A Historic, Strategic, and Moral Calamity

Testimony offered by former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


February 1, 2007

Mr. Chairman:

Your hearings come at a critical juncture in the U.S. war of choice in Iraq, and I commend you and Senator Lugar for scheduling them. 

It is time for the White House to come to terms with two central realities:

1. The war in Iraq is a historic, strategic, and moral calamity. Undertaken under false assumptions, it is undermining America's global legitimacy. Its collateral civilian casualties as well as some abuses are tarnishing America's moral credentials. Driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris, it is intensifying regional instability.

2. Only a political strategy that is historically relevant rather than reminiscent of colonial tutelage can provide the needed framework for a tolerable resolution of both the war in Iraq and the intensifying regional tensions.

If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a "defensive" U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

To argue that America is already at war in the region with a wider Islamic threat, of which Iran is the epicenter, is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about WMD's in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the "decisive ideological struggle" of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism. In that context, Islamist extremism and al Qaeda are presented as the equivalents of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and then Soviet Russia, and 9/11 as the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack which precipitated America's involvement in World War II. 

This simplistic and demagogic narrative overlooks the fact that Nazism was based on the military power of the industrially most advanced European state; and that Stalinism was able to mobilize not only the resources of the victorious and militarily powerful Soviet Union but also had worldwide appeal through its Marxist doctrine. In contrast, most Muslims are not embracing Islamic fundamentalism; al Qaeda is an isolated fundamentalist Islamist aberration; most Iraqis are engaged in strife because the American occupation of Iraq destroyed the Iraqi state; while Iran--though gaining in regional influence--is itself politically divided, economically and militarily weak. To argue that America is already at war in the region with a wider Islamic threat, of which Iran is the epicenter, is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Deplorably, the Administration's foreign policy in the Middle East region has lately relied almost entirely on such sloganeering. Vague and inflammatory talk about "a new strategic context" which is based on "clarity" and which prompts "the birth pangs of a new Middle East" is breeding intensifying anti-Americanism and is increasing the danger of a long-term collision between the United States and the Islamic world. Those in charge of U.S. diplomacy have also adopted a posture of moralistic self-ostracism toward Iran strongly reminiscent of John Foster Dulles's attitude of the early 1950's toward Chinese Communist leaders (resulting among other things in the well-known episode of the refused handshake). It took some two decades and a half before another Republican president was finally able to undo that legacy.

One should note here also that practically no country in the world shares the Manichean delusions that the Administration so passionately articulates. The result is growing political isolation of, and pervasive popular antagonism toward the U.S. global posture.

It is obvious by now that the American national interest calls for a significant change of direction. There is in fact a dominant consensus in favor of a change: American public opinion now holds that the war was a mistake; that it should not be escalated, that a regional political process should be explored; and that an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation is an essential element of the needed policy alteration and should be actively pursued. It is noteworthy that profound reservations regarding the Administration's policy have been voiced by a number of leading Republicans. One need only invoke here the expressed views of the much admired President Gerald Ford, former Secretary of State James Baker, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and several leading Republican senators, John Warner, Chuck Hagel, and Gordon Smith among others.

The urgent need today is for a strategy that seeks to create a political framework for a resolution of the problems posed both by the US occupation of Iraq and by the ensuing civil and sectarian conflict. Ending the occupation and shaping a regional security dialogue should be the mutually reinforcing goals of such a strategy, but both goals will take time and require a genuinely serious U.S. commitment.

The quest for a political solution for the growing chaos in Iraq should involve four steps:

1. The United States should reaffirm explicitly and unambiguously its determination to leave Iraq in a reasonably short period of time.

Ambiguity regarding the duration of the occupation in fact encourages unwillingness to compromise and intensifies the on-going civil strife. Moreover, such a public declaration is needed to allay fears in the Middle East of a new and enduring American imperial hegemony. Right or wrong, many view the establishment of such a hegemony as the primary reason for the American intervention in a region only recently free of colonial domination. That perception should be discredited from the highest U.S. level. Perhaps the U.S. Congress could do so by a joint resolution.

2. The United States should announce that it is undertaking talks with the Iraqi leaders to jointly set with them a date by which U.S. military disengagement should be completed, and the resulting setting of such a date should be announced as a joint decision. In the meantime, the U.S. should avoid military escalation.

It is necessary to engage all Iraqi leaders--including those who do not reside within "the Green Zone"--in a serious discussion regarding the proposed and jointly defined date for U.S. military disengagement because the very dialogue itself will help identify the authentic Iraqi leaders with the self-confidence and capacity to stand on their own legs without U.S. military protection. Only Iraqi leaders who can exercise real power beyond "the Green Zone" can eventually reach a genuine Iraqi accommodation. The painful reality is that much of the current Iraqi regime, characterized by the Bush administration as "representative of the Iraqi people," defines itself largely by its physical location: the 4 sq. miles-large U.S. fortress within Baghdad, protected by a wall in places 15 feet thick, manned by heavily armed U.S. military, popularly known as "the Green Zone." 

3. The United States should issue jointly with appropriate Iraqi leaders, or perhaps let the Iraqi leaders issue, an invitation to all neighbors of Iraq (and perhaps some other Muslim countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Pakistan) to engage in a dialogue regarding how best to enhance stability in Iraq in conjunction with U.S. military disengagement and to participate eventually in a conference regarding regional stability.

The United States and the Iraqi leadership need to engage Iraq's neighbors in serious discussion regarding the region's security problems, but such discussions cannot be undertaken while the U.S. is perceived as an occupier for an indefinite duration. Iran and Syria have no reason to help the United States consolidate a permanent regional hegemony. It is ironic, however, that both Iran and Syria have lately called for a regional dialogue, exploiting thereby the self-defeating character of the largely passive - and mainly sloganeering - U.S. diplomacy.

A serious regional dialogue, promoted directly or indirectly by the U.S., could be buttressed at some point by a wider circle of consultations involving other powers with a stake in the region's stability, such as the EU, China, Japan, India, and Russia. Members of this Committee might consider exploring informally with the states mentioned their potential interest in such a wider dialogue.

4. Concurrently, the United States should activate a credible and energetic effort to finally reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace, making it clear in the process as to what the basic parameters of such a final accommodation ought to involve.

The United States needs to convince the region that the U.S. is committed both to Israel's enduring security and to fairness for the Palestinians who have waited for more than forty years now for their own separate state. Only an external and activist intervention can promote the long-delayed settlement for the record shows that the Israelis and the Palestinians will never do so on their own. Without such a settlement, both nationalist and fundamentalist passions in the region will in the longer run doom any Arab regime which is perceived as supportive of U.S. regional hegemony.

After World War II, the United States prevailed in the defense of democracy in Europe because it successfully pursued a long-term political strategy of uniting its friends and dividing its enemies, of soberly deterring aggression without initiating hostilities, all the while also exploring the possibility of negotiated arrangements. Today, America's global leadership is being tested in the Middle East. A similarly wise strategy of genuinely constructive political engagement is now urgently needed.

It is also time for the Congress to assert itself.

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Older Comments:
Assalamualaikum wrbt and greetings to all.

I suugest that the present U.S administration take a good perusal of world history. Any attempts by any world power to annex and annihilate Muslim countries will fail. There are so many case in point. One may have the best army, military or weapons ordnance but the Muslims have the best spirit that can defeat and overcome all these. This spirit must stemmed out from their faith in the victory that ALLAH Promises for the weak and the oppressed.

Believe in ALLAH only and do not ascribe any partners in worshipping HIM. Do not commit the acts of " shirk ". And having said that, I wish to remind the Sunnis and Syiahs to come to a table of muzakarah in the spirit of brotherhood or ukhwah. It is shamless to see endless killings of Muslims among themselves. Ans while the rest of the Muslim world watch haplessly the bloodshed in Iraq.

And all Muslims must renounce violence, be it against anybody. It's horrendous and falsehood to allow an opinion that the killing of ordinary decent people, including westerners are allowed in Islam. I challenge those with that views, tell me where is it in the Quran and Sunnah that allows violence ? Where ?!

Just look and take a good study on how our Prophet ( peace be upon him ) conduct wars and battles. Waging a war is only permissible in self defence. And the treatment of the prisoners of war during the time of the Prophet (pbuh ) and the sahabas were exemplary and commendable and even admired by the present day western historian intellectuals. So please, all these targetting of innocent civilians must stop. Don't let those people who claimed to be fighting for Islamic cause, who advocated violence to take centre stage.

Only then after we do all these, the help and assistance from ALLAH ALL MIGHTY will come, Insya ALLAH.


Mr Brzezinski writes "The war in Iraq is a historic, strategic, and moral calamity.... it is undermining America's global legitimacy.".

Let me make one thing clear : Nations are not moral entities (and that includes Hindu nations and islamic nations, and even Buddhist nations). US is not moral, has never been moral, and will never be moral. The rest of the world does not recognize US's Global legitimacy (i.e. hegemony); and that is why the world is fighting the US hegemony.

Mr Brzezinski also writes "American public opinion now holds that the war was a mistake". Does it. US public is becoming against the war, not because it was wrong to invade Iraq, but US is not winning the war. US public is not against the war; they are just against losing it. In any case, foreign policy is not made by the ordinary voter.

It is funny that it was Mr Brzezinski who, in 1979, asked for a coup by Iranian air force against the newly installed Khomeini regime. Selective memory of Mr Brzezinski for invading the Middle East!

US cannot negotiate with the neigbours of Iraq; US has no cards to play now; its hand is awfully weak; neighbours of Iraq are not stupid. Iran and Syria will sit on the negotiating table, and will ask for impossible conditions which US (and Israel) could not comply. Talks will linger on and will fail. Iran and Syria don't want the talks to succeed when they have strong hands.

Mr Brzezinski writes " The United States should reaffirm explicitly and unambiguously its determination to leave Iraq in a reasonably short period of time.". Do you want GWB to preside over the defeat of US? Impossible. That will be the job of the next President (so war will go on for at least 2 more years and probably 4 more years).

No, US will not leave Iraq; it will be kicked out. The war is already lost; White House has to to recognize it; if GWB does not recognize it, then the next guy will have no choice but to recognize it. You cannot ignore Reality too lo

Yes it is time for the Congress to assert itself, and to speedily impeach this president, who is so blinded by egoism and the profits they (him and his cohorts) are making out of arms sells and proliferation. Remember also the president's remark "we are addicted to oil". As long as he thinks the US will be getting cheap or rather STOLEN oil from the middle east so long he will maitain the aggression. The only available option in my honest opinion is to check him out and see that he lives before his tenure ends. Anything short of this the US Congress will be doing a disservice to the US voters that came out to make the difference last november.