Ask the expert: US policy in the Middle East

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The US should negotiate a date for leaving the war-torn country, writes Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, in an op-ed in Friday’s the Financial Times. “If the US stays bogged down in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be head-on conflict with Iran and with the broader world of Islam,” he writes.

Two months ago, in the wake of the Baker-Hamilton Study Group report on US policy options in Iraq, Mr Brzezinski answered FT.com readers’ questions on US policy in the Middle East in a live debate.

Now, after he gave testimony to US Congress on Thursday, you have another chance to ask the expert.

Is US policy in Iraq on a downhill track? If America doesn’t change its course, is it likely to lead to head-on conflict with Iran and much of the world of Islam?

Mr Brzezinski answers your questions.


The creation of a Jihad (in order to destabilise Afghanistan under Soviet occupation from 1979) was essentially your policy. On hindsight was that a wise decision given that those religious fanatics are now the basis of Al-qaeda? Your 1979 anti-Soviet views were your celebrated raison d’etre. How have your views mellowed on any future Russian threat today?
Richard Bond, London, UK

Zbigniew Brzezinski: The jihad in Afghanistan was the consequence both of the Soviet invasion and of the ruthless Soviet destruction of Afghan society, on a scale which is simply not even remotely comparable to what has been transpiring in Iraq. Our support for the Afghans has created a situation in which the majority of the Afghans still view us favourably.

That makes a great deal of difference. Nonetheless, it is also a fact that the West ignored the Afghan problem in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal and that helped to nurture the Taliban which then in the later 90s developed links with the jihadist terrorists.


Do you foresee a time when the US will shift its policies away from subsidising Israel - or at very least be more equitable in its dealings with the Palestinians and Israelis? I am proud of former president Carter for the courage to raise the issue in his latest book.
Russ Crone, Sweden

Zbigniew Brzezinski: The best outcome would be a dedicated effort by the West to push the Israelis and the Palestinians toward a peaceful accommodation. But that requires the West, and especially the United States, to put on the table a reasonably detailed plan for the actual peace treaty that the West would then press both the Israelis and the Palestinians to accept.

Failing that, the prospects for the future are, sad to say, likely to be the ones outlined by President Carter.


1) Will the US policy on Iran gain enough international support in justifying a potential military conflict? 2) Do you believe the increased trade and financial sanctions help or hinder this process?
Neek Alyani, London, UK & Tehran, Iran

Zbigniew Brzezinski: 1) No. 2) They hinder because they are premised on a demand for one-sided Iranian concessions as a precondition for negotiations.


What do you think would happen, near term and long term, geopolitically and economically if there were a phased US troop withdrawal from Iraq over the next six months?
Michael Kokesh, San Francisco, US

Zbigniew Brzezinski:The answer depends almost entirely on whether a political context for a US military disengagement is created by the US actions that I recommend in my article.


What, in your analysis, is the reason for all the sabre-rattling about Iran? Is it all really about oil, or does the US have some special agenda? It’s all pretty alarming, given the misery that now prevails on all sides in Iraq.
Richard Boyle, San Francisco, US

Zbigniew Brzezinski: “I’s”: An imperial obsession; Iraq-frustration; Israel-security.


A ‘defeat’ in Iraq for the US, however that is defined, is always presented in apocalyptic language. I am not convinced that the result would be as destabilising as most commentators assume. Could you please comment on what a post-US presence in Iraq might mean assuming that the civil war now brewing comes to boil.
Paul Summerville, Victoria, British Columbia

Zbigniew Brzezinski:

A civil war can only be resolved by an internal victory or an internal

accommodation. The problem is that the US is now a party to the civil

war, and unintentionally exacerbating it. A US disengagement will not

produce instant peace and initially it may even produce intensified

violence. But a US involvement in the civil war both intensifies and

perpetuates that civil war.


The current US administration perceives Lebanon’s Hamas, Syria’s Baath Party, Iran’s Islamic Republic and the sectarian killings in Iraq as one big problem, whereas each issue has inflamed due to different reasons, which needs specific solutions rather than bundling them together. Do you agree with my remarks, and what alternative would the Democrats put on the table, rather than merely pulling US troops out of Iraq?
Ali Dicleli, Manchester, UK

Zbigniew Brzezinski: I agree that the problems you mention are distinct. As to what my views are, I think it is evident from what I wrote.


Assuming that all diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from running toward nuclear capabilities fail, what should the US and Israel should do? And in the light of the current radical Iranian leadership, can the US, Israel, and the Gulf States stand such a strategic threat?
Maurizio Veneziani, Rome, Italy

Zbigniew Brzezinski: We have at least several years to resolve that problem by constructive and patient negotiations. Exacerbating the problem by threats, saber-rattling, all conveying a sense of impatience, is simply counterproductive and dangerous.

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