In the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs Zbigniew Brzezinski outlines the ambitious efforts of the Obama administration to redefine the foreign policy of the United States and, as he puts it, "reconnect the United States with the emerging historical context of the twenty-first century."
According to Mr. Brzezinski, President Obama has done this remarkably well, reconceptualizing foreign policy in several areas which he outlines:
- Islam is not an enemy, and the "global war on terror" does not define the U.S. role in the world
- The United States will be a fair-minded and assertive mediator when it comes to attaining lasting peace between Israelis and Palestini
- The United States ought to pursue serious negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, as well as other issues
- The counterinsurgency campaign in the Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan should be part of a larger political undertaking, rather than a predominantly military one
- The United States should respect Latin America's cultural and historical sensitivities and expand its contacts with Cuba
- The United States should energize its commitment to reducing its nuclear arsenal significantly and embrace the eventual goal of a world free of nuclear weapons
- In coping with global problems, China should be treated not only as an economic partner but also as a geopolitical one
- Improving U.S.-Russian relations is in the interest of both sides, and it must be done in a way that accepts, rather than seeks to undo, post-Cold War geopolitical realities
- A truly collegial trans-Atlantic partnership should be given deeper meaning, particularly in order to heal the rifts caused by the destructive controversies of the past few years.
For all of this, Brzezinski adds, Obama did deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.
Of course, the erstwhile national security adviser does not point out that he heaps praise on a policy he helped to shape. That observation might well detract from his presumptive objectivity. But in almost all respects, the reconceptualization attributed to Obama is either wrong, misguided, or based on a set of false assumptions.
Let me cite the ways.
The global war on terror is a war against a radical strain of Islam that has imperial goals and a jihadist tactical temperament. The United States may avert its gaze or ignore the magnitude of the threat, but the threat remains, and weakness as a response only makes it more threatening.
Second, the United States was a fair-minded mediator in the Israel-Palestinian issue as the evolution of the two state solution suggests. By "fair-minded," Brzezinski means tilting in favor of the Palestinians whatever objections the Israelis may have.
Third, serious negotiations have been ongoing with the Iranians through back channels and the Europeans for years. Yet, despite blandishments and mild threats, they have not had the slightest influence in defusing the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons. From the Iranian perspective, nothing the United States offers can compare to the regional influence nuclear weapons can confer.
Fourth, counterinsurgency, according to the General McChrystal plan, was conceptualized long before the Obama presidency, and it relies on securing strongholds in Afghanistan's urban areas. It is both a confidence-building strategy and a military plan.
Fifth, respect for President Chavez and Fidel Castro has not yielded reciprocal reactions from these leaders. On the contrary, they are intent on spreading their brand of socialist revolution throughout Latin America and have done their utmost to undermine President Uribe, a true democratic leader, of Colombia.
Sixth, by agreeing to equalize its delivery capacity with Russia, the U.S. has accorded Putin and company a unique advantage. Since the U.S. nuclear umbrella protects Japan, Taiwan, etc., we require delivery expansiveness and secondly, much of the Russian decrease in capacity is composed of planes and subs that were scheduled for mothballing in any case.
Seventh, China is not an ally and not yet a foe. However, with a blue water navy and patrols in the Sea of Japan, it is engaged in saber rattling that bears careful observation. It is hard to think of China as a partner when it provided the advanced technology for the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.
Eighth, surely acceptance of post-Cold War geopolitical realities should be recognized by the Russians, but Putin's strategic vision is predicated on the reacquisition of the near-abroad as recent actions and doctrine indicate.
Ninth, a trans-Atlantic partnership should be recognized and encouraged. But it should be noted that the U.S. has assumed a disproportionate share of NATO expenses and the Europeans, who have grown to love freedom and prosperity, do not yet know how to defend these cherished concepts.
Alas, what Brzezinski provides is a cliché-driven set of propositions that have little if anything to do with real world conditions. In the aggregate, these positions make the United States look weak and ineffectual, in my opinion.
In the end, however, it is not what drives this reconceptualization of policy, but whether or not it is successful. So far, this effort has been a failure, but President Obama has several years to recover from missteps. Perhaps one way to begin is by not taking Brzezinski's proposals too seriously.
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