John McCain "is really deeply rooted in the 20th century, a century of bipolar conflicts, major confrontations," said Zbigniew Brzezinki, who served as President Carter's national security adviser and was an architect of U.S. policy during the Cold War. McCain "is tempted by that, and maybe even by personality, to reduce issues to sort of black and white confrontations."
Brzezinski, who has endorsed Obama, made his comments at a discussion hosted by the 92nd Street Y in New York. He was there to promote "America and the World" the book he wrote with Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser under Presidents Ford and George H.W.Bush.
While they both embrace many tenets of Obama's foreign policy approach, Scowcroft balanced Brzezinski's criticism of McCain with some harsh words for the Democratic nominee.
We know John McCain fairly well, warts and all. Obama, on the other hand, is very smooth, a brilliant speaker, and impressive. But we don't know who he really is. We don't know where the warts are.
"We know John McCain fairly well, warts and all," he said. "Obama, on the other hand, is very smooth, a brilliant speaker, and impressive. But we don't know who he really is. We don't know where the warts are."
Both experts agreed, however, that Obama's policy of talking with America's enemies will be necessary to help sort out President Bush's mistakes. The list of nations to call includes Iran, which is accused of trying to develop nuclear weapons, and North Korea, which has already succeeded. The panelists also advocated negotiating with—or at the very least, engaging—the Taliban leaders who are destabilizing Afghanistan.
We should try to "strike some deals with some of them, perhaps most of them, in order to avoid becoming what the Soviets became in Afghanistan," Brzezinski said, referring to Russia's failed invasion in the 1980s.
Much of the discussion was devoted to Bush-bashing. Both speakers have long expressed their opposition to the Iraq War, and they denounced it as a catastrophic mistake that drained lives, money, and international credibility. When asked for his response to those who believe Bush made the world better during his presidency, Brzezinski laughed out loud.
Scowcroft suggested Bush's errors might be rooted in hubris about America's ability to fully solve problems. Saddam Hussein was a nasty guy, Scrowcroft said, but containing the him would have been a better strategy than overthrowing him.
"It's this over-weaning sense of foreign policy that we Americans sometimes get," he said. "Very few international problems really get solved. They get dealt with."
In what was perhaps his most scathing criticism of Bush, Brzezinski accused the president of rallying support for the war by encouraging a "pervasive atmosphere of fear" after 9/11. That exploitation is still reverberating in domestic politics, he said, citing what he called baseless accusations that Barack Obama associates with terrorists.
"The country became very susceptibly to demagogy," Brzezinski said. "A democracy—an enduring democracy—will not be able to make rational decisions about complex problems if it becomes the victim of deliberately propagated fear."