Tuesday, March 6, 2007

When a Leader Missteps, a World Can Go Astray

March 6, 2007
Books of The Times


Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower

By Zbigniew Brzezinski

234 pages. Basic Books. $26.95.

In the months before the American invasion of Iraq, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, was one of the few members of the foreign policy establishment (along with Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to President George H. W. Bush) to speak out strongly about the dangers of going to war unilaterally against Saddam Hussein, and to warn, presciently it turns out, of the possibly dire consequences of doing so without a larger strategic plan.

In August 2002, as the current Bush administration was already hurrying toward an invasion, Mr. Brzezinski cautioned that war “is too serious a business and too unpredictable in its dynamic consequences — especially in a highly flammable region — to be undertaken because of a personal peeve, demagogically articulated fears or vague factual assertions.” In February 2003, just weeks before the invasion, he added that “an America that decides to act essentially on its own regarding Iraq” could “find itself quite alone in having to cope with the costs and burdens of the war’s aftermath, not to mention widespread and rising hostility abroad.”

In his compelling new book, “Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower,” Mr. Brzezinski not only assesses the short- and long-term fallout of the Iraq war, but also puts that grim situation in perspective with the tumultuous global changes that have taken place in the last two decades. He dispassionately analyzes American foreign policy as conducted by the last three presidents — George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George H. W. Bush — and he gives the reader a sobering analysis of where these leaders’ cumulative decisions have left the United States as it now searches for an exit strategy from Iraq, faces potentially explosive situations in Iran and North Korea and copes with an increasingly alienated Europe and an increasingly assertive China.

Mr. Brzezinski’s verdict on the current president’s record — “catastrophic,” he calls it — is nothing short of devastating. And his overall assessment of America’s current plight is worrying as well: “Though in some dimensions, such as the military, American power may be greater in 2006 than in 1991, the country’s capacity to mobilize, inspire, point in a shared direction and thus shape global realities has significantly declined. Fifteen years after its coronation as global leader, America is becoming a fearful and lonely democracy in a politically antagonistic world.”



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