Pursuit of Truthiness

my gut tells me I know economics

Brzezinski’s Second Chance

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Being an author can be a very cushy job once you’ve got a good reputation and money for research assistants.

Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Second Chance examines how three post-Cold War American Presidents handled America’s role as the world’s only superpower.  Brzezinski’s own policy prescriptions in the book are mostly vague and general; when they are specific they concern minor issues.  His analysis of the Presidents is good but I am jealous of how much money he is probably making just by doing what so many do for free, giving his two cents about politics.

One opinion was certainly a surprise coming from a Democrat who worked for Jimmy Carter: Brzezinski finds George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy generally superior to Clinton’s.  At one point (in what seems to me to be a condescending exersize) he assigns grades to each president, and Bush I’s “B” beats Clintons “C” (Bush II of course flunks out).  At another, Brzezinski ponders how the world might be a better place had Bush I been re-elected.

One strength of the book is Brzezinski’s ability to give the reader a sense of the choices available at every turn in foreign policy.  He is always wondering what might have been.  So many things were uncertain at the end of the Cold War; many current realities could have been very different.

Would East and West Germany be reunified?  Bush I successfully pushed for reunification over French and British objections.  Which Soviet client states around the world would fall?  Many regimes in Africa and Latin America were toppled, but those in Cuba and across the Middle East remained.   By 1989 it seemed likely that the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe was over.  But would newly liberated states like Poland and Romania become a neutral zone, or would they be free to join NATO and the EU?  Would the Soviet Union itself disintegrate?  Could the Israelis and Palestinians reach a peaceful accord (Brzezinski sees peace here as a continually missed opportunity)?

The answers to these questions seem obvious now but things really could have been different.  States like Ukraine and Belarus had been parts of the Russian Empire long before the Soviet Union existed.  One telling story of the other possibilities (but also of the the sometimes stunning ignorance of the State Department) comes from Brzezinski’s days in Government:

The idea that the Soviet Union had succeeded in shaping a Soviet national identity was particularly ingrained in the State Department bureaucracy.  As a presidential aide in the late 1970’s, having long been convinced that the multinational character of the Russian empire was its Achilles heel, I proposed a modest covert program designed to support the quest for independence by the non-Russian nations of the Soviet Union.  In response, the State Department’s leading expert on Soviet affairs persuaded the secretary of state that there was now in fact a “Soviet nation,” a multiethnic mix much like America’s, and that such an effort would be counterproductive.”

Written by James Bailey

March 9, 2009 at 4:00 am

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