Last updated: December 14, 2006 3:37 pm

Ask the expert: US policy in the Middle East

Zbigniew Brzezinski Q&A

“America needs a strategic change of course, and it has to be undertaken on a broad front”, writes Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, in the Financial Times

Mr Brzezinski argues that America “must accept the fact that real leadership in Iraq should be based on a coalition of the Shia clergy commanding the loyalty of Shia militias and of the autonomous Kurds and that the sooner a date is set for US departure, the sooner the authentic Iraqi leaders will be able to enlist Iraq’s neighbours in a wider regional effort to promote a more stable Iraq.”

“It must also engage its allies in a joint definition of the basic parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, for the two parties to the conflict will never do so on their own”, he argues. And the US “must be ready to pursue multilateral and bilateral talks with Iran, including regional security issues.”

In the wake of the Baker-Hamilton Study Group report on US policy options in Iraq, Mr Brzezinski answers your questions below

............................................................................................................................................

Do you think the US today is paying the price for a faulty policy of trying to isolate Syria, a policy that started when you were serving in the Carter administration and Syria first opposed US policies in the Middle East (the Camp David accords). When you proceeded with a separate Egyptian Israeli peace treaty against Syrian objections, wasn’t that the first we can ignore Syria precedent in American Mideast policy?
Camille Alexandre, Montreal

Zbigniew Brzezinski: President Carter met with President Assad. When President Sadat was prepared to negotiate seriously with Israel, President Assad was not.Should President Carter have then refused to promote the resulting peace between Egypt and Israel?

............................................................................................................................................

If the Bush administration is serious about withdrawing from Iraq, why are they still not discussing the removal of permanent military bases and/or the major issue of who controls Iraq’s oil revenues? You can be 100 per cent sure the Iraqi people are focussed on these key issues: why aren’t Americans? Where is the US media on these two key points?
Gary Lord, Gold Coast, Australia

Zbigniew Brzezinski: I do not think the Bush administration is serious about withdrawing from Iraq but it is confused about its long-term objectives. Its previous notions of “victory” were clearly defined; the current goal of “success” is vague and probably reflects a high degree of confusion in the president’s thinking.

............................................................................................................................................

What course of action (diplomatic or otherwise) should the US undertake vis a vis Israel with a view to give ISG Recommendations 16 and 17 a chance, even a minimal one?
Rodolphe de Borchgrave, Brussels, Belgium

Zbigniew Brzezinski: The most important step that the US could now take vis a vis the intractable Israeli-Palestinian stalemate would be to join with the EU in articulating as a matter of shared policy.

The basic parameters for a fair settlement which both the EU and the US would be ready to support with tangible steps would include: 1) no right of return; 2) the sharing of Jerusalem; 3) 1967 lines with mutually acceptable alterations (to permit the inclusion in Israel of the heavily urbanised and contiguous settlements in exchange for territorial compensation); and 4) a Nato military presence in the demilitarised Palestinian state.

Both the US and the EU should make it clear that reluctance by either party to accept these conditions as the basis for a settlement will have negative political and economic consequences.

............................................................................................................................................

Don’t you think we need to send more troops to stabilise Iraq before we depart over the next two to three years?
Mr Myron, Minneapolis, US

Zbigniew Brzezinski: If you think that “we need to send more troops to stabilise Iraq,” we need to send probably another 200,000 and not another 20,000. Who is ready to go? Anything less will not do.

............................................................................................................................................

US policy towards Iran has let Europeans pursue their own constructive dialogue track. Regardless of its outcome and into the future, how appropriate is it to allow two tracks of allied foreign policy converge/diverge in relation to the most intractable of foreign policy issues?
Ignacio Estella, Madrid

Zbigniew Brzezinski: I think that the best approach would be for the US and the EU to pursue a joint negotiating track. But negotiations cannot be pursued when one side sets preconditions even for negotiating. That contradicts the essence of negotiations.

............................................................................................................................................

What is your opinion on Jimmy Carter’s latest book Palestine- Peace Not Apartheid? Do you feel it accurately portrays the situation in Israel/Palestine and do you agree with his assertion that AIPAC deters debate and fair public discussion of the issues in the US?
Sy Lippman, Los Angeles, CA

Zbigniew Brzezinski: President Carter, in my judgement, is correct in fearing that the absence of a fair and mutually acceptable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to produce a situation which de facto will resemble apartheid: ie, two communities living side by side but repressively separated, with one enjoying prosperity and seizing the lands of the other, and the other living in poverty and deprivation.

That is an outcome which must be avoided and I interpret his book as a strong plea for accommodation, which needs to be actively promoted by morally responsible engagement especially by America. The abusive reactions directed at him, including some newspaper ads, are to me objectionable and designed to intimidate an open public discussion.

People in America who criticise French foreign policy, or Indian foreign policy, not to speak of criticising Arab states, are not subjected to such one-sided abuse and attempts at intimidation.

............................................................................................................................................

Could the redeployment of the US forces into the safer so-called autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq be a part of a US military solution in Iraq? Would you think regional powers such as Turkey, Iran could accept it?
Mesut Kayaca, Turkey

Zbigniew Brzezinski: If the US were to leave some forces in northern Iraq, it would do so in part to prevent Kurdish separatists from launching attacks into Turkey.

............................................................................................................................................

Were the US, UK and/or Israel to get into a prolonged military conflict with Iran as a next step in the war on terror, what sorts of potential strategic or military responses could we expect from Russia, China or both? And how would such a conflict affect the current arrangement of oil being priced and traded based on the dollar globally?
Dan Johnson, Tustin, California

Zbigniew Brzezinski: It would be a disaster both for America and for Israel for America and Israel to become involved in a military conflict with Iran. Anyone familiar with the geopolitical dynamics of the Persian Gulf region knows that such a war would produce devastating economic and political consequences for the global economy and the international system.

It would also isolate America and create circumstances in which American global pre-eminence would rapidly become a thing of the past. And that in turn would have mortal consequences for Israel itself.

............................................................................................................................................

How should the US approach Asad’s regime in Syria, considering the country creates a unstable situation in Lebanon and inside Iraq?
Kozubski Kamil, Montreal, Canada

Zbigniew Brzezinski: The situation in Lebanon and in Iraq is admittedly “unstable” but it is a gross over-simplificaiton to suggest that such instability is “created” by Syria. The fact of the matter is that both in Lebanon and in Iraq there are powerful indigenous reasons for such instability.

That instability cannot be reduced by a US policy which refuses to consider the possibility of a wider regional accommodation based on extensive and perhaps even prolonged negotiations. The only alternative to such negotiations is a wider regional conflict and that is hardly in America’s interest.

............................................................................................................................................

How should the US approach Asad’s regime in Syria, considering the country creates a unstable situation in Lebanon and inside Iraq?
Kozubski Kamil, Montreal, Canada

Zbigniew Brzezinski: To avoid the sectarian conflict in Iraq becoming linked with a regional conflict it is essential for the US to engage in a comprehensive dialogue with all of Iraq’s neighbours. The US currently talks to Saudi Arabia and to Jordan, but it is refusing to talk to Syria or to Iran.

The president recently listed a number of preconditions that both Syria and Iran must satisfy before the US is willing to talk to them. That approach paralyses American capacity for active diplomacy. It reinforces the current US secretary’s of state tendency to substitute sloganeering for strategising, to the detriment of long-term US regional interests.

............................................................................................................................................

Do you think an effective democracy is a reality in Iraq or should the country be split into its different ethnical groups?
Steven Johnson, Sydney

Zbigniew Brzezinski: I do not think that an effective democracy is a reality in Iraq and I do not anticipate that in the near future it can be a reality. Democracy takes time to take root and to be nurtured, and that is not likely to take place in circumstances involving sectarian conflict and an insurgency against a foreign occupation.

However, it certainly is not in the interest of anyone in the region for Iraq to be “split up.” The splitting of Iraq would be likely to precipitate intense ethnic, religious, and territorial conflicts, with a suction-effect on Iraq’s current neighbours, none excluded.

............................................................................................................................................

Do you see an opportunity for Iran and the US to work towards a better relationship by co-operating in Iraq? If so, how realistic is it to expect them to engage each other in a positive manner in light of the slow moving nuclear talks?
Arash Nazhad, Canada

Zbigniew Brzezinski: It is impossible to make a firm judgement in advance whether US-Iranian talks would be productive. It is possible to make a firm judgement in advance that if there are no such talks there will be no serious improvement in the US-Iranian relationship.

It therefore follows that talks without preconditions are a desirable undertaking which should be given a try.

............................................................................................................................................

If the Shia and the Kurds form the government, with the Sunni excluded, will that not promote intervention in Iraq from the Sunni majority in the Arab world?
Wes Calan

Zbigniew Brzezinski: If the Sunnis are excluded, civil war will intensify and intervention by neighbours becomes more probable. I suspect that the more intelligent Kurdish and Shia leaders realise this, and there are also some Sunni leaders in Baghdad who realize that the earlier Sunni supremacy is a thing of the past and that some accommodation with the Shia-Kurdish majority is unavoidable.

In any case, any such accommodation has to be accomplished by the Iraqis themselves; it cannot be imposed from the outside by an ineffective foreign military occupation.

............................................................................................................................................

What is the proper role for the Sunnis in a future Iraqi government run by the Shia theocracy?
Eugene Berk

Zbigniew Brzezinski: The fact of the matter is that the Shiites are a majority in Iraq, and the Sunnis account for approximately twenty or so percent of the total population. Obviously, they should be included in the political system but they can no longer dominate it.

............................................................................................................................................

How seriously do you regard the Iranian president’s repeated threats to annihilate Israel and Iran’s apparent attempts to develop nuclear weapons? What action can the US take to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons?
Kate Bennett, UK

Zbigniew Brzezinski: Not every anti-semitic threat is equally serious. Hitler’s threats were serious because Germany was a powerful country. Hence it follows that it is important that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. It claims it is not seeking them.

The international community must make certain that these claims can be both confirmed and enforced. In addition, it is also important to have the necessary deterrent in the event that Iran is engaged in deception. The US has such a deterrent on a massive scale, but Israel itself also has a significant nuclear weapons capability.

............................................................................................................................................

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

NEWS BY EMAIL

Sign up for email briefings to stay up to date on topics you are interested in

SHARE THIS QUOTE