If he's serious, it's serious
If Bush was to be
taken literally, it would mean an American crusade throughout the
January 21, 2005
Report: President George W. Bush began his second term Thursday,
pledging to spread liberty across the globe with the larger view
American freedom [Read
Two senior analysts discuss the Bush administration's foreign policy agenda
and look ahead to America's role abroad in the president's second term.
MARGARET WARNER: We explore the promise and the risk of the president's
vow to spread freedom around the world, with two of our favorite analysts
widely on American foreign policy: Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security
adviser to President Carter, is now a counselor at the Center for Strategic
and International Studies. And Walter Russell Mead is a senior
fellow at the Council
on Foreign Relations. Welcome to you both on this big night.
Walter, what did you make of the president's central message
here, which is that for our own security we have to aggressively
advance freedom around the world?
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: I thought it was a brilliantly stated summation
of a theme in the history of American foreign policy, that is that
throughout the 20th century, American foreign policy has been getting
the idea that things abroad matter more to us and the old isolationism
that people had maybe in earlier parts of our history, that we
could ignore what was happening overseas, is no longer possible,
we can't do it.
And furthermore, as we go forward with globalization, the rise
of technology, all of these kinds of things, smaller and smaller
events overseas affect us more and more deeply. And the president
at this point is saying, American liberty isn't secure unless liberty
is secure everywhere. It's sort of a breathtaking summary, extremely
audacious; its implications are overwhelming. It suggests a really
major restructuring of the American role in the world.
MARGARET WARNER: Did you see it that way, a fairly major restructuring,
and do you agree with his premise?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: If the speech, if the speech was to be taken
literally, then clearly it would imply commitment to some sort
of a global crusade vis-à-vis a variety of states with many
of whom we have all sorts of mutual concerns, even if we don't
like their practical policies. I mean, take a few examples. Take
China; we have a major state instability with China, but China
is hardly a democracy. What about the Tibetans? Take Russia; we
have a common stake with regards to terrorism, but what about the
Chechens? They're being treated in a tyrannical fashion. Take an
even more complex issue: what about Israel, which is a friend of
ours, and its security against Palestinian terrorists? But what
about the oppression of the Palestinians and their desire for freedom?
The fact is that the speech was high-sounding. If it was to be
taken literally, it would mean an American crusade throughout the
entire world, and I don't know how that would be implemented practically.
More Iraqs, perhaps, or is it just a general statement which doesn't
give us much guide to policy, suited for the occasion but not to
be taken as the point of departure for serious policy?
MARGARET WARNER: Did you see it as a blueprint, as a guide to
what -- that this presidency in its second term is going to be
very assertive internationally, including advancing democracy in
areas in which there are risks, as Mr. Brzezinski just pointed
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Look, I think there will always be this
tension, and I would add Egypt and Pakistan as two countries where
American interests are entwined very delicately with regimes that
are not particularly democratic.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you, just follow up on that -- should
the United States be pushing, for instance, the regimes in Egypt,
Pakistan or Saudi Arabia to open up more?
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: I think all things being equal, you always
want to try to do that, but there are always going to be constraints
and other considerations, and things are related. For example,
if you were seeing more progress toward a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian
issue, it would probably be possible for the U.S. Government to
be a little bit more pressing in its urge for democracy in some
of the Arab countries.
So it's going to be -- you're going to see an administration
which may always want to act in certain ways, sometimes not be
able to, but I would say that it would be a real mistake to underestimate
the degree to which what you heard was what the president really
deeply believes. It seems to me this is his world view, and I would
also say that possibly in this administration the idea of more
Iraqs is not as frightening a thought as it might be for some --
for many of us maybe outside the administration.
And I would say some of the things we heard from the vice president
recently about Iran make me think that this administration may
press rather hard.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, let's go to that, as to whether this was
a threat to further military action. Let me read you this -- I'm
looking for it now -- but basically his message to the oppressors
was - ah, here: Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not
for themselves. How did you read that?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I read it as rhetoric because as a practical
matter how is he going to apply it vis-à-vis China or Russia?
We can apply it towards defenseless or weak states, but that's
hardly a statement of policy of a global significant character.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. What about Iran?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Iran I think is more ambiguous. And there
the issue is certainly not tyranny; it's nuclear weapons. And the
vice president today in a kind of a strange parallel statement
to this declaration of freedom hinted that the Israelis may do
it and in fact used language which sounds like a justification
or even an encouragement for the Israelis to do it. And I happen
to think that this would be very destabilizing in the region. We
would be viewed as complicit. It would intensify the problems that
we are already facing in manifold fashion.
It just makes me feel that the administration at this stage is
really very unclear regarding its genuine strategic doctrine. It
has high-sounding rhetoric, but it doesn't have a real sense of
priorities or directions. If the rhetoric was to be taken seriously,
we would be overstretched globally to a devastating degree.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with Walter, though, that this
sounds to him like really the president's deep-seated beliefs?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, maybe, but you know deep-seated beliefs
are one thing; capabilities is the other. And what capabilities
do we have actually at hand to pursue this global crusade?
MARGARET WARNER: Speaking of which, he never mentioned the word "Iraq," the
place where we are currently engaged in a very costly experiment
to instill or install democracy. One, were you surprised he didn't
mention Iraq, and what did you make of that?
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Again, I thought it showed this is an administration
that feels, I think as the president mentioned, has had its accountability
moment. It went to the people. It received a majority this time.
And so the feeling is their instincts have been confirmed. They
do not believe that the Iraq War is a failure. They do not believe
that we are facing another Vietnam there. They believe we're winning.
And they are ready to do more of this if they think they need to.
MARGARET WARNER: So you don't think they're glossing over or
that this speech tended to ignore that risk also, the risk of instability
that comes with suddenly bringing freedom, quote/unquote, to a
formerly oppressive situation?
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Again, the vice president today, in what
seems to be a little bit of a commentary on this speech, did, ask,
you know, were there mistakes, have you learned something? He did
say, well, we underestimated what it would take to get Iraq back
on its feet.
MARGARET WARNER: We're all talking about this MSNBC interview
he did, by the way.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Exactly. And this, I think, you know, I
think there is an awareness in the administration this is tough,
What the president is doing, I think, is he knows that the course
that he would like to set the country on of this, let's not use
the word "crusade," that might have some unfortunate
repercussions for some people, but say global struggle for liberty,
as being the strategic core for American foreign policy in the
next generation or two generations, is going to require a lot of
resources. It will require at various times probably military action
of some kind, and he's trying in this speech to build a public
consensus that this is the right way, even I think he would say
the only way for the country to go.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you think Zbig, this will be read overseas?
I mean, there were definitely some - I don't know if you'd call
them olive branches extended to the allies. He said, we value your
friendship, we value your counsel. Another time he said, we don't
seek to impose our form of government. How do you think it will
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: If the speech is taken seriously, I think
people will be concerned, because they'll wonder whether this is
a statement of a crusade. But if it isn't taken seriously, if it's
viewed as a ceremony, then it will be dismissed as a nice statement
which perhaps reflects the president's views but which is really
not a program of action. And I don't think we should assess this
speech as a program of action. It may be a testimonial of his deepest
beliefs, but it really doesn't tell us anything about his strategy.
It repackages his attitude, instead of talking about fear, which
he's been talking a lot about in the last four years, creating
in effect a fear-driven nation. He talks about freedom. Instead
of talking about terror, he talks about tyranny.
MARGARET WARNER: Right. He never used the war on terror -
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Exactly.
MARGARET WARNER: -- or terror at all --
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: So the themes are a little different. It's
freedom versus tyranny. But where are the tyrannies? In fact, the
really serious tyrannies are the ones we have to deal with. And
we're not going to deal with them the way we have dealt with Iraq.
So as a statement of a program, it's vacuous. As a sermon, it's
nice, it's moving, and has some elegant moments, but it's vacuous.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you think our allies -
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Vacuous, I think is the last thing I would
call it. Yes, it's nonspecific. Yes, it's general. But my guess
is that you'll be able to look at the steps the administration
takes in future months and years and its general approach and you
will see these themes worked out. Now, my guess again would be
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Give me examples vis-à-vis China
or Russia, for example - how would this be applied?
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, I think, again, this administration
probably has seen that China in the last few years has been much
more assertive internationally.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: So how are we going to promote freedom in
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, my guess is we will probably be nicer
to dissidents. I think when you saw in the tsunami relief that
Japan, Australia, India and the United States are working together
in this relief effort, you're seeing in a sense the beginnings
of what might grow into a kind of a Pacific NATO. And so the administration
is, in fact, probably -- there was some sense right after Sept.
11 that a lot of the Neo-cons who have been worried about Chinese
power for a long time were pushing China aside, the Middle East
was everything. My guess is that --
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I doubt it. You know, we deal, for example,
with the North Korean bomb. We need the Chinese for that.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, that's true. No one ever said foreign
policy isn't complicated.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: It's not going to be an assault on tyranny;
it's going to be done in marginal adjustments.
MARGARET WARNER: So you don't think if you're one of the oppressed
people, whether you're the Tibetans or in any other of these countries
or, you know, a Saudi who doesn't have political rights, that you
don't think they will read this speech as some sort of a promise
of American solidarity with them?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: If the tyranny that oppresses them involves
a weak state, perhaps yes. If it involves serious states, I think
the answer is, as a practical matter, no.
MARGARET WARNER: Well -
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: This is exactly what people said about Jimmy
Carter's human rights pledge.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: We had a dilemma. Remember, when we came
to office, we had a real dilemma on that issue. And some people
wanted to apply it only to Argentina, but not to the Soviet Union.
We did apply it to the Soviet Union.
MARGARET WARNER: On that note, we're going to have to leave it.
But thank you, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Walter Russell Mead.
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