Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski appeared on Late Edition this morning to discuss his new book Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower. Brzezinski is truly a great scholar of history and provides an incisive analysis of the geopolitical climate, particularly with regard to the disaster unleashed by our hasty invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.
BRZEZINSKI: I think what this president has done to America's position in the world is unconscionable and will take years to undo after 2008, provided we don't plunge into some terrible expanded conflict before he leaves office. And what concerns me the most about Iraq is now that it is no longer a war of national interest. It's a war of presidential hubris and has the potential for expanding into Iran.
In case you missed it, Mr. Brzezinski was on The Daily Show last week.
He also testified before Congress last month and had some very disturbing predictions about Iraq and a potential showdown with Iran.
Transcript below the fold...
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Our next guest sounded one of the early alarms against the war in Iraq and warned of potentially disastrous results.
The former national security Zbigniew Brzezinski served under former President Jimmy Carter. He is the author of an important new book, "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower." Dr. Brzezinski is a frequent guest here on "Late Edition." Thanks for coming in.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Wolf, it's good to be with you.
BLITZER: Congratulations on this new book. Let me summarize briefly, as far as Iraq is concerned, three of your conclusions in this book. The war in Iraq caused calamitous damage to America's global standing, it's a geopolitical disaster and it's increased the terrorist threat to the United States. Are those three of your main summaries?
BLITZER: Let's talk about each one. It's caused calamitous damage to America's global standing. How calamitous would you assess the damage?↓ Story continues below ↓
BRZEZINSKI: I'll just give you one example, but one could talk literally for an hour. The BBC recently conducted a worldwide poll asking people to rank countries in terms of their most positive contributions to world affairs and the ones that have made the most negative.
The three most negative countries rated by some 28,000 responders were in this sequence: The worst, I'm sorry to say, Israel. Second, Iran. Third, the United States. Now, this is 15 years after we became the only global superpower, when we had a chance to really shape the world. And this is now how we're rated.
BLITZER: And you also say this has become a geopolitical disaster for the United States?
BRZEZINSKI: Yes. Because in the Middle East there is now great turmoil, and in many respects Iran has benefited geopolitically from the destruction of Iraq, and that, of course, creates problems for us. And beyond that, we seem to be bogged down.
BLITZER: Are the 28 million or so, 27 million people of Iran better off now than they were under Saddam Hussein?
BRZEZINSKI: You mean of Iraq.
BLITZER: I mean of Iraq.
BRZEZINSKI: Look, today in The New York times, there has come the big box which measures conditions. It's very hard to say that they're better off. I think in some respects, they're worse off. And then there's a further statistic which is not there, with which I am somewhat familiar. The country had about 25 million people when we were there.
Two million left, probably the very best, the best educated. They literally have left to Jordan, to Syria and so forth. About a million and half have been displaced from their homes, so they're internal refugees. And maybe as many as half a million were neither born because of a lower birth rate or died earlier because of higher mortality or were physically killed.
So we have deprived that country of close to three million people. And we devastated the country.
BLITZER: You also say instead of reducing the terror threat against the United States, the war in Iraq has increased the terror threat to the United States. Explain what your thinking is on that.
BRZEZINSKI: Yes. It has intensified hostility toward the United States, in the Middle East, and increasingly in the Muslim world at large. We have contributed to that not only by what we have been doing in Iraq, but we have contributed to it also by a kind of Islamophobic language which identifies almost all Muslims as enemies. And that of course creates a wider, bigger, more fertile recruiting ground for terrorists.
BLITZER: But you also heard Stephen Hadley, the current national security adviser, say by fighting al Qaida in Iraq, the United States is preventing them from coming over here and committing terrorist acts in the U.S. homeland.
BRZEZINSKI: Look, if you were to extend that logic to its logical conclusion, we should be fighting, and we might be fighting before long also in Iran, more deeply in Afghanistan, potentially in Pakistan. What the administration fails to understand, and it's a fundamental historic error is that we cannot be acting like an imperial power in the post-imperial age, like a colonial power in a post-colonial age.
The only way to eradicate terrorism is to have the support and consensus of all the moderates in the countries that potentially breed terrorists. And not trying to do it by ourselves with means which increasingly alienate people.
BLITZER: You're a professor, and you give grades to three U.S. presidents. You teach at my alma mater at Johns Hopkins University at the School of Advanced International Studies. Now let's talk about the grades that you give these presidents.
You give the first President Bush a solid B. You give President Clinton an uneven C, and you give the current President Bush a failed F. All right, let's talk about the first President Bush. Why does he get a solid B?
BRZEZINSKI: Because he did extremely well in handling the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, really skillfully, much better than Reagan would have done it. And he acted with resolution, but inconsequentially in the Middle East. He failed to exploit the enormous standing he had, really enormous, to set in motion some larger, more compelling vision of the new world that the United States would shape, being now the global leader.
BLITZER: And he did presumably well, at least you say, in dealing with Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.
BRZEZINSKI: But didn't follow up on it. And didn't follow up on the possibility...
BLITZER: But here's what I don't understand. You say he didn't follow up. You criticize the current President Bush for going in and getting rid of Saddam Hussein, but you're saying that the first President Bush should have gotten rid of Saddam Hussein then?
BRZEZINSKI: No. I'm saying he could have exploited it by being politically more persistent and more insightful to overthrow Saddam from within. I think the Army, the Baathists might have overthrown Saddam in those circumstances, especially if we were prepared to push on against the Iraqi armed forces.
But even more significant failure was the failure to exploit the remarkable standing he had, including participation of Arab countries in the war, to push for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That was the moment to make a really basic push.
BLITZER: All right. Now, what about Bill Clinton? You give him an uneven C, even though for eight years of his presidency the country was basically at peace.
BRZEZINSKI: Yes. It was basically at peace. It was prosperous. But I also say that he was full of good intentions but rather self- indulgent. And I don't mean anything necessarily personal about him or only in part. The country became self-indulgent. It became kind of disinclined to really make any sacrifices.
Hedonism almost became a virtue. We weren't prepared to undertake the kind of self-restraint, self-denial that is necessary in this modern world to provide leadership. He wouldn't address the problems of poverty, of social injustice, not to mention ecology.
BLITZER: But how did he handle the crisis in Bosnia and Kosovo?
BRZEZINSKI: Very well. And I give him credit for that.
BLITZER: Because an uneven C, a lot of students, graduate students of yours would be unhappy if they got a C.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, I was known to be a tough grader. But his major failing again was the Middle East. Instead of exploiting the special standing of the United States as a mediator, he essentially kind of embraced Israel in a way in which, while giving more support to Israel, he diminished his ability to mediate between the Israelis and the Palestinians and create peace, which Israel more than anybody else needs badly.
And hence, he left eight years kind of slip, out of self- indulgence.
BLITZER: You give an F, a failed F, to the current president.
BLITZER: That is a total failure. BRZEZINSKI: I'm sorry to say, this is terrible. I think what this president has done to America's position in the world is unconscionable and will take years to undo after 2008, provided we don't plunge into some terrible expanded conflict before he leaves office. And what concerns me the most about Iraq is now that it is no longer a war of national interest. It's a war of presidential hubris and has the potential for expanding into Iran.
BLITZER: Even in these final two years of his presidency?
BRZEZINSKI: That's I think the biggest danger that we face right now.
BLITZER: The book is entitled "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower." Zbigniew Brzezinski is the author. Thanks for coming in, Dr. Brzezinski.
BRZEZINSKI: Wolf, as always.