Foreign policy experts General Brent Scowcroft and Dr Zbigniew Brzezinski discuss the U-S role in Syria, tensions with Iran, and the direction of U-S foreign policy.


  • Brent Scowcroft President, The Scowcroft Group. national security advisor to two presidents military assistant to President Nixon
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski Counselor and trustee, Center for Strategic and International Studies, professor of American foreign policy,School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University and former national security advisor in the Carter administration.


  • 10:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Brent Scowcroft, a life-long Republican, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, a long-time Democrat, have both served our country as national security advisors during their long and distinguished careers. In 2009, they came on this program together to talk about our country's foreign policy challenges and the importance of putting aside partisan differences to solve problems.

  • 10:07:27

    MS. DIANE REHMThey join me again in this hour to talk about threats we face today from around the world and how best to address them. I invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to both of you.

  • 10:07:55

    DR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKIGood morning, Diane.

  • 10:07:59

    MR. BRENT SCOWCROFTGood morning.

  • 10:08:00

    REHMIt's good to have you here and to have you both with me. Brent Scowcroft, first of all, I want to congratulate you. You are to receive the International Statesman and Business Advocate Award from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Congratulations.

  • 10:08:26

    SCOWCROFTThank you. It's a great honor which I probably don't deserve.

  • 10:08:31

    REHMOh, I'm sure you do, absolutely. Dr. Brzezinski, let me start with you. Four years ago, when the two of you were on this program together, you were both concerned about America's relationship with the world. I wonder, in your mind, first you, Dr. Brzezinski and then you, Brent Scowcroft, what, in your view, has changed in these last four years? And what remains the same in terms of your own concerns and your outlook?

  • 10:09:13

    BRZEZINSKIDiane, what I would say is that I think over the last four years, a great deal of the international hostility that was directed at the United States, particularly because of the unilateral and falsely justified U.S. invasion of Iraq, a lot of that has waned. I think the United States is viewed less now as a rogue power acting irresponsibly. And that is larger than accomplishment of President Obama, who not only altered our attitude on these issues but who delivered a number of very promising speeches indicating that he would have a different approach to some key problems.

  • 10:10:08

    BRZEZINSKIWhat has not changed is that these problems persist and that there wasn't that much follow-through on the speeches. And as a consequence, the problems that we faced four years go still confront us, be it in the Middle East or more specifically also regarding Iran and Afghanistan or regarding China or regarding Russia and so forth.

  • 10:10:35

    REHMBrent Scowcroft.

  • 10:10:37

    SCOWCROFTI agree with Zbig on the overall trends. I think, you know, four years ago, we were still on the offensive, in a sense. President Obama has changed that. And the United States is now in a period of -- retreat is a bad word. I don't mean retreat but sort of like post-Vietnam. We are allergic now to U.S. forces out in Afghanistan, in Iraq and so on. And I think now it is that sort of attitude, which replaces that of the -- a decade ago when we were on the offensive. We had -- we were the predominant power in the world. We could remake the world. We no longer think we can remake the world.

  • 10:11:48

    REHMLet me follow up with the comments made yesterday by James Clapper, the national intelligence director. We're you surprised at his comments taking note of the negative consequences of the Arab Spring, Brent Scowcroft?

  • 10:12:14

    SCOWCROFTNo, I wasn't. You know, we tend to look at all of these events, when dictators are overthrown and so on, as the triumph of democracy. I don't think the Arab Spring was about democracy. It was about human dignity. And I think that that's a very different kind of thing, and this the latest cycle in the Mid-East history since the days of the Ottoman Empire. But people are trying to find themselves now. And it's not necessarily the triumph of democracy at all. And indeed, the breakdown of old authoritarian control can be replaced by chaos or a new kind of authoritarianism.

  • 10:13:11

    REHMDr. Brzezinski, that political chaos that Mr. Clapper referred to in so-called ungoverned spaces, how do you see it?

  • 10:13:25

    BRZEZINSKIWell, I see it, in a broader sense, as part of a fundamental phenomenon of our times. Now, we tend to forget living in a society in which there's instant communications and in which there is continuous political discussion in the mass media and so forth. We tend to assume living in such a society that most of the world has been that way as well. In fact, in the last several decades, we have seen a sudden political awakening all over the world. It's a really new phenomenon in human history.

  • 10:14:03

    BRZEZINSKIAnd that political phenomenon activates the masses, particularly when the masses are also quite young -- and in many parts of the world, young people are the most numerous -- and particularly if they feel discriminated against and particularly if they feel they have grievances against foreigners like the former imperialist powers and particularly if they have religious fanaticism, in some cases, driving them.

  • 10:14:31

    BRZEZINSKII think we're seeing all of that happen together in many parts of the world and particularly on those parts of the world where the population is quite large. So I was always very skeptical when I read these enthusiastic press accounts of the Arab Spring and how it's going to produce democracy. I agree with Brent. This does not necessarily lead to democracy. I'm now much more worried about the Arab winter than I'm enthused over the Arab Spring.

  • 10:15:02

    REHMZbigniew Brzezinski, he is former national security advisor in the Carter administration. He's currently counselor and trustee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Brent Scowcroft is president of the Scowcroft Group, national security advisor to both Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. He was a military assistant to President Nixon. We are going to open the phones shortly. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Brent Scowcroft, you want to add something.

  • 10:15:51

    SCOWCROFTI just want to add something. I agree completely with what Zbig said. I think what we're seeing now -- the reason for the Arab Spring -- this is one of the effects of globalization, modern communications, social media. We have now politicized parts of the world's population who never before were engaged in political matters. Now suddenly, they have the world in front of them, and they're responding to it. And we're going to be dealing with chaos in a way we never have before.

  • 10:16:33

    REHMAnd one of the issues, again, that James Clapper raised yesterday was the threat of cyberattack. What's your view, Brent Scowcroft?

  • 10:16:47

    SCOWCROFTWell, the cyber problem is a huge problem. To me, it is a problem analogous to nuclear weapons in the sense that, let loose, it can destroy civilization. We're just beginning to learn how to deal with it, if we're even beginning.

  • 10:17:11

    REHMAnd talk about what you mean when you say destroy civilization.

  • 10:17:15

    SCOWCROFTWell, it can destroy all of our records. It can destroy our banking systems. It can take away all of the things that make us people.

  • 10:17:27

    REHMAnd how real do you think that threat is right now?

  • 10:17:33

    SCOWCROFTI think the threat is potential. But if it were applied to our electricity grids, for example, I think it is a real threat. And I think we need to be more active in trying to cope with it.

  • 10:17:55

    REHMAnd which country do you think is most likely to launch that kind of an attack?

  • 10:18:03

    SCOWCROFTWell, from what I read -- and I'm not an expert myself. From what I read, the Chinese and the Russians are probably the most active although Iran is getting more active as well.

  • 10:18:22

    REHMBrent Scowcroft, president of the Scowcroft Group. He was national security advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. We're going to take a short break here. And when we come back, we'll talk about North Korea and other hotspots around the world. We'll also be opening the phones. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:04

    REHMAnd welcome back. Two former national security advisers are with me. Zbigniew Brzezinski, he was national security adviser during the Carter administration. Brent Scowcroft served as national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. Dr. Brzezinski, I want to ask you about something that's been in the news most recently and that is the threat from North Korea challenging not only South Korea but saying it might launch a nuclear attack against the United States. What was your reaction?

  • 10:20:57

    BRZEZINSKIMy reaction is that that is more wishful thinking on the part of the North Koreans than the reality. They still cannot reach the United States with nuclear weapons. They don't have the delivery systems nor the accuracy required to have that effect, but...

  • 10:21:14

    REHMBut how far away are they?

  • 10:21:17

    BRZEZINSKIWell, I think they're probably several years away. But the problem is they can do that even right now to South Korea and to Japan. And we have no choice but to maintain the position and to reaffirm it that we would view such an attack of South Korea or in Japan as an attack on the United States because that is the way we defend it, these countries for the last number of decades.

  • 10:21:45

    BRZEZINSKIAnd that is the way we defend it even more significantly Western Europe against a Soviet nuclear arsenal that was capable not only of destroying Western Europe but also the destroying us. It worked. And I think we have to keep that mind and be credible and firm. And incidentally, Diane, that is also a lesson for us in dealing with Iran. The president is going to the Middle East.

  • 10:22:12

    BRZEZINSKIHe's going to be badgered in the Middle East to declare more and more unambiguously that the United States might be willing to attack Iran in order to prevent it from having someday, some years from now, an effective nuclear deterrent. And I think that is wrong. I think ambiguity on this issue is dangerous.

  • 10:22:29

    BRZEZINSKIWe ought to have the same position towards Iran as we have had against North Korea or the Soviet Union, namely that if the Iranians threaten anyone in the Middle East that is a friend of ours and particular Israel, we'll view it as a threat directed at us. And I think that's a much a better way of avoiding a conflict than simply precipitating one unnecessarily.

  • 10:22:59

    REHMBrent Scowcroft.

  • 10:23:02

    SCOWCROFTI think we've had outbursts from North Korea before. This is one of the most serious. We need to try to figure out better what's going on in North Korea and why this kind of attacks now and what the fundamental significance is. I would point out that China has to be very concerned by this. As a matter of fact, China signed on to the last U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

  • 10:23:42

    SCOWCROFTAnd I think that one of the things we need to do is to work with the Chinese. My sense is the Chinese do not want a nuclear Korean Peninsula. But the Chinese are very much afraid of the collapse of North Korea and a unified Korea led by the United States right on their border.

  • 10:24:06

    BRZEZINSKII think Brent's point about China is very right. You know, the Chinese, for the first time in this entire period of uncertainty and tension with North Koreans, have come out very clearly in favor explicitly so of serious sanctions against North Korea. That's a powerful signal to North Korea, and the international community can give a similar signal to the Iranians. So think we are dealing here with a problem that has some wider significance to it and some lessons to be extracted from it.

  • 10:24:38

    REHMNow, the issue of finding out what is truly going on within North Korea has got to be one of the most difficult since they have the most difficult, secretive society in the world, and the most insulated.

  • 10:24:58

    BRZEZINSKIAnd the most isolated.

  • 10:25:00

    REHMBrent Scowcroft.

  • 10:25:01

    SCOWCROFTOh, absolutely. There's no question about it. And then there again, though, the Chinese have much more ability to figure out what is going on now than we do.

  • 10:25:13

    REHMHow much communication do you believe is going on between China and North Korea?

  • 10:25:20

    SCOWCROFTWell, I hope it is extensive and quiet and very serious because I think the two of us have a common objective. We do not want to see the Korean Peninsula explode yet again.

  • 10:25:34

    REHMAnd do you, like Dr. Brzezinski, put Iran into that same category?

  • 10:25:42

    SCOWCROFTWell, I -- in a sense that they're in the same position about nuclear weapons, yes, I do. But the environment's different on both sides. And I -- you know, we have a different formal position toward them. We threatened Iran with military force. We have not threatened North Korea to take out their nuclear capability. So we treat them differently in many ways.

  • 10:26:18

    SCOWCROFTAnd I think we ought to be -- they are unique in their positions and in their control. I would treat them as similar as possible. But I would not say to Iran, well -- now, Zbigniew didn't say this. But the assumption would be that OK for Iran to have nuclear weapons just as long as they don't use them. And I think that is -- we're not there on Iran, and I think that would be a mistake.

  • 10:27:07

    BRZEZINSKIWell, I think our position on Iran is that we don't want them to have nuclear weapons. And we have mounted -- we have organized a worldwide boycott, isolation, sanctions, directed at Iran to drive that point home. But what I feel strongly about is that it's really is absurd for anyone to advocate that we use, for example, force against North Korea, unless they force us to use force. But at the same time, not to face the fact that quite unlike North Korea, Iran does not have nuclear weapons.

  • 10:27:49

    BRZEZINSKIAccording to most intelligence analysis, they are not likely to have any soon. In any case, they don't have the delivery systems that make nuclear weapons useful, and they don't have the numbers necessary to threaten anyone then absorb a counterattack and retaliate, which means that they are really years away from having the kind of capability that North Korea has already with eight nuclear weapons in its possession and with delivery systems in its possession that threaten Japan and South Korea.

  • 10:28:25

    REHMDr. Brzezinski, you mentioned the president's trip to the Middle East next week. What do you believe our position should be with regard to Israel's perception of great danger in Iran and its threats to attack Iran?

  • 10:28:54

    BRZEZINSKIWell, first of all, the threat to attack Iran is being questioned by almost the entire top leadership of the Israeli military secret service and intelligence institutions. They think it would be extremely counterproductive for Israel to do it. Of course, some of them would like us to do it. But if we were to do it, Diane, we have to face the fact that we will then be engaged in the Middle East in a regional conflict that will probably last years, and we'll be alone.

  • 10:29:32

    BRZEZINSKINo one's going to be in there with us. We're going to be stuck. Our position in Afghanistan as we withdraw will be more threatened. Iraq will probably explode almost instantly. It will spread to Lebanon and to Jordan. And no one in the world will be helping us. And some, like the Russians and maybe even the Chinese, will be, to some extent, benefiting from the mess that we plunge ourselves into.

  • 10:30:03

    REHMBrent Scowcroft.

  • 10:30:03

    BRZEZINSKISo I think the president should not give any indication that the United States is contemplating the use of force unilaterally. If the United Nations endorses it, either other countries willing to join us, fine. But other than that, I think we can maintain the position that worked so well throughout the Cold War. Any threat from Iran directed at Israel is viewed as a threat directed at the United States.

  • 10:30:30

    REHMAll right. Brent Scowcroft.

  • 10:30:32

    SCOWCROFTI think with Iran, we have options that we need to continue to pursue. The sanctions against Iran are very painful to them. Those sanctions are basically supported by most of the world. I think if we sit down with Iran and say, we're not trying to -- we're not trying regime change here. We understand you have security problems. This is not the way to solve your security situation.

  • 10:31:05

    SCOWCROFTAnd see if it is not possible to work with Iran so that they have access to nuclear power, but not nuclear weapons. I don't think that -- I don't think we've run out that string yet. So I don't think it's time to talk about whether we continue to threaten them with force or whether we use a World War II -- excuse me, a Cold War mechanism which worked against the Soviet Union.

  • 10:31:39

    REHMDr. Brzezinski, you mentioned Afghanistan. What is your assessment of what we've done there? What have we accomplished? What happens now?

  • 10:31:54

    BRZEZINSKIWhat we have accomplished is, first of all, destruction of much of al-Qaida. What we have accomplished is driving the Taliban out of power and creating a situation, hopefully, in which the Afghan government can defend itself. But we will not know whether we have achieved the latter until after we have left. When we have left, it's going to be a really unpredictable situation.

  • 10:32:24

    BRZEZINSKIAnd I hope we'll continue our financial assistance and military advice and so forth to the Afghan government, irrespective of who heads it, so that it has a chance to survive, but I certainly have no high degree of certainty as to whether it will or it will not. I think it's going to be a chancy situation. And if the area becomes more inflamed with a conflict with Iran in the meantime, the entire western part of Afghanistan, which until recently has been relatively stable, could also be plunged into guerilla warfare directed at the Afghan government and at us as we withdraw.

  • 10:33:05

    REHMZbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser in the Carter administration. He is now counselor and trustee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Brent Scowcroft, what did you make of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's charges that the U.S. and the Taliban are conniving to perpetuate instability in that country?

  • 10:33:45

    SCOWCROFTWell, I think they're ridiculous, and Karzai is still playing a balancing position. He appeals to whatever he thinks is necessary to maintain his tough -- very tough position there. I agree with Zbig on Afghanistan. We have had some success there. We're leaving the -- to me, the greatest success we've had in helping hope -- helping to stabilize Afghanistan is the building of the Afghan armed forces.

  • 10:34:22

    SCOWCROFTNow, I think it is critical, as we leave, that we leave behind the assurance to those armed forces that we haven't deserted them. That is, a residual force that is sort of a hand on their shoulder that can continue to guide them in how to conduct operations, can be a last resort in case of trouble and can continue to train them.

  • 10:34:53

    REHMAt the same time, even this week, we have had -- I think it's five American soldiers...

  • 10:35:02


  • 10:35:02

    REHM...killed. The American people are beginning to say, why don't we just get out if they don't want us there?

  • 10:35:13

    SCOWCROFTThat's what I said earlier. The mood in this country has changed dramatically, and I'm talking about maybe 20,000. And it's a reassurance presence to give the Afghan military the confident to continue to profit by the training they've had and to maintain the kind of modest control over the situation that will make Afghanistan not a success, but not a failure.

  • 10:35:48

    REHMHowever, Dr. Brzezinski, it is the Afghan military itself which apparently has turned its guns on American soldiers.

  • 10:36:02

    BRZEZINSKII think that is the case in individual instances.

  • 10:36:06


  • 10:36:07

    BRZEZINSKIThey haven't done so as units, organized units attacking us in any regular fashion.

  • 10:36:11

    REHMQuite right.

  • 10:36:13

    BRZEZINSKIAnd that is to be expected. There is a lot of Afghan resentment against foreign presence. Afghanistan has been very much a closed society, hostile to foreign intruders with guns, and they've been famous for this. I think on the whole, however, these are isolated cases which don't reflect the majority outlook of the current Afghan military. I think the problem will arise once we have left.

  • 10:36:44

    BRZEZINSKIEven if we retain some residual presence, the Afghans will feel they're on their own. And I think the Taliban probably will make a major effort to see if the Afghan army will crack. And a great deal depends on the extent of which we can continue supplying them with arms, give them money, not turn our backs on them as we did in the late 1990s, which then created the opening for the Taliban. If we persist in being positively engaged but not directly militarily, I think there is a reasonable chance that the Afghan regime will survive.

  • 10:37:21

    REHMZbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser in the Carter administration. Brent Scowcroft served as national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush.

  • 10:40:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, here in the studio: Brent Scowcroft. He is former national security advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. Zbigniew Brzezinski joins us by phone, former national security advisor in the Carter administration. This is actually a second round of our discussion with the two men. They were on this program together back in 2009, so it is an honor to have them both with us again.

  • 10:40:48

    REHMHere is our first email from Jonathan, "Has our focus on the Middle East and North Korea over the past 15 years caused us to ignore strategic concerns in Africa and South America?" Talk about the death of Hugo Chavez, Brent Scowcroft, and what that could mean in terms not only of Venezuela but for the rest of Latin America.

  • 10:41:23

    SCOWCROFTI agree that we have neglected Africa and Latin America, and I believe that the waves of globalization are just beginning to hit there. I think Chavez's death is an opportunity, I think, because, you know, for decades, Venezuela was the most progressive country in Latin America. And for a variety of reasons, Chavez got control and turned it into an instrument against the United States fundamentally, and really pro-dictatorship, if you will, around the world. And it was not an accident that President Ahmadinejad of Iran came to the funeral.

  • 10:42:19

    SCOWCROFTI think, now there is an opportunity -- and we have to be careful because we can't play an active role. There's an opportunity for Venezuela to re-assert itself as a progressive state. It has potential riches in oil. We get an enormous amount of our oil from Venezuela. And I am basically optimistic about what might happen as a result of Chavez's death.

  • 10:42:57

    REHMAnd you, Dr. Brzezinski?

  • 10:43:00

    BRZEZINSKIWell, I agree in part with what Brent was saying, but I guess my perspective on this issue is from a somewhat different vantage point. I'm, first of all, struck by the fact that Chavez, obnoxious as he has been and as hostile towards us as some of his friendships indicate -- for example, with Ahmadinejad of Iran -- what Chavez did, however, was something which was long overdue.

  • 10:43:34

    BRZEZINSKINamely, he really redressed the social imbalance in Venezuela, that is to say the disproportion between the rich and the poor. And he launched the social revolution, which has enjoyed some genuine public support in Venezuela. And we cannot ignore that. I hope now, with him gone, there would be a turn towards a more traditional democratic system which, however, at the same time, remains committed to the social equalization, social reforms that were launched.

  • 10:44:09

    BRZEZINSKIMore generally, I am, I think, less concerned about Latin America. I think Latin America is finding its own balance. It is no longer under the shadow of American power. And I think it's beginning to act with a greater degree of self-assurance, as for example, in the international stand taken by Brazil, such as, for example, in Mexico with which we have a special relationship through NAFTA.

  • 10:44:40

    BRZEZINSKII think the less we look paternalistically at Latin America, the better. As far as Africa is concerned, yes, I think globalization, as Brent says, is an important way of engaging in Africa. And Africa is beginning to take off economically. But politically, obviously, the Europeans are closer, and I think they will probably be exercising the major influence in Africa rather than we.

  • 10:45:05

    REHMAll right. Let's open the phone first to Rockville, Md. Good morning, Joel. You're on the air.

  • 10:45:14

    JOELHi. You guys there?

  • 10:45:15

    REHMYeah. Go right ahead.

  • 10:45:18

    JOELThanks so much for taking my call.

  • 10:45:19


  • 10:45:21

    JOELSo, gentlemen, I'm a university student, and the thing that I study is American relations in Russia. And I was wondering what your opinion was on how the Obama administration should handle it's relations with the second Putin administration, given how hostile it seems to American interest but how much Russia can obstruct American interest in withdrawing from Afghanistan and at the U.N. Security Council.

  • 10:45:56

    REHMAll right, sir. Brent Scowcroft.

  • 10:45:59

    SCOWCROFTWell, Putin is turning out to be a very difficult customer even in his second time around. I believe that the reset notion of the Obama administration was the right instinct. I think we ought to continue to try. Putin is full of resentment at the United States.

  • 10:46:26


  • 10:46:27

    SCOWCROFTWell, because he thinks right after the end of the Cold War, when Russia was flat on it's back, we took advantage of them and pushed the borders of NATO right up into the former Soviet Union, denounced the ABM treaty, all of those things, and he resents it. But you can't live on resentment. He also has serious domestic problems.

  • 10:46:53

    SCOWCROFTAnd -- but I think we ought to keep trying. There are many more things that we have potentially positive that we can do with Russia than the negative aspects. And he is a particularly difficult customer, but I don't think we should respond in kind but continue to try to find ways to work with him, on Syria, for example.

  • 10:47:23

    REHMDr. Brzezinski.

  • 10:47:26

    BRZEZINSKIWell, I basically agree with that, even though on some specific points regarding the recent past I would take a different view. The practical -- the reality is that he's in charge. He is rather anti-American. He basically resents the outcome of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. He would like to restore something like the Soviet Union. So the so-called Eurasian Union that he's trying to promote in order -- thereby sucking intel, it's -- the former members of the Soviet Union, which are now independent.

  • 10:48:02

    BRZEZINSKIMy guess is that's not going to succeed. And in the long run, he's going to be replaced by a more open-minded, forward-looking elements which will represent more closely the emerging middle class in Russia, which is now much more cosmopolitan, more international and less doctrinaire, less inclined to tolerate an authoritarian and corrupt system. As a practical matter in that context, I don't think there are great opportunities for accommodation with Russia. But on specifics, we should seek to make agreements.

  • 10:48:39

    BRZEZINSKIWe certainly have an interest in dealing with the Iranian problem intelligently. We should find some common way of looking at Syria because that would help to resolve that problem more rapidly. We should reach some additional agreements on arms control. We should see whether we can find some compromise formula on the missile defense shield. These are the kind of things we can work on without exaggerated expectations.

  • 10:49:05

    REHMWe have not really talked about Syria, Brent Scowcroft, in the sense that the U.S. has now agreed to provide non-lethal weapons to the rebels. I wonder what your thinking is as to how much the U.S. can accomplish. Even as with a wink and a nod, it has encouraged others to provide those weapons.

  • 10:49:39

    SCOWCROFTSyria is a extremely difficult problem. Syria is one of the most complicated countries in the world. It's an accident in a sense. Its borders who's in it, who's out. I think we can't solve the Syrian problem. I would spend most of our attention on seeing if we can't stop the violence. To me, that means reach out to the Russians.

  • 10:50:15

    SCOWCROFTThe Russians used to have a lot of influence in the Middle East. Now that influence has shrunk to pretty much just Syria. And I think if we can convince the Russians that if Assad leaves, is thrown out, Russian influence may be thrown out with it. And it is in their interest -- we don't have a problem with Russian influence in Syria.

  • 10:50:48

    SCOWCROFTIt is in their interest to work with us a ceasefire, the removal of Assad and trying to put the situation back together, I think providing additional equipment and so on. It -- we don't have a way to solve that internal problem. There is a minority issue. The Alawites in charge of the government, the majority of the rebels are Sunnis, this is a very fundamental kind of a fight in many ways. And I think the best thing we can do is to try to stop it.

  • 10:51:34

    REHMDr. Brzezinski.

  • 10:51:37

    BRZEZINSKII tend to agree with Brent. It seems to me that we jump the gun when the crisis started by announcing summarily -- just from Washington, just like that -- Assad has to go. And then we went to the U.N. and demanded that the U.N. support it. So quite naturally, the Russians and the Chinese objected. They said, we're not going to follow that kind of dictate from the United States. And then we have been in a jam ever since then. We don't know whom to support, so we take a halfway measure.

  • 10:52:08

    BRZEZINSKIWe're going to give them money, but we're not going to them arms. Why aren't we giving them arms? Well, because we don't know who they really are and whether they're worthy of having our arms. And yet, we're giving them money. That seems to me to be a copout. I think if there is to be a settlement of some sort is a compromise, we have to take Russian and Chinese views into account and work with them. We haven't tried that. We should.

  • 10:52:32

    REHMAll right. To Hudson, N.H. Good morning, Ben.

  • 10:52:38

    BENHi, good morning. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 10:52:39


  • 10:52:41

    BENSo I actually just wanted to say that you're talking about the threat of cyber attacks earlier saying…

  • 10:52:45


  • 10:52:45

    BEN...which countries you thought were most likely to launch an attack. And you said, I believe, Iran, North Korea or in China. But I just want to point out that believe the United States and Israel recently launched an attack against Iran's nuclear program. So I just wanted to hear what they had to say about that seeing as it seems like we are the ones were developing these weaponry first even before them.

  • 10:53:09

    REHMAll right. And before we get an answer, you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Dr. Brzezinski.

  • 10:53:19

    BRZEZINSKII think the caller has a very good point. I wrote an article in foreign -- in the Financial Times about a week ago, not listing individual countries but listing all of the steps that have been taken in recent years which, in my judgment, point to the real danger of the degradation of the internal system.

  • 10:53:43

    BRZEZINSKIAnd what the caller has cited is one of the things I cited, without mentioning countries, because the point of the article was not to attack individual countries but to warn everyone concerned that we're all sliding down a slippery slope towards increasingly sophisticated cyber warfare, unorthodox warfare anonymous warfare.

  • 10:54:09

    BRZEZINSKIIn the example of a comprehensive nationwide cyber attack that paralyzes a country's banking system, government, economic resources, electric grids, is the real threat. And I think we have to be very serious addressing this issue in two ways: one, call for an international convention which bars that kind of activity including, for example, hacking and sending viruses, et cetera.

  • 10:54:38

    BRZEZINSKIAnd, secondly, we have to develop the capability for prompt identification of sources of such action and the capacity for effective retaliation because only then will there be an international agreement to avoid it because everybody will have a stake in it.

  • 10:54:55

    REHMBrent Scowcroft.

  • 10:54:56

    SCOWCROFTI agree in general with those comments. My earlier comment on cyber was related it to nuclear. And I think they're similar only that they have the ability to destroy civilization, both of them. And I think on cyber, we ought to look at the way we started with nuclear arms control. We started in the 1960s, '70. And at the first, you know, this was with our hated enemy, the Soviet Union.

  • 10:55:31

    SCOWCROFTAnd we began to realize that nuclear weapons just more and more and more and more were a threat to everybody. And we started to talk to them. And gradually, even in the midst of the Cold War, we were able to come to some agreements on beginning to control. It seems to me that that is an apt example for what we need to do on cyber. Zbigniew is right. There's much about cyber we don't understand.

  • 10:56:03

    SCOWCROFTBut we can -- ought to be seeking to control it. We want to have our cake and eat it in the United States. We don't want cyber attacks on us, but we're increasing our own offensive capability. We have to take a different approach.

  • 10:56:18

    REHMDr. Brzezinski, one last question, very quickly, please. Looking back on your own career, what mistake do you regret?

  • 10:56:34

    BRZEZINSKIWell, you know, in international politics, mistakes involve compromises, accommodations, decisions, which are shared partially even if one doesn't entirely agree with them. So I can't point to any specific one which I feel that was primarily my own doing. There are some things I probably would've done differently, but one always has to take the political context into account and how much leeway has -- one has in making decision.

  • 10:57:06

    REHMBrent Scowcroft.

  • 10:57:08

    SCOWCROFTThat is exactly the answer that I would have given and will give. There are lots of things -- you have to put it back into context. I don't -- I can't -- nothing catastrophic comes to my mind. But have I made mistakes? You bet.

  • 10:57:26

    REHMBrent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, both former national security advisers. How good to speak with both of you. Thank you.

  • 10:57:38

    SCOWCROFTThank you, Diane. It's a pleasure being with you.

  • 10:57:41

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:57:41

    BRZEZINSKINice to have been with you.

  • 10:57:43

    REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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