Zbigniew Brzezinski has had a hand in U.S. foreign policy for four decades. He served as national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter from 1977-1981. Since then he has counseled presidents and members of Congress. And he has written and lectured extensively on America’s role in the world. In a new book Brzezinksi argues U.S. leaders need a better strategic vision to navigate the challenges of the 21st century. He offers his insights on China’s meteoric rise, a turbulent Middle East and the likely consequences of a decline in American power.


  • Zbigniew Brzezinski Counselor and trustee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, professor of American Foreign Policy at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and former National Security Advisor in the Carter administration.

Program Highlights

Zbigniew Brzezinski is the former national security advisor under President Carter. Since then, he’s widely consulted on geo-politics. In a new book, Brzezinski offers his views on America’s role in the world as the center of gravity shifts from the West to the East.

A Crisis For America

“The fact of the matter is that the age of domination of the world by a single power is probably over and irretrievably so for a variety of reasons we can discuss, but they have a lot to do with the changing balance of power – and a great deal with the new phenomenon that I have been very much concerned with over the last several years which I call global political awakening,” Brzezinski said. “And the other dimension is the internal stresses and weaknesses of the American system which have been surfacing and which have been compounded in the last decade or so by
a fundamentally irrational and self-damaging foreign policy.”

What Is The Worst International Problem Facing The U.S.?

The combination of the sudden rise of Asia, the simultaneous weakening of the West, and the restlessness in many other parts of the world is really the worst problem the U.S. faces today in Brzezinski’s view. He believes it is critically important that the U.S. not get “sucked into”
conflicts in other parts of the world now. “It’s going to be tough sledding to achieve that,” he said.

Will The EU’s Oil Embargo Have a Strong Impact On Iran?

“That’s a very difficult and delicate issue because on the one hand they certainly will cut to the core of Iranian economic survivability. They are highly dependent on their oil exports and that includes the several Asian countries, China, Japan particularly, India to some extent, also to some Western European countries – particularly Italy,” Brzezinski said. Some countries might be damaged by it and blame us for it, he added.

Is Obama A Foreign Policy Realist?

Diane said that Brzezinski is a foreign policy realist, and asked him if he thought President Obama was, too. “He has a strong streak of idealism in him, which is all to the good because that’s very much associated with the American message to the world,” he said.”But what has impressed me from talking to him is that he does understand what’s unique and novel about the 21st century. He does understand some of the things I write about in my book, which is that the nature of power has changed, that the role of the West as the dominant force in the world has come to an end, that new centers of power are rising, that the population of the world is now really politically awakened.”

You can read the full transcript here.


  • 11:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Zbigniew Brzezinski is the former national security advisor under President Carter. Since then, he's widely consulted on geo-politics. In a new book, Brzezinski offers his views on America's role in the world as the center of gravity shifts from the West to the East.

  • 11:07:18

    MS. DIANE REHMHis new book is titled "Strategic Vision." Zbigniew Brzezinski joins me in the studio. You're welcome to join us as well, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, sir.

  • 11:07:48

    MR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKIGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:07:49

    REHMIt's good to see you again and to have you here in the studio.

  • 11:07:53

    BRZEZINSKIIt's nice to be with you.

  • 11:07:57

    REHMYou say in this book that there is a crisis for America, a global power. How would you define that crisis?

  • 11:08:11

    BRZEZINSKII would define it in two ways. One way to look at it is in a broad, historical perspective. The fact of the matter is that the age of domination of the world by a single power is probably over and irretrievably so for a variety of reasons we can discuss, but they have a lot to do with the changing balance of power, a great deal with the new phenomenon that I have been very much concerned with over the last several years which I call global political awakening. So that's one dimension.

  • 11:08:46

    BRZEZINSKIAnd the other dimension is the internal stresses and weaknesses of the American system which have been surfacing and which have been compounded in the last decade or so by a fundamentally irrational and self-damaging foreign policy.

  • 11:09:03

    REHMYou know, it's interesting and it occurred to me reading through this book that so much of this current presidential campaign has been focused on economic gridlock and economic differences of opinion. Foreign policy has barely come into that debate, certainly among Republican candidates, but yet you see that gridlock within the search for a path toward global identity going on within.

  • 11:09:54

    BRZEZINSKII think we have a serious dilemma as a country. What role do we want to play in the world? Is it that of a global policeman? Well, I should think by now, we ought to have learned that's pretty expensive and, in fact, counter-productive. We are bankrupt in part because of the costs of the wars that we have waged and borrowing largely to pay for them. It doesn't help our domestic wellbeing to be engaged in wars that are solitary, lonely undertakings by the United States.

  • 11:10:24

    REHMSo doesn't it make good sense that America should no longer be the number one or the only superpower?

  • 11:10:38

    BRZEZINSKIIf the United States could be, if historical circumstances made it possible and feasible, frankly, I would be for it because I think America by and large is a responsible country and we have a system which in a way embraces, institutionalizes and symbolizes the potential unity of mankind. You know, we're all Americans, but just think of our roots, think of my name, think of my origin, think of yours, think of millions and millions and millions of Americans including increasingly more so from Asia.

  • 11:11:15

    BRZEZINSKIThat in a way is a prototype of global cooperation that we're not going to achieve simply by lashing out here or there and doing it largely alone and earning in the course of doing so the irritation and in some cases, the hostility of much of the world.

  • 11:11:34

    REHMGive me your thoughts on what you see as the worst problem internationally facing the U.S.?

  • 11:11:45

    BRZEZINSKIThe first problem internationally is the combination and I don't attach any evil connotations to it, the combination of the sudden rise of Asia, the simultaneous weakening of the West and the restlessness in many parts of the world against the status quo which assumes in many cases a great deal of antagonism towards America. All of that I think faces us with difficult choices and we can look at them region by region. But the point is that we have to be very careful not to be sucked into additional conflicts beyond the ones we're already engaged in and which I hope we're about to terminate.

  • 11:12:31

    REHMDo you believe we are about to terminate our engagement in those foreign struggles?

  • 11:12:38

    BRZEZINSKIYes, I do. For one thing, we have more or less completed our withdrawal from Iraq although the unfortunate costly war we waged in Iraq has not improved stability within Iraq and that's probably enhanced Iran's influence in Iraq. On Afghanistan, I think the president is determined to disengage, but to disengage in a fashion that leaves behind something that can endure with international support, not just American support.

  • 11:13:13

    BRZEZINSKIAnd that's going to be tough sledding to achieve that, but I think the next year or so is going to be spent striving to accomplish that in part militarily, in part by negotiations with the Taliban on a selective basis and in part by trying to fashion something that I call a regional umbrella for whatever arrangements are left behind when we disengage, with the international community and us continuing financial support. In other words very different from what happened in '89 when the Soviets left and we simply ignored the ruins that they left behind.

  • 11:13:50

    REHMWell, if we look at what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, let us assume for the moment that Iran and the U.S. do not reach any kind of détente as the U.S. managed to do with Russia back then. If that should happen that there is no détente, what happens to Israel?

  • 11:14:26

    BRZEZINSKII think nothing much happens to Israel because Israel first of all has a powerful deterrent of its own against Iran and so if the Israelis don't believe that that deterrent of theirs is credible then some people have suggested they ought to offer publicly to give it up if the Iranians give up their nuclear program. I personally don't think this will happen, but I think it's a reasonable argument.

  • 11:14:51

    BRZEZINSKIBut beyond that, the United States has the capacity to deter Iran. We deterred a much more, infinitely more powerful Soviet Union over decades even though at some moments we came close to collisions that could have consumed in hours, millions of lives. We deterred China. We have contained North Korea which is at least as menacing as Iran.

  • 11:15:17

    BRZEZINSKISo I think we can do it and to make the parties concerned more safe including Israel I think if needed, and if we don't get some sort of an accommodation with the Iranians we could issue a blanket commitment to our friends in the Middle East which include Arab states, especially the Persian Gulf states and Israel, that any action by Iran or any threat by Iran particularly one invoking nuclear weapons would be viewed by the United States as a threat against the United States. That I think would have very, very considerable credibility, more so than actually the fear of an Israeli strike.

  • 11:16:00

    REHMHow much, what kind of impact do you believe the EU's embargo on oil from Iran is going to have as a step toward containing Iran?

  • 11:16:17

    BRZEZINSKIThat's a very difficult and delicate issue because on the one hand they certainly will cut to the core of Iranian economic survivability. They are highly dependent on their oil exports and that includes the several Asian countries, China, Japan particularly, India to some extent, also to some West European countries particularly Italy.

  • 11:16:46

    BRZEZINSKIThere is a risk in this first of all that some of these countries will be damaged by it and they may blame us for it. Secondly if the Iranians think that this is now about to ruin their lives bring them to their knees, two things may happen. One, the country which is not entirely for the Ayatollahs, far from it, may rally in the name of national unity, nationalism, so would be unifying the Iranians against us.

  • 11:17:15

    BRZEZINSKIAnd last, but not least, if we push this envelop too far we could have the Iranians lash out themselves against us. That is to say for example try to stop all oil traffic through the Strait of Hormuz so that everybody will suffer including us. Now that would a 'casus belli' and that is certainly not the intention of the sanctions. The sanctions are not meant to produce a war, they're meant to reach some sort of accommodation that prevents a war which means they have to be pursued with some degree of skill and diplomacy and some understanding of the historical aspects of Iran's own identity, their pride, their historical sense of accomplishment which I think deserves some respect.

  • 11:18:07

    BRZEZINSKISo we have to be careful not simply to be waving the saber and publicly announcing over and over again 'all options are on the table'.

  • 11:18:16

    REHMZbigniew Brzezinski, his new book is titled "Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 11:20:05

    REHMDr. Zbigniew Brzezinski is with me here in the studio. He has a new book out all about America and The Crisis of Global Power. He's titled the book "Strategic Vision." You're welcome to join us, 800-433-8850. Here's an email that was sent to drshow.org. It's from Mark who says "Dr. Brzezinski, has Iran said it will attack Israel if Iran acquires nuclear weapons? Or would they, like other nuclear countries, abide by the unwritten rule of mutually assured destruction?"

  • 11:21:00

    BRZEZINSKII think the second alternative is much more likely. I think the Iranian leadership, and particularly through the mouth of its president who happens not to be the actual leader of the country, Ahmadinejad, has made some awfully stupid vicious statements about Israel. So I can understand outrage, particularly on the part of the Israelis, at what he has said. But even he has never said that Iran will attack Israel. He has said, however, and that's outrageous enough, that Israel shouldn't exist.

  • 11:21:32


  • 11:21:33

    BRZEZINSKIBut that's certainly not the same thing as saying that Israel will be destroyed.

  • 11:21:38

    REHMAt the same time, you've heard Newt Gingrich call the Palestinian people illegitimate. What has been your reaction to that?

  • 11:21:53

    BRZEZINSKIWell, as I recall, Mr. Gingrich justified his employment with Fannie Mae by saying that he is a historian. I don't think that statement of his regarding the Palestinians enhances his qualifications as a historian. So perhaps Fannie Mae ought to ask for a refund.

  • 11:22:12

    REHMAll right. You have been critical about the Obama Administration's inability to make progress on the relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Is it a fair criticism when it would seem the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves cannot find a way to come together?

  • 11:22:41

    BRZEZINSKIYou know, that is precisely the problem. And we've been engaged in trying to make peace between them for the last 40 years almost. And I was part of an administration which was the only one that actually succeeded in a very important way, because the Egyptians read a peace treaty which President Carter negotiated really and actually pressed the parties into agreeing to, broke up the Arab coalition against Israel and made it possible for Israel since then to live in peace.

  • 11:23:12

    BRZEZINSKIBut to resolve the remaining issues the fact is that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis left to their own devices will ever, ever, ever reach peace on their own.

  • 11:23:24


  • 11:23:24

    BRZEZINSKIThat's the lesson I have learned. Look, the Palestinians are too weak to make concessions. The Israelis are too strong to make concessions. Neither side is prepared to move first in a significant way. Each one distresses the other. Only someone like the United States that has good offices with both -- and to some extent, both are dependent on the United States, both in some respects are clients of the United States -- has the necessary leverage to act decisively.

  • 11:23:54

    BRZEZINSKII thought the president would. He, I think, understands the problem correctly, and what he favors the majority of Israelis and the majority of Palestinians actual support. But he had the opportunity in the first year only 'cause typically the presidents have maximum influence the first year. And on top of it he had these horrible financial and economic dilemmas to confront. So I am disappointed that he didn't. I have criticized him for not doing it, but I can understand the circumstances which made it difficult for him to move.

  • 11:24:26

    REHMDo you think if he were reelected he would come back to that issue?

  • 11:24:33

    BRZEZINSKIYou know, I don't want to say anything along those lines because immediately interested parties will run to him and demand commitments that he remains totally passive and does absolutely nothing after he's reelected.

  • 11:24:46

    REHMYou know, you heard him say the other night during the State of the Union Address that he will take no options off the table to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. So how do you interpret that?

  • 11:25:06

    BRZEZINSKII interpret that as political pandering.

  • 11:25:11

    REHMPolitical pandering.

  • 11:25:12

    BRZEZINSKIYes, because he's trying to please a constituency that would like to see that happen. Fortunately, it's not a very large constituency. In fact, the majority of American Jews are not for that and certainly others in America are not for it. But enough of them are for it for him not to want to provoke them. I don't think it's a particularly helpful statement because what does it mean? Unless we have an agreement, we're going to attack Iran? The United States is going to do it? And if we do it, who's going to be with us? I would like anyone to name me five countries that will be with us.

  • 11:25:49

    BRZEZINSKIAnd in fact, some countries who don't view us entirely as friends, but more as a rival, for example Russia, would only be too happy to see us do that because it will drive the price of oil over $200. We'll get bogged down for years. What benefit will it be to us? And how will Israel be more secure if American influence in the Middle East collapses altogether?

  • 11:26:14

    REHMBut suppose that Iran did move, as you were earlier suggesting, toward closing the Strait of Hormuz? Suppose there were something like a shot fired or explosions in that Strait of Hormuz? Suppose there were an accidental war? Is that a possibility?

  • 11:26:42

    BRZEZINSKIYes, it is. And this is why we have to be very careful how we negotiate. We have to be very careful how we impose sanctions. We can create a situation in which the other side is faced with the prospect of extinction. And even so there is that danger. This is why heating up this issue, making it more dramatic, issuing threats and so forth is not productive. I think the Iranians were absolutely outrageous when they said some weeks ago that they might close down the Strait of Hormuz.

  • 11:27:12

    BRZEZINSKII don't think it's particularly helpful even if using somewhat oblique language to suggest that we might initiate military activities. All options are on the table. This is why I'm critical of it even though I very strongly support President Obama, especially in view of the positions which are hard to decipher rationally of his political opponents.

  • 11:27:37

    REHMYou’re a foreign policy realist. Do you think President Obama is, too?

  • 11:27:46

    BRZEZINSKIFirst of all, he has a strong streak of idealism in him, which is all to the good because that's very much associated with the American message to the world. But what has impressed me from talking to him, and that was early on even, the year before he ran for the presidency, that he does understand what's unique and novel about the 21st century. He does understand some of the things I write about in my book, which is that the nature of power has changed, that the role of the West as the dominant force in the world has come to an end, that new centers of power are rising, that the population of the world is now really politically awakened.

  • 11:28:27

    BRZEZINSKIIn that context we cannot exercise the kind of power we briefly seemed to have gained after the fall of the Soviet Union, which unfortunately under the preceding president, President Bush, we largely dissipated.

  • 11:28:43

    REHMSo what will it mean for the U.S. and the other countries around the world if the U.S. is no longer the world power?

  • 11:28:57

    BRZEZINSKII have a chapter in my book which speculates about that and takes it as an assumption, which I don't share. I think we can avoid it. But we have to be deliberately striving to avoid it domestically and internationally. But if it were to happen in the course of the next 15 years and American influence receded significantly because of the decline of American power, I have entitled the chapter The World in -- or After 2025, Not Chinese but Chaotic. Namely, I don't think anybody will be in charge but global turmoil will become the prevailing reality with all of its risks.

  • 11:29:37

    REHMWhat kind of turmoil?

  • 11:29:38

    BRZEZINSKIRegional conflicts getting out of hand, social upheavals, social crises -- perhaps even social crises in the advanced world. Look at the situation in Europe. Is Greece perhaps -- and I certainly hope not and think not necessarily -- the prototype of the future for Europe? Take the Occupy Wall Street business. I admire the young people who do it, but I'm not in favor of social conflicts being resolved on the streets. But it could lead that way. In brief, a chaotic world will be an extremely unstable world inimical to democracy, inimical to constitutional rule.

  • 11:30:20

    REHMThen how can we avoid that scenario?

  • 11:30:25

    BRZEZINSKIWell, essentially two ways, for which it's easier of course to talk in generalities than in specifics. But in my book, I do have a chapter on our domestic condition, which deals with the reasons the American dream has declined. It specifically itemizes what I call our liabilities, which is the nature of the financial system, the infrastructure decline, the low level of general education as pertaining particularly to foreign affairs, economic disparity and social injustice.

  • 11:30:57

    BRZEZINSKII would like to see capitalism in America prevail, but capitalism with a human face. And not a capitalism in which some speculators in the financial world nowadays make 325 times more money than the average wage of an average American. And we have created an extremely unfair capitalistic system. These things have to be addressed.

  • 11:31:24

    BRZEZINSKIAnd internationally I argue in my book that we have to seek to revitalize the West by close American European connection and by seeking to embrace that larger West, both a democratizing Turkey and hopefully, hopefully a democratizing Russia, which would create a much more vital West based on the same constitutional assumptions, basic notions of human rights.

  • 11:31:51

    BRZEZINSKIAnd in the East America has to play the role that Britain played in Europe in the 19th century, a balancer, a conciliator but not a direct intervener militarily in the affairs of Asia. Promote Japanese, Chinese reconciliation. Mediate between China and India. Develop a special relationship with China. But avoid getting involved in Asian conflicts because we cannot be the decisive factor in them. And that could repeat some of the problems we lately have had.

  • 11:32:25

    REHMI want to go back to your view on capitalism which you say must have a human face. We are involved, as you said, in the greatest disparity in income that I've seen in my lifetime. I wonder what you would say to President Obama or any leader of this country about what must be done regarding capitalism.

  • 11:33:05

    BRZEZINSKIWell, basically several things. I think first of all we have to have more regulation about the absolutely uninhibited reckless speculation which has such enormous impact worldwide. You know, billions of dollars can be transferred within seconds subject to no control. It's a world of its own. It's a universe that's independent of the political universe and can produce tremendous (word?) as well as enormous instant fortunes. That's a problem.

  • 11:33:37

    BRZEZINSKIBeyond that we do have this wave of increasing -- mindlessly increasing executive compensation irrespective of executive performance. I think both more regulation and a fairer tax system would go a long, long way in addressing these problems. And actually Romney is beginning to talk about that, in part because I think he realizes that the amount of wealth he himself has should not be affected by one of the lowest tax levels that you can have when it comes to income.

  • 11:34:10

    BRZEZINSKISo I think perhaps there is some hope that the combination of social conscience and social prudence will move us toward some redressing of the situation.

  • 11:34:21

    REHMZbigniew Brzezinski and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have many, many callers. I'll try to get to as much as I can in the way of calls and email. First let's go to Indianapolis. Good morning, John, you're on the air.

  • 11:34:46

    JOHNGood morning, Diane. Hello, Dr. Brzezinski.

  • 11:34:48


  • 11:34:50

    JOHNThank you for your service to our-- very much.

  • 11:34:53

    BRZEZINSKIWell, thank you very much, too.

  • 11:34:56

    JOHNI greatly admire the president that you worked for. I think he is not only a -- treasure, but a global treasure. I've heard you recently on interviews talk about the danger kind of demagogy from the right. And I don't understand it about President Carter and I'd like to cite two examples if I could and then get your response off the air.

  • 11:35:18

    JOHNIn 2010, a conservative magazine asked 100 conservative website owners to name the worst American ever, the worst. To give you some relevance to it, John Wilkes Booth number 11, number one was Jimmy Carter. The other example is on a show that you regularly appear on and although he never has the courage to -- you, he's been doing it since 2003. And I bring him up because he's in the mainstream media, Joe Scarborough. Some of the most hateful vile things ever said about a public figure have been by Joe Scarborough about President Carter. And it's on and on and on.

  • 11:35:56

    JOHNAnd I'd just like to get some understanding. I just don't understand why President Carter brings this type of rage up in conservatives.

  • 11:36:06

    BRZEZINSKIWell, I have to tell you, I have appeared a number of times with Joe Scarborough and I find his comments to be quite fair. I have never heard him say anything that's so vile that you cite or you refer to as pertains to Carter. So that's a surprise. He's generally very fair and very intelligent. But Carter, I think, makes some people very uncomfortable in so far as their own conscience is concerned. Nothing outrages a human being more than the realization that others are aware of their moral deficiency. And I think that really brings out the worst in some people in this country.

  • 11:36:47

    REHMHow good a president do you believe he was?

  • 11:36:51

    BRZEZINSKILook, if you look at his foreign policy accomplishments starting with the Panama Canal Treaties, which otherwise would be Guerilla warfare area right now, the Camp David and a lot of others, opening to China, very important, his record is very good except for Iran. I think he had more of a problem domestically. Inflation that was a very, very serious problem, and the rise in the price of gasoline and so forth.

  • 11:37:18

    REHMAnd his use of the word malaise apparently just set people off in such a way that they still talk about it. Zbigniew Brzezinski. His new book is titled "Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power." Short break, we'll be right back.

  • 11:40:04

    REHMAnd just before the break I used a word, malaise, and attributed that word to President Carter. During the break, Dr. Brzezinski corrected me, please.

  • 11:40:22

    BRZEZINSKIWas a -- just a brief point. He, himself, never used that word in his speech, but in a briefing about the speech, someone in the White House referred to it as pretending to American malaise. And, of course, the press immediately picked that up and then the Republicans attributed that to Carter, but he never, never used that word.

  • 11:40:40

    REHMHe never used it.

  • 11:40:41


  • 11:40:42

    REHMAll right, let's go to Houston, Texas. Good morning, Deulah (sp?) , you're on the air.

  • 11:40:52

    DEULAHDiane, thank you, Dr. Brzezinski, I have a great admiration for you. My question is some believe that you played an important role in shaping the conflict in Somalia primarily by encouraging (unintelligible) to move away from the Soviet Union and, thus, indirectly attacking Ethiopia, which led to the demise and the disintegration of Somalia. Do you share any blame, also, in propping up dictators in the region, including one in Ethiopia, and, also, creating regional instability.

  • 11:41:33

    BRZEZINSKINo, I think the problem was actually the nature of the leadership, to some extent, in both countries. They're engaging in increasing conflict that was drawing in Soviet and Cuban influence. And that, of course, was of concern to us because of the strategic location of both Somalia and Ethiopia.

  • 11:41:52

    REHMAnd to Jacksonville, Fla., good morning, Jeff.

  • 11:41:56

    JEFFHi, good morning, thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:41:59


  • 11:42:00

    JEFFI have read two of Mr. Brzezinski's books and I firmly agree that he does a very good analysis, along with Max Boot, as far as government interaction with the public as far as, you know, how government influence affects the public, in general, but I don't think there's enough emphasis on commercial interests. It seems, though, that commercial interests seem to affect us to a very large extent as far as how they affect the government policy. And I'm wondering what you think about that and how much influence can be changed -- commercial influence so that it doesn't have as much of a negative effect on accurate government policy. And I'll take my answer off air.

  • 11:42:45

    REHMAnd are you -- I presume you're speaking about foreign policy, in particular.

  • 11:42:52

    JEFFProbably more so than anything else, yes.

  • 11:42:55

    REHMAll right.

  • 11:42:57

    BRZEZINSKIWell, I think that's a fair point. You know, I can't really measure how much commercial influence there is and what are the proper limits of that influence. We are, after all, a pluralistic society and commercial interests have the right to have their interests projected and heard because, obviously, they depend also on international conditions. I think the key -- the key standard by which to judge this issue is the transparency of the process.

  • 11:43:27

    BRZEZINSKIIf the process is relative transparent, I think it's hard to object to it. I think the probability is that too much of that process is dependent on lobbying, on indirect influences or, to put it crudely, perhaps, in some cases, political bribery or maybe even directly personal bribery. So transparency, I think, is the necessary requirement in maintaining some sort of a balance between conflicting interests, which otherwise gain an advantage. They can operate in secrecy.

  • 11:44:02

    REHMGive me an example of where you think bribery has taken place.

  • 11:44:07

    BRZEZINSKIYou know, I can't think of anyone that I would want to quote because that is a serious allegation that if I quoted it, I would be accusing someone of it. And I don't think I should be doing that.

  • 11:44:18

    REHMA country, perhaps?

  • 11:44:21

    BRZEZINSKICould be a country. It could be commercial interests. I think the fact is that both in terms of our domestic interests -- commercial interests and in terms of foreign policy issues lobbies operate. Lobbies are a perfectly legitimate aspect of the American tradition. There've been Irish lobbies, Polish lobbies, British lobbies, Israeli lobbies, increasingly now, Chinese, Hindu or Indian, Russian lobbies are making their appearance. That's part of the game, but it ought to be transparent -- much more than it is.

  • 11:44:55


  • 11:44:55

    BRZEZINSKIAnd the role of governments in taking advantage of them when they catch on to the fact that they have a constituency in America that they can harness to their advantage and inject money into it is important. And when foreign lobbies increasingly can dictate foreign policy that's pernicious -- that's loss of American control over America's national security.

  • 11:45:18

    REHMAnd there we are with money once again, but what about human rights? What role should human rights play in foreign policy?

  • 11:45:31

    BRZEZINSKII think that human rights is such a fundamental issue to the very nature of America that we cannot be indifferent. And I think we have striven over the years to strike a balance. For example, when I was in the government, we put a lot of emphasis on human rights, much more so than our predecessors and, particular, under Nixon and Ford. But even then we were willing, also, to negotiate strategic arms limitations, particularly, with a government that we felt was the biggest offender regarding human rights, the Soviet Union.

  • 11:46:05

    BRZEZINSKIThe same, for example, is the case today vis-a-vis a number of governments abroad. On the one hand, we have a stake in a stable relationship with them. On the other hand we cannot be totally indifferent to what they do even domestically. And they resent that because they see that as our interference in their domestic affairs. The Russians have said so recently. The Chinese have hinted at that. So almost in every case the decision makers have to really go through a mental process of kind of deciding what is the right balance? How far can we go? At what point we begin to jeopardize our national security?

  • 11:46:42

    REHMAs national security advisor to President Carter, you worked with many other cabinet officers. I would like your opinion on how Secretary of State Clinton manages the U.S. foreign policy at this moment.

  • 11:47:04

    BRZEZINSKII'm quite impressed by her performance. I think it's impressive. It's energetic and it's intelligent. And, of course, in a way that's summarizes her. She's intelligent, energetic, effective. So I think she does a very good job. I have no doubt that the overall philosophy of the Administration is shared by the President and I think that's the way it ought to be in our system. But I think she is a very loyal colleague, assistant to the President and her performance internationally is really effective. She talks well. She articulates well. She has good instincts so I am high on her.

  • 11:47:45

    REHMWe have not talked yet about Pakistan and the role that you believe the U.S. should be playing with Pakistan in this age of you know what's going on behind the scenes, what the ISI knows about, what the CIA is doing, what the CIA can do or special ops do to go into either Pakistan for Osama bin Laden or Somalia for hostages. What about all of this undercover work?

  • 11:48:27

    BRZEZINSKIYou know, Diane, our problem with Pakistan would be manageable if it was a problem with Pakistan. The problem is there are several Pakistanis at the same time. There is, first of all, a Pakistani army, which, in some respects, is a 21st century army, but it's also a fragmented army in that it has some units or areas of institutional -- independence within it that sometimes takes a different course, such as ISI, the Interservices Intelligence.

  • 11:48:59

    BRZEZINSKIYou have in Pakistan what, at best, might be described as the second half of the 19th Century version of the British democracy. And that is to say, yes, parliamentary operations -- parties, but effective control over the population by established groups, families, wealthy interests. It's really not a popular democracy. You, thirdly, have a large rural Pakistan which, in many respects, is back in the medieval age.

  • 11:49:35

    BRZEZINSKISo our problem is compounded by all of these factors and added to it are the ethnic complexities of Pakistan in which, for example, some -- I believe more than 25 million Pashtuns live in Pakistan, maybe as many as 30 million, and an additional 50 million or so live in Afghanistan. That creates an overlap. In brief, it's kind of like juggling several balls in the air trying to deal with Pakistan.

  • 11:50:08

    BRZEZINSKII think we have to continue the course in which we have set out which is try to have a decent relationship with the military, try to not undermine their quasi parliamentary government, but, at the same time, be sensitive to their points of vulnerability and, above all else, try to bring to a completion our engagement militarily in Afghanistan, create that regional umbrella in which Pakistan will have to participate if it is to be stable and successful and try to terminate our sole military engagement in the problem because while I'm not against other American military involvements if necessary, I think we should avoid, as much as we can, solitary engagements for over ambitious objectives.

  • 11:50:56

    REHMAll right, to Glen Burnie, Md., good morning, Ronald.

  • 11:51:01

    RONALDGood morning, Dr. Brzezinski, thanks for taking the call.

  • 11:51:03


  • 11:51:04

    RONALDA quick question. Do you think the United States' reaction to the threat of terrorism, the actual dangers to this country, has been commensurate or proportional to the actual threat?

  • 11:51:17

    BRZEZINSKINo, I do not. I think it has been vastly overdone on several levels. We have, first of all, initially, particularly, identified the threat as a Jihadist or Islamic threat. And that, of course, is counterproductive because, if anything, it generates more Islamic hostility towards the United States. We have not been selective. We haven't worked closely enough with moderate Islamic regimes in order to identify an element of solidarity with them against extremist terrorism.

  • 11:51:49

    BRZEZINSKIAnd in our country we have created an atmosphere of fear, which, I think, is just lunatic almost. You know, here in Washington, but in New York as well, every office building has some sort of a counter in which people with huge security badges on their shoulders check you and they try to determine who you are before they let you in as if these buildings were subject to attack whereas the Kennedy Center is not, shopping centers are not, hospitals are not, subways are not. It's lunatic.

  • 11:52:21

    BRZEZINSKIYou're asked to give your name and an ID. Believe it or not, in a couple of places I have done the following when asked to sign my name and having indicated where I want to go, let's say, suite 808. I wrote down Osama bin Laden.

  • 11:52:35

    REHMOh, you didn't.

  • 11:52:36

    BRZEZINSKIAnd the guards would say, the elevator is over there, eighth floor, please. The whole thing's absurd. And millions of dollars are being spent on this for so-called security firms where these people so called are supposed to protect us against terrorist attacks which hardly ever would go to some office on K street to blow it up. There are much more lucrative targets.

  • 11:53:01

    REHMYou've written Osama bin Laden.

  • 11:53:04

    BRZEZINSKIYes. And I'm quite sure that the guards, one, probably didn't even look at it, two, if they did, they didn't know who that was.

  • 11:53:11

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski is here with me. I assure you he is not Osama bin Laden. And to Boca Raton, Fla., good morning, Robert.

  • 11:53:30

    ROBERTGood morning to you, madam. Good morning to Professor Brzezinski. I'm Iranian American. Dr. Brzezinski you and your decision on your cabinet in 1978-79 you ruined my country, took a good man, Shah of Iran from his country and put him in exile and you brought us (unintelligible) and the rest of them back in Iran and you created a monster. We did not have all this problem prior to '79 in Middle East when the Shah was in power.

  • 11:53:58

    ROBERTBut, anyhow, and right now Dr. Brzezinski is a spokesman for Ayatollah...

  • 11:54:06

    REHMHow so, sir? I'm afraid I heard you and your point, but when you say that -- when you make false accusations, it's just not acceptable. But what about his point...

  • 11:54:28

    BRZEZINSKIWell, his...

  • 11:54:28

    REHM...That the U.S. did remove the Shah.

  • 11:54:31

    BRZEZINSKIFirst of all, the Shah was removed by the Iranians. Actually, if you read the record, you would notice that I actually favored crushing the opposition. And I talked to the Shah about that. And then told the Shah crush it and then move towards wide ranging reforms. He didn't have the guts to do it. He left the country. A lot of Iranians, it sounds like the interlocker who phoned me, as well, fled instead of staying and opposing Khomeini. Khomeini took over. I think this was a big disaster, first of all, for Iran, but also for us but the United States didn't have the obligation to save Iran if Iranians like the caller were not prepared to do it themselves.

  • 11:55:09

    REHMNow if the United States should get into a direct confrontation with Iran and its leaders, do you believe that the people of Iran would follow their leaders or would they welcome U.S. intervention?

  • 11:55:31

    BRZEZINSKIYou know, that depends on the circumstances. If there was a domestic upheaval and the United States was backing it and there was a domestic upheaval in favor of democracy, I think quite a few Iranians would welcome it, although maybe not all, much more so the urban population -- the younger population, men and women, in the countryside is more dubious.

  • 11:55:49


  • 11:55:50

    BRZEZINSKIBut if we go to war with Iran over the question of, you know, the right of Iran to have nuclear energy and then some incidents in the Strait of Hormuz, I fear it may create more unity in Iran and, therefore, the conflict would be more difficult.

  • 11:56:05

    REHMI have one last question for you. Do you believe that military or economic issues will dominate foreign policy in the next decade?

  • 11:56:20

    BRZEZINSKII think both would be very important because first of all if the global economy falters for a variety of reasons, perhaps even because of a military conflict, we're going to have political unrest so the two are intermingled. Also, if our economic recovery is not rapid enough, social tensions might increase -- street problems will become more prevalent. In effect, if we slide into an age of turmoil because of our failure to redress our domestic shortcomings -- and I tried to talk about that in our book -- and if we don't create a new balance on the global scene, we may have an age of turmoil that would be very unpleasant to live in.

  • 11:56:59

    REHMZbigniew Brzezinski, his new book is titled, "Strategic Vision: American and the Crisis of Global Power." Thank you so much for joining me this morning.

  • 11:57:14

    BRZEZINSKIIt's always nice to be with you, Diane.

  • 11:57:15

    REHMThank you. And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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