Former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served with President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s, says that recent policy missteps -- in particular, those of the past three American presidents -- have tarnished the image and undermined the global influence of the United States. But in his new book, Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower, the plain-spoken policy analyst describes how he believes the United States can regain its standing in the world.
Brzezinski, now a counselor with the non-profit Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a professor of U.S. foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, offers a kind of political "report card" on the past three U.S. presidents. The author gives each man less-than-perfect grades. Brzezinski cites their respective failures to effectively use what he calls the unrivaled power America has enjoyed in the world since the collapse of Soviet communism.
"I thought that President Bush Senior did the best," Brzezinski notes, "and, in an academic fashion, I would give him a grade B."
Brzezinski says President George Herbert Walker Bush handled the collapse of the Soviet Union with aplomb, and managed to mount an international response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. But Brzezinski contends the elder Bush was unable either to use America's political influence to help transform Russia into a genuine democracy, or to exploit the U.S. victory in Kuwait to push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace.
As for President Bill Clinton, Brzezinski says he deserves credit for creating new openings for a Middle East peace settlement, and stabilizing the war-torn Balkans by leading a NATO military intervention. But he argues that Clinton's faith in international trade agreements blinded him to the negative economic impacts of globalization.
"I thought President Clinton also had a mixed record," Brzezinski adds, "but he had much more time to accomplish more and as a consequence, I gave him the grade C."
Brzezinski directs his harshest criticisms at the current U.S. President. "I consider President Bush Junior...to have provided essentially catastrophic leadership and therefore I gave him a grade F, for failure."
The author contends that under the leadership of President George W. Bush, America's ability to mobilize, inspire and shape global realities has declined sharply. Widespread international disapproval of the 2003 invasion and continued occupation of Iraq has been a major factor in that decline, according to Brzezinski.
Brzezinski-- a vocal critic of U.S. policy in Iraq and the Middle East -- takes particular issue with the Bush Administration's declaration of a "war on terror" following the attacks of 9/11. The problem, Brzezinski says, is that "terror" is not an enemy to make war on like a Nazi Germany, but merely a strategy of political intimidation that aims to kill unarmed civilians.
"That kind of designation tells you nothing," Brzezinski explains. "There has been terror and we have to stamp it out. But we also have to deal with the political conditions that breed it. But we can only do that if we collaborate with a lot of other countries. We are about the only ones who go around talking about terror and in the process we are terrorizing ourselves, creating a society of fear and I do not think that is healthy for America and it helps to isolate America in the world."
Brzezinski adds that President Bush's use of politically charged terms like "Islamo-facists" to describe America's enemies has alienated a potential global alliance of moderates, including Muslims, who showed solidarity with the U.S. in its post-9/11 attacks on al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan.
In his book, Second Chance, the former Carter Administration national security advisor contends there are opportunities for America to regain its global prestige. But he believes success will depend heavily on the actions President Bush takes in Iraq and the region during the remaining 20 months of his administration:
"I personally doubt that the war will end in the next 20 months," he says. "I do not think the President is prepared to take the difficult decisions needed to bring it to an end. But at least it should not escalate and enlarge, because if it enlarges, there is a real risk that the U.S would become involved in a conflict that spans territorially Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And such a conflict will absorb us for many years and will be much more costly than Iraq, [and] would even be much more damaging to our global interests than Iraq has been."
Brzezinski is hopeful that there can be a second chance, too, for U.S. peacemaking efforts in the long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a conflict, he says, which continues to fuel deep Arab and Muslim hostility toward the United States. He believes that given the readiness for compromise on both sides, a solution to the conflict could be at hand. But Zbigniew Brzezinski says this second chance will require a more even-handed U.S. relationship with Israel and the Palestinians, and a more active American involvement in the peace process.
Brzezinski believes there is a strong reservoir of international goodwill toward the United States, which he says is reflected in the continuing desire of millions of people around the world to come to America to study, work and live. But the restoration of American prestige and credibility in the world, he says, will require two things:
"One: a very serious change of course, a really serious change in how we conduct ourselves on the world scene. And secondly, it will require time, because the damage that has been done is quite substantial. I'm very sad to say that for very many people in the world, the symbol of America today is not the Statue of Liberty, which is one of the first things I saw as a child when approaching the shores of the U.S, but (the U.S. detention facility at) Guantanamo (Cuba). That legacy will take time to undo."
Policy analyst Zbigniew Brzezinski is the former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter and author of the new book, Second Chance: Three American Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower (published by Basic Books).