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Monday, February 18, 2008

Deciphering Brzezinski's Trip to Syria

Zbigniew Brzezinski, top foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama, recently made a low key trip to Syria to meet with its leader, Bashar Assad.

What in the world are advisers to both Senators Obama and Clinton doing in Syria in the middle of a presidential campaign — and why are the two campaigns so unforthcoming about the details of the visits? The same week that a terrorist mastermind harbored by the Baathist regime in Damascus was assassinated by a car bomb, both one of Mr. Obama's foreign policy counselors, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a long-time critic of Israel, and one of Mrs. Clinton's national finance chairs, Hassan Nemazee, were meeting with President Assad.

The article, along with much of the media all over, is speculating over what Brzezinski was doing there. That is a fascinating question, however we should start by looking at exactly who Brzezinski is. Brezizinski is a leading foreign policy thinker from the school of the realists. The realists see our aggressive action in the GWOT as largely imperialistic, and they don't believe that we can force change upon the Middle East. They certainly don't see change taking place through force, and rather they see the U.S. working with the governments currently ruling and affecting change through non violent means.

While few oppose the goal of political and economic liberalization, many individuals question both the morality and the efficacy of using military force and diplomatic pressure to achieve these aims. This was the starting point for our discussion, and continues to be the organizing principle (Statement of Principles) on which we operate.

In order to counter the arguments of those who favor empire, the Coalition holds conferences, and media events, promotes research, and communicates a vision of the alternatives to American empire, including a restrained foreign policy that protects American interests.

Thus, the short answer for why Brzezinski is meeting with Assad is that he is a leading realist thinker. A better question is will this be effective. There is an old unattributed saying that describes my feelings about meeting with the enemy...

you negotiate with the enemy with your knee in his chest and your knife at his throat

Obama clearly believes you negotiate with your enemy by trying to charm them. On one level, I can see how he believes this and that's because he has spent much of his life being able to charm most everyone he meets. Why should the leaders of countries such as Iran, Syria, and North Korea be any different? The problem for me with this thinking is that unlike most people the leaders of these nations are sociopaths. For them, every meeting, every word, and every action is set in the context of achieving their own agenda.

First instance, we don't know what the meeting was about but let's say that Brzezinski assured Assad that once Obama was in office that our policy would be less aggressive toward him. Assad would immediately take such a sign as he should lay low, not cause trouble, and wait out Bush's Presidency until a new admin takes over that he can much more easily manipulate. Assad is not interested in peace. He is interested in consolidating and expanding his power. He is likely involved in the death's of several Lebanese politicians, training and infiltration of terrorists into Iraq, and he may even have been behind the death of Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mugniyeh. (not to mention having Damascus as the location for the main office of such terrorist groups as Hezbollah as well as all sorts of bellicose language toward Israel) Assad is no partner for peace and peace is frankly not on his agenda. No amount of sweet talk is going to change him in my opinion.

Yet, that is essentially what Obama and Brezizinski plan on turning the GWOT and U.S. foreign policy in general into. What an Obama Presidency will look like on foreign policy matters is shuttle diplomacy among our many enemies. It is quite ironic that Obama suggested that if need be he would infiltrated Pakistan without the permission of Musharraf because he gives a tyrant like Assad and Ahmadinejad more consideration than an admittedly flawed ally like Musharraf. He has already stated he wants unconditional negotiations with Iran in his first year as President. Now, his top foreign policy advisor is meeting with Assad. One can only imagine what sort of plan he has for North Korea.

The Middle East is a messy and sticky place. Even our allies are duplicitous at best. Deciding who to trust is difficult because ultimately you really can't trust anyone. A foreign policy predicated on the philosophy that we will work with all seems naive and downright dangerous to me, and yet that is exactly what Obama has embraced by employing Brzezinski. Among the many debates that I hope we have this election cycle is the one about the wisdom of realist foreign policy which frankly makes no distinction between friend and foe.


Anonymous said...

Bravo! This is a noble attack on reason. At first I was thinking like Zbig that we should be calm, rational, and decisive about foreign policy decisions, but you've convinced me: your velociraptor approach sounds much better. (After all, it hasn't failed us over the last 7 years, how could it possibly fail us in the future?)

Here's the part I loved the best: "You negotiate with the enemy with your knee in his chest and your knife at his throat..."

And you're saying Assad's the sociopath??

mike volpe said...

I just wrote a piece about the corrossive effect of vague language and ironically enough you comment by saying,

"calm, rational, and decisive about foreign policy"

Yes, we should however what exactly does that mean in practical terms?

You seem to also disregard the reality that talking with our enemies is not a new foreign policy either. Bill Clinton chatted up the sociopath Yasser Arafat. Arafat got nearly all he asked for and then turned it down and started an intifada. Those unconditional talks certainly worked out great.

This is bi partisan. Bush sat down and chatted up Putin and didn't realize that Putin was also a sociopath.

The policy is dangerous. it is naive to think that evil folks would simply sit down with you and stop being evil. If you want to negotiate with your enemies it must be through a position of strength. It should not be done for the sake of dialogue.

The saying you refer to is meant to be metaphorical not literal.