weíll have a situation of global anarchy if we keep acting like this.

WATTENBERG: Well you mentioned - you mentioned it here - you mention frequently in the book, getting some kind of an Israeli-Palestinian compromise. Now I understand, I think, what you want from the Israelis, which is to give up the settlements, but what are the Palestinians supposed to do as their share of the compromise?

BRZEZINSKI: Well obviously there has to be absolute peace between them. No violence, no terrorism. Demilitarization of the Palestinian state, etcetera, etcetera.

WATTENBERG: If theyíre not willing, I mean...


WATTENBERG: ... I mean so far theyíre - they have not - they say theyíre not willing to...

BRZEZINSKI: Well the problem is each side has conditions for the other to meet without meeting their own conditions. Each side is locked into a kind of perspective which condemns them to mutual antagonism that can only get worse and worse. For the Palestinians: increasing poverty, humiliation and suffering. For the Israelis: garrison state, in which democracy becomes a fiction, in which Israel is made to look like apartheid South Africa. These are horrible perspectives for both. And unless the United States steps in and really pressed for a breakthrough towards peace and articulates a concept of peace thatís more or less fair and balanced.

WATTENBERG: I mean isnít that what the so-called roadmap did?

BRZEZINSKI: No, the roadmap only outlines how to get there. But since each distrusts the other, each is sort of inclined to trip the other up while moving forward. We need something like the Geneva Accords, which is that very detailed blueprint for peace contrived by some Israelis and some Palestinians so that both sides would know where the roadmap is leading. Then you have a chance of getting there.

WATTENBERG: You have written in this, as I said, very interesting book that what we are up against now is more difficult than what we faced in the Cold War, and you were quite a cold warrior when there was a Cold War. Explain that. I mean thatís where I got this thing that we started out with about the possibility of some great weapons of mass destruction situation coming upon us sort of - perhaps - rapidly.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I donít think itís a, you know, a very unique insight of mine. Simply during the Cold War we knew who the enemy was and we pretty much what the enemy has. And we increasingly understood what makes the enemy tick. I donít think we know now who the enemy is. Look at the way itís defined - terrorism is the enemy. Well, first of all, thatís kind of an absurdity because terrorism is a technique; itís not an entity. Second we donít really know who the enemy...

WATTENBERG: But the terrorist who have hit us though have...

BRZEZINSKI: They are people that we are unwilling and very hesitant about saying who they are.

WATTENBERG: Well theyíve been - theyíve been Arabs.

BRZEZINSKI: But theyíre Arabs, precisely. '...'

WATTENBERG: ...and not poor Arabs. You say somewhere that the problem with terrorism is itís bred by poverty

BRZEZINSKI: Well there is - some of them are middle-class Arabs.


BRZEZINSKI: Some of them poor; some of them are middle class.


BRZEZINSKI: And one was very rich.


BRZEZINSKI: But the point is we have hesitated to do that because we prefer to have the sort of vague notion of terrorism around the world. In fact youíre quite right; most of the terrorists are Arabs. The problem is the Middle East. The problem is our presence in Saudi Arabia after í91; the persistence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and our identification with it and us seen as being very partial; the problem is the legacy of colonialism - British, French - and now seemingly ours, and in a sense by extension Israeli. All of that is the problem.

WATTENBERG: I mean the Arabs have done pretty well at killing each other off even without the Israelis. I mean you have the Egyptians versus the Yemenis and the Libyans and you had the Syrians...


WATTENBERG: ... had the Syrians against the Lebanese...


WATTENBERG: ...and I mean thereís a whole - and you have Iraq invading Kuwait and Iran I mean. Itís not a...

BRZEZINSKI: Well, look. That is nothing new. People all over the world kill each other.

WATTENBERG: Right. Right.

BRZEZINSKI: What is of interest to me is if they try to kill us. And I think what we have the problem - and this is where I come back to the point I made - is we define the problem broadly and vaguely; we donít want to focus specifically on who the enemy is and we know very little as to what the enemy can do. And we talked about that because of poor intelligence. Take Al Queda. We talk about Al Queda all the time. Every morning when I put on the news thereís always some 'expert' quote, unquote, on terrorism talking about Al Queda and terrorism. We donít really know. Most Americans today think that Al Queda is some disciplined, well-organized underground terrorist activity. Ashcroft talks about fifty thousand trained terrorists. Itís probably at most fifty thousand people who went through basic training...


BRZEZINSKI: ...who are not therefore professional terrorists - you know, because they wouldnít even know how to make a bomb.


BRZEZINSKI: The point is we have this kind of vague notion of who the enemy is and yet the potential threats are in fact quite serious because of technological dynamics and what this means in terms of the possibility of the infliction of destruction.

WATTENBERG: How do you regard the evolving American position on - on uh, defending and extending human rights and democratic values around the world? In 2003 President Bush gave three big speeches. One at the American Enterprise Institute, one at the National Endowment for Democracies, and one at Buckingham Palace, I guess, where he really said this is our business - is to go - this is our mission, which is to go about extending democracy. Is that an overstatement in your judgment?

BRZEZINSKI: I wouldnít say itís an overstatement. Of course, everything depends on how itís done. In a sense itís a continuation of the position which was adopted earlier. Human rights was adopted, more or less, as the sort of flagship of Jimmy Carterís foreign policy. But, one: one has to recognize that democracy if pushed too hard and artificially can produce a reaction which is very adverse. Unless the conditions are mature and thereís stability, responsibility, civic consciousness, extremism tends to surface. Democracy can be very, very doctrinaire and intolerant. You have to create a constitutionalism; you have to create liberal institutions; you have to give people dignity. I mean Iím a little worried for example when I hear some people in the Bush administration say 'no settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians until the Palestinians are a full democracy.' Because that means they remain occupied. If youíre occupied, youíre denied political dignity. You cannot have democracy without political dignity. You have to have a sense of your own freedom to become democratic. So if democracy becomes an excuse for doing some of the things we need to do in the mean time, then I donít consider it a program I consider it to be an invasion

WATTENERG: Looking at your work from another axis you come out in favor of something called shared national and international interests. And then you say weíre not ready for global government now but itís something that we might be ready for in a generation or two. And you support the international criminal court. This is not, sort of, the Brzezinski of old. This is a different perspective on the world, I mean it doesnít sound like the hawkish, Zbigniew Brzezinsk of yore.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, maybe Iím getting senile.

WATTENBERG: No. The situation has changed.

BRZEZINSKI: Pre-precisely. Youíve said it. Youíve said it. We have defeated the big challenge... a conspiracy, a totalitarian doctrine, an effort to impose uniformity in the world. We won. But weíre now faced with the prospect of global chaos if weíre not careful. And we are living in a world which technology makes totally interdependent. And that means either we all suffer some calamity, because of interdependence, or we create some community of shared interest. It will not be world government, but eventually weíll have to move towards more and more global institutions. Thatís just the logic of history, of technological dynamics. And if we can lead it and infuse it with our values - democracy, constitutionalism and so forth, weíll be performing...

WATTENBERG: ...including an international criminal court...

BRZEZINSKI: Well why not at some point?

WATTENBERG: ...that could put some of our generals - Tommy Franks - in jail or something. I mean...

BRZEZINSKI: Look. First of all if you committed war crimes I wouldnít weep if he was, but secondly thatís not going to happen and - immediately.


BRZEZINSKI: But as a longer-range objective, I think itís absolute very sensible. We have all sorts of international rules that we accept - in a variety of areas...trade, civil aviation, and so forth. So why not military conduct at some point? This is not a prescription for tomorrow, but as an indicator of longer-range trends, yes. I think thatís the only alternative to global chaos.

WATTENBERG: Thank you very much, Zbigniew Brzezinski, for joining us on Think Tank. And thank you. Please send us your comments via email. Itís what makes our show better. For Think Tank, Iím Ben Wattenberg.


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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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