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BRIAN LAMB, HOST, C-SPAN: Zbigniew Brzezinski, author of the ”The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century,” why this new book?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, AUTHOR: Why not, I write books and it seems to me that in this particular one, I’m dealing with a truly momentous historical development. Something that is happening before our very eyes and yet, has been touching us all for all these decades. Namely an ideology that was so dominant in the course of this century, literally before our very eyes, is disintegrating as a system and dying as a doctrine. That’s a very important development.
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LAMB: That was 18 years ago, almost to the day, that was our first Booknotes program. It lasted 16 years and when you see yourself, do you remember the mood and what’s happened in the last 18 years?
BRZEZINSKI: I remember the mood. In fact, my book – most recent book – refers to that in a sense, because the whole purpose of the book is to relate the present to what happened then. And what happened then, was a tremendous opportunity for the world, but especially for the United States. And my book, alas, argues that we haven’t really exploited that opportunity very well.
LAMB: What is that opportunity?
BRZEZINSKI: And in fact, we haven’t led very well.
The opportunity is to really shape the world who’s more congenial to our values, more in keeping with our interests, more responsive to fundamental human aspirations.
LAMB: Let’s go over your own personal background for a moment, so people that see you all the time, but don’t know where you came from. Born in Poland, made your way eventually to Canada. How did that happen?
BRZEZINSKI: Not entirely on my own. I was a kid – a small kid. My father was a diplomat and we came to America and I’ve been thinking about that lately because we came of course, by boat in those days and we arrived first in New York – the family of a diplomat, so it was a very nice, comfortable trip. But the first thing I saw then was the Statue of Liberty and I remember being told that this is the symbol of America. And I cannot help but think often these days that for so many people around the world the symbol of America today is Guantanamo.
LAMB: What does that mean to you?
BRZEZINSKI: ...think about. Well, what has happened in the course of these 15 years since my previous appearance on this show, mainly that we have adopted a position in world affairs which isolates us, alienates much of humanity from us and I think it’s dangerous to our interests and to our values.
LAMB: How long did you live in Poland?
BRZEZINSKI: A total of three years.
LAMB: How long did you live in Canada?
BRZEZINSKI: I lived in Canada for a total of 12 years.
LAMB: Now something – I remember reading somewhere, that something happened in Canada that had you gotten what you wanted, you might not have ever made your way to the United States. Had to do with education.
BRZEZINSKI: That’s true. I was qualified – I don’t remember precisely the details and I don’t want to mistake them, but basically I qualified for some fellowship. I graduated from McGill and I qualified for some fellowship that should have sent me to Oxford for graduate studies. And then since I wasn’t Canadian-born or yet a Canadian citizen, I forget which, I think Canadian-born. I did not get the fellowship. But my grades were good enough that with some help from some friends of my father, I was able to go to Harvard with enough money to pay for the first two months and that’s all. And I submitted to Harvard. So, I went to Harvard and got my PhD and fortunately things worked out for me extremely well at Harvard, so after the first two months, I had no problems whatsoever.
LAMB: You pointed out again, I think it was in our first interview, that you and Henry Kissinger are the only people that have been National Security Advisors who have a Political Science degree. Has that changed since those 18 years?
BRZEZINSKI: That’s a good point and I don’t know. I haven’t really looked at it from that standpoint. Brent Scowcroft, of course, taught at West Point and he must have an advanced degree, but I’m not quite sure what it is in. It may have been in International Affairs or Political Science, as well. So, he certainly, in one fashion or another would be in that category. Of course, Condi Rice – Condoleezza Rice – had a PhD in Politics. So, at least since us, there were some others.
LAMB: What’s the importance of having a Political Science PhD and being in that kind of position?
BRZEZINSKI: Not very much, to be perfectly frank. Not very much. My sense has been for quite some time and certainly and it was already the case before I became National Security Advisor, that too much of American Political Science over-stresses the word ”science” and not enough the word ”politics.” Politics is an elusive process of exercising influence, acquiring power, causing events to happen. Science is a kind of more abstract, rigid notion of how to analyze reality and how to cope with it and I think that part of political science doesn’t really prepare you for the kind of a job that the National Security Advisor has to undertake.
LAMB: You taught at Harvard for how long?
BRZEZINSKI: I taught – I got my PhD in ’53 and I taught till 1960.
LAMB: Taught at Columbia for how long?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, I taught at Columbia, that becomes much more difficult statistically to analyze. I accepted a professorship at Columbia in 1960 and I taught till 1966, then took two years off to be in the State Department, then came back to Columbia. Then took a year or so off in the very early ’70s to be in Japan. And then in 1967 – early 1967 – I took a leave of absence to take a government job and then I came back to Columbia in ’81 and then I think I resigned from Columbia maybe four years later because I didn’t want to commute so much from Washington to New York City and I like staying in Washington.
LAMB: And you’re at Johns Hopkins still?
BRZEZINSKI: I’m connected with John Hopkins and I taught at John Hopkins and I still have the title of professor, but my primary base is the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
LAMB: And you just had your 79th birthday.
BRZEZINSKI: So they say.
LAMB: And you’re still as active as you’ve always been?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, my tennis is as good as it was always.
LAMB: You married when? And who did you marry?
BRZEZINSKI: I’m married in 1955, a graduate of Wellesley College and Emilie Anna Benes – ”Moushka” (ph) Benes. That was her nickname. She’s of Czechoslovak origin and we met at a Harvard Wellesley mixer – Jolly Up (ph), I forgot how they were called – quite by accident and one thing led to another, but I do know this, that a week after we met, she told her brother that she’s going to marry me. I did not learn that prospective reality until about a year later.
LAMB: What year did you marry?
LAMB: How many children?
LAMB: Where are they?
BRZEZINSKI: They are here and in New York. My oldest son is a Republican and he served in the Senate, spent some time in the Ukraine. He volunteered for the military at one point and became a reserve officer. He was a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense under Rumsfeld, then he resigned. He’s now with Booz Allen.
My second son is a Democrat, very active politically, currently engaged in the presidential campaign. He served under Clinton, National Security Counsel Staff. He also obtained a PhD or D Phil. (ph) at Oxford.
And my other son got an M.A. at the Kennedy School at Harvard. The first one went to Williams, the second one went to Dartmouth. And my daughter is a television reporter or anchor actually, more than reporter. She was doing that for CBS for a while and then after the upheaval there, she left and she’s now connected with MSNBC or NBC.
LAMB: And that’s Mika Brzezinski...
BRZEZINSKI: That’s right.
LAMB: ...for those that watch television there.
BRZEZINSKI: Increasingly the person that people identify me as being the father of.
LAMB: Now, back in 1989, when we – I haven’t seen you or interviewed you since then, but in ’89, here’s what you said a little bit about the media.
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LAMB: What kind of a job do you think the mass media does in this town as it relates to foreign policy?
BRZEZINSKI: Mixed. Mixed, I can’t say frankly that’s top-notch. I don’t think it’s terrible, I think there are elements of both. There are some people – I don’t want to mention names, obviously – who like very perceptive, thoughtful either analyses or focus their stories on significant truths.
But there’s also an enormous number of people in mass media who are first of all, devoid of any ideas of their own, who just follow the pack, who are essentially digging for sensations and who, because of the experience of the ’70s, more often then not, automatically assume that anyone who’s in the government is either a crook or an enemy who has to be exposed and attacked. And we’re not prepared to believe that most people in the government are generally dedicated, patriotic people who in many cases are honestly making a major sacrifice doing what they’re doing.
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LAMB: Any changes?
BRZEZINSKI: Not really, not really. I think perhaps I would be less critical, but basically I think it’s a mixed picture, there are some top-notch, top-notch reporters and commentators in world affairs in this city and they’re as good as any and in some respects I wish some of them would serve in the government occasionally. I think they would infuse a sense of reality into the thinking within the government.
But by and large, I think the problem is that the mass media as a whole, don’t educate the public about world affairs. Television is replacing newspapers as a source of information. The television news so-called gives you practically nothing about the world. It gives you a lot of trivia about the world and as a consequence, the public of what is now the only superpower in the world, of who’s policies aren’t very critical – the public of this superpower is not very well informed about the world.
I have some data in my book on how few Americans know even the fundamentals of geography. That people about to go to college, couldn’t identify in significant numbers, where Great Britain was or Afghanistan. That close to 30% couldn’t locate the Pacific Ocean on the map and don’t ask anyone about the history of other major nations.
And that, to my mind, is becoming a more serious problem because the special role of America, requires America to act in a way that effects the rest of the world to an unprecedented degree and we shape our policy on the basis of public attitudes. And if these attitudes are ignorant, it becomes all the more difficult to fashion a policy that is responsive to what I call the historical moment.
LAMB: Correct me if I’m wrong on this, you were involved with the John F. Kennedy campaign, you were involved with Lyndon Johnson’s campaign. You served Jimmy Carter as his National Security Advisor and then you served George Herbert Walker Bush.
BRZEZINSKI: I also directed the foreign policy task forces for Hubert Humphrey. Yes, I supported Bush one against Dukakis because I sensed that the crisis in the Soviet Union was getting deep, that the United States had to have a realistic and effective response. I endorsed Bush, incidentally, when he was 17 points behind. I emphasize that. So, it was not a political opportunistic step.
But I felt that Dukakis would not be able to handle this new complex realities and that Bush would. And I think retrospectively I was right. He handled the disintegration of the Soviet Union extremely well, even though on some other issues, in my judgment – and I argue that in my most recent book – he didn’t quite seize the moment. He didn’t quite seize the opportunity.
LAMB: Back to your family. You have a son that’s a Democrat, one that’s a Republican and a daughter that’s a journalist. How did that happen do you think?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we are an engaged family that is interested in issues, talks about the issues. We traveled a lot with our kids, we went abroad a lot. We engaged in a lot of discussions and I hope that my wife and maybe I, too, helped to stimulate their interests, but also helped to stimulate them into making their own judgments and we always tried to respect their judgments and I’m very proud of my kids. I enjoy talking to them. One thing we try to do is to discourage overly intensified political debates because they can escalate and create tension. But short of that, we can have wonderful discussions about different subjects and I think then the kids formulated their own ideas, took their own paths and we’re very proud of them.
LAMB: What kind of labels would you put on yourself at this point in your life?
BRZEZINSKI: I’m engaged.
LAMB: Are you a Democrat?
BRZEZINSKI: I am a Democrat fundamentally, that is to say, when it comes to a domestic choice, I’m automatically a Democrat. When it comes to choosing Presidents, I lean towards Democrats, but I make my judgment on the basis of the person. And I don’t feel myself wedded to the idea that I have to support a Democrat candidate for President. If I don’t agree with his policies.
So, for example, if you know, there were someone on the Democratic ticket that’s in 2008 who would say, ”We ought to stay the course in Iraq.” Thank God there isn’t an actual candidate, but there was one. There could be some political figure in the Democratic party that might take that point of view. But that person’s not likely to be the nominee. And if the Republican candidate, for example, was Chuck Hagel, I would have no hesitation in supporting Chuck Hagel.
LAMB: So, on Iraq, your strongest feelings.
BRZEZINSKI: I think the Iraq adventure is a profound misadventure, which was hoisted on this country by demagogy from the top down. And it involved a basic misjudgment of what was needed and how to go about pursuing what was needed. And the consequences are visible to all. Our credibility worldwide has been shot. Our legitimacy has been undermined and last but not least, global respect for our power has been much reduced.
LAMB: I’m going to go back to the video tape from 1989 and what you had to say about Mr. Gorbachev and the Soviet Union.
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BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think one has to differentiate between Mr. Gorbachev the person, the human being and the likely fate of the policies that he’s promoting. He’s certainly is very intelligent and attractive person. I have had the opportunity of meeting him – not for long, but I did. And he makes a very good impression. Certainly better than any of his predecessors. And that clearly explains also why he’s so attractive, because he stands in such contrast to those who preceded him.
His policies, which are based on two Russian words that have come to be well-known, glasnost and perestroika – glasnost meaning overtness, perestroika meaning restructuring – are designed to promote a reform of the system that he himself recognizes has become stagnant and uncreative.
My own judgment regarding his policies, which I tried to express in the book, is that first of all, there has been much more glasnost in the Soviet Union than perestroika, meaning they talk much more and they ventilate issues much more openly than they ever have, but reforming the system has proven to be very difficult.
And my own expectation is that he will not succeed in creating a spontaneously, self-energizing increasing the pluralistic, more generally open Soviet Union. That there are too many inbuilt contradictions, legacies of the past within the Soviet system to make that kind of success for his policies possible. And that therefore his major historical significance will be that he will have dismantled Stalinism, probably not dismantled Leninism, which means his one-party-rule legacy, kind of a doctrinal orthodoxy and that he will have initiated a protracted, systemic crisis in the Soviet Union, which will last for many years. As all of these internal contradictions and legacies of the past wear themselves out.
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LAMB: That was April 2nd, 1989. How’d you do?
BRZEZINSKI: I think I did pretty well until the last sentence where I talked about the crisis, running itself out over several years. It moved much more rapidly and the disintegration of the Soviet Union occurred faster than I was predicting.
LAMB: In your own book you have on page 49, an international chronology, January 1989 to December 1991 and it starts off with February ’89, Soviet troops withdrawn from Afghanistan. September of ’89, solidarity forms the first non-communist government within the Soviet Bloc. June 4th, 1989, Tiananmen Square protest. November 9th, 1989, the Berlin Wall comes down – big year.
BRZEZINSKI: Very big year.
LAMB: But what’s the result of all that happened in that one year today?
BRZEZINSKI: Well a lot of the things still stand, so to speak. The Berlin Wall, doesn’t stand, but the reality of its fall stands, namely reunified Germany. And subsequently reunified Europe in the Soviet (INAUDIBLE) Afghanistan. And the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan precipitated, this accelerated disintegration of the Soviet conviction in the future, self confidence and eventually the system.
Tiananmen Square, this oppression of the students did not resolve the long-term problem. China still has to resolve this kind of divergent trajectory of its economic development which is increasingly pluralistic, semi-capitalist – increasingly capitalistic and political change which is much slower, much more reliant still on the authority of the single dominant party. And the legacy of Tiananmen Square is still to be confronted by the Chinese leaders.
LAMB: Go back to 1977 to ’81 when you were National Security Advisor, what’s the best decision you made back then and what was the worst?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, you know, if I say my decisions – I have to qualify that immediately. They weren’t my decisions, they were the President’s decisions, though I had some input into some of them and probably more in some cases and less in other cases.
I think the right things that were done were of course, the decision to resolve the Panama Canal problem. We would have had gorilla warfare on Panama Canal if we hadn’t bitten the bullet on it, even though the Republican’s opposed it.
I think we were right in moving firmly on the Middle Eastern peace process and we accomplished at least one major breakthrough. We broke the solid phalanx of the Arabs States surrounding Israel by precipitating the first peace treaty ever between Israel and an Arab state, mainly Egypt. That was a very major accomplishment of the President and I was helping in that, but that was his decision, I repeat.
And – but we agreed that we had to apply the pressure. If the United States hadn’t done it, it would have never happened. We were certainly important in normalizing relations with China, which created a new (INAUDIBLE) strategic situation in which the Chinese and we were able to collaborate more confidently in offsetting what at that time, was a rather aggressive, ambitious Soviet Union.
But we had a very major setback in Iran and that of course, poisoned the last year. Ever since I attended a conference at the Carter Center on the 30th anniversary of the Presidency and someone there, very aptly said that Carter had three excellent years and one bad year. And I played a role in those three years, I also played a role in that bad year.
LAMB: What happened in that bad year?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, we got stuck basically with the Iranian issue and we were not able to resolve it. The Iranians were manipulating us very effectively while holding the hostages. They were always holding out a little bit of a carrot in order to keep the negotiating process going, but at the same time never consummating it and we were not able to cut the Gordian knot. We finally undertook a rescue mission which we felt we ought to try because the summer is coming and in the summer we wouldn’t have had nightfall long enough to do it and we were worried that at some point they would put some of the hostages on trial and even execute them. So, we felt we had to try it but it didn’t work. And that of course, rebounded very negatively on Carter’s political fortunes.
LAMB: At the time, were you and Cyrus Vance on different sides of the issue?
BRZEZINSKI: We were on different sides of the issue really only on – well, not on – I was going to say one issue, but two issues basically. We were on different issues regarding the Soviet Union. I felt that we – that is to say, the President of the United States and the leader of the Soviet Union, did not have the same goals and the same aspirations. Which is what the Secretary of State believed was the case and that therefore we had to be tougher and more responsive to their sense of dynamisms of confidence. And secondly, we differed on how to deal with the Iranian issue. Cy was more patient and more inclined to feel that negotiations would eventually succeed and free the hostages and I felt that the protracted stalemate was doing us enormous damage and that at some point, we ought to force the issue. And – but those two were two different views and the ultimate decision maker was of course, the President.
LAMB: Did it ever get personal between you and Cy Vance?
BRZEZINSKI: No, contrary to what was said publicly, never. And we had a good relationship. We played tennis from time to time and we had a rather congenial relationship with meeting several times a week and when there was some dissatisfaction with him at one point in the press, but also the White House, I went to the President and said that it would be nice if the President went to the airport to greet him on a return from a mission that he was undertaking abroad. Yes, we had some disagreements, we had some real conflicts, some real sharp discussions, but no personal animus.
LAMB: And why did he resign?
BRZEZINSKI: Because he disagreed fundamentally with the decision to make the hostage effort – the hostage rescue effort. He thought that was a mistake and he felt strongly and he decided to resign, but I suspect, though I cannot really affirm that with any categorical conviction, that he also did have the feeling that in the internal balance on the number of important issues, like relations with the Soviet Union, like relations with China, like the military renewal – build up of our strategic capabilities, that his views were receding in influence and my views were becoming predominant.
LAMB: Historian Robert Dowlick (ph) has a book that’s out very soon on Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon and their relationship. And in the book itself, he’s got a lot of – he’s gone to the tapes, the Nixon-Kissinger tapes from the Oval Office and you can see the ferocious dislike that Henry Kissinger had for William Rogers, the Secretary of State. And the reason I bring this up is if you think back and I wrote four of them down, the difference between William Rogers, Secretary of State and Henry Kissinger, the National Security Advisor. The differences between Cap Weinberger and George Schultz when Mr. Weinberger was Secretary of Defense, George Schultz was Secretary of State. The difference between Colin Powell and Don Rumsfeld just recently and then your differences with Cy Vance – does that work do you think? Is it better to have people to be – for a President to have them think alike or to be that different?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, I think it really is useful for the President to have different opinions. We see a situation these days in which the inner decision makers are – circle around the President is very small, very tight and it’s very unanimous. And that I think, is part of the explanation for the mistakes we have made Iraq. So I think disagreement within bounds, is useful. Neither becomes motivated by personal animus to the point of personal animus influences the positions people take, I think that becomes counterproductive.
Now, I am not the one who can convincingly say that the conflict between me and Vance did not have that personal animus in it, but you know, I think that maybe some opportunity when you’re interviewing President Carter, you can ask him. Because Carter remembers what I used to tell him and he certainly remembers how Vance conducted himself and my guess is that Carter will confirm what I’m saying, mainly I did not go to the President and gossip against Vance. Quite the contrary, I preferred him to remain Secretary of State.
Now, I’ll admit, frankly, I preferred him to remain Secretary of State because it was easier for me. I – in the competitive relationship over policy, I felt I could handle him. If someone else came in who was very assertive, very dynamic, I might have had much difficult time. But also, I liked him. And I think the President would confirm that I never sniped against him. To my knowledge, he never did against me either. He would several times raise some serious objections to the role I was playing and we had it out. Sat around a table, the President presiding and had it out – slugged it out. But had it out and that was it.
LAMB: What about these other cases and you know all these men in history, where the different groups began to leak information out to try to embarrass the other side and the staffs did this often.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, that happened in our case, too. I have no doubt that there was stuff being leaked against me from the State Department, I could even name the people, but I’m not going to. And I suspect that some of my staffers were also doing the same. You know, after all, these people work very hard – they work very hard with the principal, the Secretary of State or the National Security Advisor – they go to cocktail parties, they move around the city, they’re asked to comment on issues, they’re asked to comment on personalities – they become part of the game and part of the game is to show how important they are, how wrong the other people are and that escalates because then it comes back as gossip to the principals. And they do get excited at some point, to say oh, my God, was he really saying that about me? That’s human nature, but I don’t think the conflicts with Vance – between Vance and me, were in any way comparable to the – Rogers-Kissinger stuff, nor to the Schultz-Weinberger stuff, from what I’ve read.
LAMB: Does any other government from your experience, have the same kind of situation where you have the different departments trying to outdo one another?
BRZEZINSKI: Oh, sure, absolutely. Now, maybe in the U.S. case, it’s a little more dramatic because in a sense, you have this post of the Secretary of State, which has all the trappings of protocol and ceremony and the illusions of power. And then you have the National Security Advisor, who’s close to the President and if the President is interested in the foreign affairs and wants to run foreign affairs, the National Security Advisor just overshadows the Secretary of State because that is the guy or woman, on whom the President relies and sees just like that. I could walk into the President’s office without knocking, anytime I wanted to.
Now, obviously I wasn’t running into it all the time, because I’d be kicked out at some point, but I literally could walk into his office anytime I wanted to without knocking. Just stick my head in, indicate there’s something I really have to talk to you about. I would see him X number of times a day and he would call me in, in the morning or in the evening.
The day started between the meetings between him and me, the very first meeting and very often the day ended that way. That places the person in that office at a tremendous advantage, vis-à-vis the Secretary of State, who’s sitting somewhere over there in the Department of State.
Last but not least, just a little point, but not irrelevant. If he wants to sort of create a situation in which you also have some upper hand on policy issues, it helps if you can have the opportunity to say to the President, you know, it’s about time the Secretary of State went on a trip to Latin America, we’ve been neglecting that region. And a nice 10-day trip is really what’s needed. You know, that also effects how the process operates in the meantime. I mean there are just many advantages to being close to the President – if the President is interested in foreign affairs.
LAMB: What was your reaction when Henry Kissinger was both the National Security Advisor and the Secretary of State at the same time, back in Jerry Ford’s time and Richard Nixon’s time?
BRZEZINSKI: I thought it was an over-concentration of authority, but remember Ford was not really that interested in foreign affairs, so in that sense, that gave the Secretary of State extra authority. But Henry briefly retained the position of National Security Advisor at the same time and when I came into the White House, I was shown the different telephones – arrangements in my office, push buttons and all that and then I was shown something that would ring in my office only and they said, that’s when the President calls you. Here – it rings in your office, not your secretary answers, you answer. And then they said, oh, by the way, there’s another button here that rings in your office and that’s the Secretary of State, he can also reach you directly. And I said, oh and can I ring him and it rings directly in his office? And they said, no. It was put in when Mr. Kissinger was in the State Department and General Scowcroft was then his deputy. So, I said – and then continued as National Security Advisor, but stayed. And I said, well, take the telephone out. Disconnect it.
LAMB: What was the reaction on Mr. Vance’s part?
BRZEZINSKI: There was no reaction. I think he realized asymmetry, I mean if he wants to call me like this, then I should be able to call him just like that and so, he didn’t object.
LAMB: Let’s go back to 1989 again, I want to show you what you had to say about Japan and China.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, on China, I don’t think there’s too much division. I think everybody recognizes that American-Chinese relationship has evolved very well. First President Nixon broke through and established a contact, then President Carter broke through and normalized relations, since then the political, the economic, the military relationship has grown well and President Bush has a lot of feeling and sensitivity with China. He understands China well. He is, in my judgment, the first President we have had for whom our relationship with the Pacific is just spontaneously natural, it’s felt to be as important as that relationship with Atlantic.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, same thing goes for Japan, he has that feeling and that grasp and there’s no doubt that our relationship with Japan – on balance – is a good one. We have a number of conflictual issues with the Japanese, but the White House is very right in saying, when Bush was leaving for Japan, that this today is for us, the single most important bi-lateral relationship we have with any country in the world. And it is true.
LAMB: Is it still?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, not quite, I mean, I think one has to parse that and probably say the relationship with China is just as important, but certainly the relationship with Japan is one of three or four most important relationships in the world. I suppose I would say the relationship with the European Union as a whole, is the most important of all. Then after that, China and Japan are probably compatible in terms of importance, though the relationship differs in substance. Then after that, you’re at a different level. Either with specific European countries – Great Britain has a privileged position, obviously. Germany is extremely important now that it is reunified and that it is the leader right now of the European Union and playing it very constructively. And then residually, of course Russia’s still important.
LAMB: Go back to China, how are we doing as a country in that relationship?
BRZEZINSKI: I think reasonably well. I think we are adjusting to the reality that they are a major world power in the process of emergence and certainly the number one, mainland, Far Eastern Asian power. And that China is clearly on the historical rise. The Chinese on the other hand, have also adjusted to the reality that they’re not going to be dominating the world in the near future and that it is in their interest to be part of the system that already exists – financial, monetary, economic, social, political. And that as their influence rises, they can then start changing that system to their own advantage, to accommodate their interests more. And that we’re intelligent enough to accept that. That’s a big difference in my view between the current situation involving a rising new power and the situation that existed in Europe prior to 1914 – prior to World War I, when Imperial Germany was rising, but in different ways, France, Great Britain, Russia were not prepared to accept it and there was eventually a collision, an explosion and a World War.
LAMB: Our relationship with Japan?
BRZEZINSKI: I think it’s close, it’s good. Japan is becoming an important – not only economic and political partner, but increasingly a security partner of the United States. Japan is beginning to assume more security responsibilities, peacekeeping and so forth. And it has potentially significant military power that if push comes to shove in the Far East in some fashion, could be mobilized by the Japanese on their own behalf, but also on behalf of the U.S. Japanese Alliance.
LAMB: Want to show a chart that you have in your book, ”Second Chance” which by the way, I understand is already on the New York Times Bestseller List?
BRZEZINSKI: That’s right. I was amazed.
LAMB: In how short a time?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, I came out in the second week of March and by March 17th, it gained a place on the New York Times Bestseller List, which appeared for the first time, on April 1st.
LAMB: How did it work that fast, in your opinion?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, it’s one possible – either a freak or because it’s a very good book.
LAMB: What kind of attention did you get for it right away?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, it got a terrific review from the New York Times. A very generous commentary from David Ignatius in the Washington Post and then in short order appeared on a couple of shows, radio, television, including The Daily Show, which is a very bright, lively, intelligent, satirical show and I think all of that cumulatively created that initial impact.
LAMB: Why did you decide to go on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart?
BRZEZINSKI: To be perfectly frank, I never thought of doing it, but my publisher convinced me that it would be a clever thing to do and gave me the list of all the people that I know and respect who have appeared on it, so I said to myself, if they survived that show, I think I’ll probably survive it, too.
LAMB: What was it like?
BRZEZINSKI: Damn good. He’s a bright guy. Very entertaining, very engaging guy and we had kind of lively semi-serious, semi-amusing conversation, but more serious than amusing.
LAMB: Let’s go back to this chart, you know journalists love these kind of things and it really is your rating – it’s maybe hard for some people to read your rating there of the different – for the last three Presidents – George Bush one and Bill Clinton and George Bush two. You give an overall solid B to George Herbert Walker Bush, an uneven C to Bill Clinton and a failed F to George Walker Bush, why?
BRZEZINSKI: Because I think George Bush first handled, really brilliantly, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the initial political and military phase of the Gulf War. But I don’t think he deserves and overall A because he really didn’t seize the opportunity, particularly in the Middle East to give the peace process a breakthrough push, which he could have done and he didn’t seize the moment to articulate a vision for the future for which the moment was ripe and which the world was expecting. And as we gradually slipped into a kind of (INAUDIBLE) posture, particularly in the defense posture statement that his staff developed for him and then of the authors of that defense posture, then later on, resurface as the Neocons in Bush two administration.
Clinton did pretty well on some issues, particularly in terms of American appeal to the world, American identification with global issues and he certainly was energetic and creative in expanding NATO, thereby creating a larger more secure Europe. And he handled very well, the Kosovo and Bosnia wars through an alliance response, but he flubbed on the Middle East, he left it in the end, in a worst shape than he inherited it and he had eight years. He only got seriously involved it was the very end. And beyond that, he kind of nurtured, unintentionally, a mood of national self-indulgence in this country maybe even he did it personally, that had the effect of America becoming gradually more unresponsive to the new global dilemmas. Which can only be addressed if we are willing to exercise self-restraint, self-denial. So, I think it was more a matter of missing real opportunities.
And Bush three – Bush two, the third President – the third global leader as I call him, I think plunged the United States into a war of choice on the basis of false assumptions, demagogy with catastrophic consequences for our position internationally, with painful losses for thousands and thousands of American families, with horrible consequences for the Iraqi people and we don’t even appreciate remotely, in this country how much suffering we have inflicted on the Iraqis. He has, at the same time, adopted a posture of total passivity on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is so damaging both to the Israelis and to the Palestinians. Breeds profound insecurity and for real reasons among the Israelis, exposes the Palestinians to continuing repression and suffering and the United States has been just passive. So, I think the overall assessment has to be very critical. Last but not least, as you probably know, I’m very critical of the domestic exploitation of that slogan ”War on Terror.” Which has created a culture of fear, literally created a culture of fear in this country and to me, America is nothing but confident historically. That’s what I’ve always loved about America, it’s sense of dynamic confidence. And now you can’t walk around Washington, go into a building without being reminded we’re some way other than in a state of siege.
LAMB: Where were you on 9/11?
BRZEZINSKI: I was in Beijing.
LAMB: What was your reaction?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, obviously, total shock and amazement. I remember the moments vividly. I had a hard time getting back, a hard time communicating with my family and so, it was shock and outrage, but at the same time, I also remember as a child, being at some event – which had something to do with some dancing school that I was being forced to attend by my parents – and the event being interrupted by news that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. And I remember the determination and confidence with which America responded and I find the present abetting of fear not just by the government, but now by the mass media, the so-called ”Terror Entrepreneurs,” entertainment industry, pernicious and destructive and I don’t deny the reality of terror, but I think precisely because it is a reality, it is something that we have to deal with a sense of perspective and determination and calm, if we’re to be successful.
LAMB: What was your reaction when the President used the ”Axis of Evil” comment in the State of the Union?
BRZEZINSKI: I wasn’t particularly impressed by it. It seemed to me to be a slogan. A slogan – and now unfortunately, you know, people several years later have a different interpretation what the Axis of Evil is composed of. There was a very painful public opinion poll just a couple of weeks ago in the – around the world, conducted by the BBC which asked respondents and close to 30,000 respondents, to rank the countries, which in their view played the most negative role in world affairs and the judgment of this number of people was that the three most negative countries are shockingly, Israel, Iran, the United States. So, to many in the world, that has now become the Axis of Evil.
LAMB: If this President asked you to come see him in the Oval Office and give him some recommendations on how to change all this, what would you tell him?
BRZEZINSKI: I would tell him to reassess very seriously, where the present circumstances are headed if they’re not altered. And that he shouldn’t bequeath to his successor, the war in Iraq because 20 months from now is too long. That he should avoid escalating that war, not only because more people will die needlessly, but if he escalates the war, he may create circumstances nilly-willy that will produce an enlargement of the war, because escalation and continuation of the conflict can generate incidents that are unpredictable but which can have very destructive sudden effects and I have in mind, particularly, the risk of some collision with the Iranians that precipitates then an enlarged war. And if get an enlarged war, we’re going to be stuck for the next 20 years in Iraq, in Iran, in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. That’s what I would tell him. And the recent incident with the British sailors which just occurred just very recently, I think highlights the validity of the concern that I have about a war continuing and potentially escalating.
LAMB: Saudi Arabia. What would you do with our relationship there?
BRZEZINSKI: I would let the Saudis deal with their own internal problems as they are dealing with them and I think they’re dealing with them. I think they’re beginning to loosen up the structure but at their own speed and not on the basis of preaching from us. We have to drop this notion of cultural superiority, which is inherent in our self-righteous prescriptions. Different societies have different historical roots and if they crave anything more than anything else, collective and individual, it is dignity. And not someone preaching to them from the standpoint of moral superiority. The Saudis are dealing with the terrorism problem, I think with increasing efficacy and they’re beginning to change their society, but at their own pace. And we have to have respect for that.
LAMB: For 22 years, Prince Bandar was the Ambassador to the United States from Saudi Arabia, do you know him?
LAMB: We’ve also seen a lot of the friendship between Prince Bandar and George Herbert Walker Bush and that Bush one – President Bush one, sent Prince Bandar to see his son in 1999 to advise him on running for the Presidency. How about a relationship like that? Is it too close or is that OK?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, I don’t honestly know the details and I don’t know how important that advice was. I’m not aware of the fact that the current President was some way or other resistant to the idea of running for the presidency. I just don’t know whether those facts are really valid even.
LAMB: Well, the reason I bring it up, if you’ve ever heard any of our call-in shows, you know that we have people that think about the conspiracy theories of people like you. You would be a poster child for these people because you have served on the Board of the Counsel on Foreign Relations, you started – help start the Trilateral Commission and you’ve been to the Bilderberg Group.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, yes, I haven’t gone to those for years, so that’s partial redemption I suppose, but otherwise, yes.
LAMB: But what does – what does belonging to all of those groups – we talked about the Trilateral Commission when you were here in 1990 – ’89, but what about the association with that? Is there too – are people too close in this world – people in business too close to the governments?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, you know, there is such a thing as insidious influence. And the question is how does it operate? Does it involve bribery? Does it involve some sort of psychological domination of individuals? I don’t believe in this notion of some sort of secret societies controlling people, but of course, in any political system, there are sort of over the table and under the table arrangements. As far as organizations that you have mentioned, they’re all on top of the table organizations. We know what they are, we know what they do, we probably exaggerate their influence in many cases, but most important of all, they operate overtly. Anybody who wants to know what the Counsel of Foreign Relations does, can very easily find out and once that person finds out, they’ll probably discover that it really doesn’t run the world, but often makes very useful recommendations. For example, you know, we’re all confronting the problem of Iran, well I don’t know maybe this will reinforce the conspiracy theories, but two years ago, I co-directed a study on U.S. policy towards Iran for the Counsel on Foreign Relations. I think, still a very good study. I said, I co-directed, who was the other co-chairman? Robert Gates, currently the Secretary of Defense. Now on the one hand, maybe that reinforces a conspiracy theory, that somehow or other we’re pulling the strings from behind the scenes, but alternatively, maybe it tells you something, namely that, this is an open process, anyone can get these recommendations, read them, now what they are, can assess them whether they stand the test of time or not. I think that’s all to the good.
LAMB: What did you learn about Robert Gates that you could share with us?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, I learned to – what I learned about him actually goes many years back because he was my executive assistant in the White House and he was next to me, we traveled together, I came to know him and I respect him. I think he has very good judgment, he’s very solid, he’s a very serious, intelligent person – generally intelligent and with a sense of patriotic commitment to this country. I don’t think he undertook that job just to advance his personal interests – to enhance his bio, which was by now quite impressive anyway. He did it because he thought the country was in trouble and he has to serve it as best he can. He obviously works for the President and therefore, has to follow the President’s lead, but I think the President has gained thereby, someone who will give him solid, serious judgment and either will come from someone who is not responsible for the decisions that have gotten us into this deep mess in which we find ourselves.
LAMB: What was it like for you having a former student, Madeleine Albright, as Secretary of State in which you had some disagreements with?
BRZEZINSKI: Actually, I didn’t have disagreements with her over the foreign policy, because I thought on the issues in which she played a more dominant role, such as NATO expansion, the response to Bosnia and Kosovo, we were very much of the same mind.
LAMB: Biggest problem in the future, in your opinion?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think the biggest problem in the future is whether the United States can effectively resume a really significantly constructed leadership role in the world. And I think that can only happen after we someway or other terminate the war in Iraq, after we resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after we get engaged in a serious and constructive negotiating relationship with the Iranians because the Middle East is now the arena in which American leadership is being tested. Just as Europe was the arena during the Cold War and therefore it’s very important that we be successful. If we are successful, then I am reasonably hopeful for the future. If we fail, then I think we’ll be sliding into a more anarchistic phase in world affairs.
LAMB: What would you do with the troops?
BRZEZINSKI: I would bring most of them out of Iraq, I would probably try to work out some arrangement whereby, by mutual consent, some American military presence is maintained in Kurdistan within Iraq, that would help to offset the possibility of any collision between the Kurds and Turkey and maybe even Iran. I would probably try to work out some arrangement for residual American presence in Kuwait, which is very close by, but above all else, I would try to first of all, set a date jointly with the Iraqi leaders, for American departure. Not just do it ourselves out of pique that they are not delivering, because I think we have to make that decision jointly and there are Iraqi leaders with whom we could seriously talk. And I would set in motion a political process whereby all of the countries around Iraq are engaged in trying to contribute to Iraq’s stability, because the fact is that in different ways, everyone of Iraq’s neighbors – Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, will be afflicted negatively if Iraq explodes upon our departure.
LAMB: You were our first Booknotes guest, April 2nd, 1989, here’s our last clip where you talked about capitalism.
The struggling signs came to life – would that – (INAUDIBLE) maturity, would that mean that capitalism was then it’s own victim.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, it could, but that I doubt because in the one area where capitalism is really successful is in ratifying the material wants and the design for the satisfaction of material wants is still a very major source of social motivation. So, I don’t think it’s going to be a crisis of capitalism as such because of these cultural difficulties, it’s going to be similar crisis of social commitment, social virility. We could become a decadent society. That’s not a crisis of capitalism, it’s a crisis of our culture. And if we become a decadent society, then we could be vulnerable.
LAMB: Have we become a decadent society?
BRZEZINSKI: No, but I fully subscribe to what I said then. I think the major risk of America is that in this really interwoven, interdependent world in which we now exist, we will try to be an island of self-gratification, of hedonism. Detaching ourselves from our responsibilities towards the rest of humanity, thereby producing resentment against us or perhaps more chaos worldwide. So, in addressing global problems, I think we have to become increasingly concerned about the moral cultural dimensions of the potential crisis that the world will face – that we’ll face if we’re not more responsive.
LAMB: Have we deteriorated in the last 18 years toward that decadent end?
BRZEZINSKI: That’s hard to say, I don’t necessarily say we have really deteriorated significantly. I don’t think we have turned around, however, enough. I don’t think we’re interested enough in these problems. And I think public ignorance about the world is part of the problem, I think our emphasis on self-gratifications of amusement is part of the problem, I think our mass culture as reflected in mass entertainment is a serious problem, because of the kind of values it propagates and I think we as a country, have to ask ourselves if the globe is to be effectively cooperative, if the crisis that we face in the environment for those in social affairs, political affairs, religious affairs, is to be overcome, what kind of obligations does that imply upon us?
LAMB: Our guest has been Zbigniew Brzezinski and his book is called ”Second Chance.” Last with us 18 years ago. Thanks for joining us.
BRZEZINSKI: Great to be with you.