Five flaws in Brzezinski’s analysis

Although I’m in agreement with some of what he has to say, I think there are some serious flaws in former national security advisor under President Jimmy Carter Zbigniew Brzezinski’s analysis of the new Bush plan in the Washington Post this morning.

  1. Mr. Brzezinski makes a backhanded accusation of Islamophobia at Bush:

    Its language was less Islamophobic than has been customary with President Bush’s rhetoric since Sept. 11…

    Whatever his flaws I think that Mr. Bush has gone out of his way to avoid Islamophobia (although there’s plenty of it going around). Evidence, please!

  2. Mr. Brzezinski’s use of irony quotes around the word “sovereign”

    The decision to escalate the level of the U.S. military involvement while imposing “benchmarks” on the “sovereign” Iraqi regime…

    implies that he buys into the Iraqi insurgency’s claim that the present government is a U. S. puppet. I think it’s plenty sovereign. The irony quotes belong around the word “government”.

  3. Mr. Brzezinski makes the false assumption that what’s going on in Iraq is politics and that a political solution is possible.

    The speech did not explore even the possibility of developing a framework for an eventual political solution. The search for a political solution would require a serious dialogue about a joint American-Iraqi decision regarding the eventual date of a U.S. withdrawal with all genuine Iraqi political leaders who command respect and wield physical power.

    It’s not politics it’s tribal and sectarian warfare. Note that he repeats the sovereignty challenge.

  4. His use of polling information

    The majority of the Iraqi people, opinion polls show, favor such a withdrawal within a relatively short period.

    is misleading. Iraqis also fear that Americans will leave while the country is still in chaos.

  5. I disagree profoundly with this statement:

    America is acting like a colonial power in Iraq.

    I believe that we’re behaving like idiots in Iraq but not colonizers. Again, evidence, please!

16 comments… add one
  • You’re five for five. If only we were acting like colonialists. They at least knew what game they were playing.

  • Hi Dave,

    Brzezinski is trying to audition for a job in a future Democratic administration after having been frozen out during the Clinton years (despite having been one of the Democratic party’s few true foreign policy heavyweights) by the inept disciples of the Cyrus Vance, one of the 20th century’s worst secretaries of state (though Warren Christopher, Vance’s former deputy, is a close second for the title).

  • I agree completely Dave, good analysis and counterpoint.

  • I disagree. I think we’re being idiots here about Iraq, but I think we’re mostly doing OK in Iraq. It’s just that we’re not perfect, and we chose a high-risk strategy (let them do it for themselves, with our help, rather than having us do it for them).

    The reality is, if we really were acting all colonial, we would depose the current government, impose a military governorship, and start killing people who oppose our rule. In fifty years, we’d consider turning self-rule over to the Iraqis. In other words, it would be a replay of the Philippines.

    But the most likely thing that the President’s new initiatives will do is buy some time, before Congress pulls the plug. That may be enough; I suppose we’ll see.

  • You seem to have a fairly impoverished understanding of colonial rule as such, in its various forms, but doing well in Iraq?

    Well, I suppsoe there will be the delusional if useful (to some party) idiots to the very end.

    Pity, they used to be largely with the Left Bolsheviks, but I suppose the Right Bolsheviks need them as well.

  • Well, we are certainly setting the stage for a future military government in Iraq. The Iraqi military that we’re training is one of the few marginally-effective institutions in the country – as a result it will likely be the Kingmaker in Iraqi politics if the country doesn’t devolved into complete chaos first. Perhaps this is the administration’s real plan. I’ve been wondering for some time now why we are training an Army and then giving it an internal security mission (even calling them Iraq “security forces”) instead of fixing the police force. Maybe that is intentional.

  • It has been one of my kvetches for a while now that we may just be training more effective militias.

  • Internal security in a civil war is generally an issue not of police, but of army.

    It is a terribly … well naive conception to expect police forces in any meaningful sense of the word (or phrae rather).

    Given the facitonalisation of Iraq, indeed one can bloody well count that training the Iraqi army is indeed training portions of the militias – SCIRI, Sadr, etc. Current or to be.

    At some point perhaps Americans will overcome their parochialism and understand that not all the world is the same as the US, nor are perceptions and reactions conditioned by the same frameworks.

  • A further illustration, via Mr Sullivan with respect to the issue of colonial rule, the maneuvering suggested with respect to the ‘indigenous leader’ found no longer to meet one’s needs is classic indirect colonial rule.

    Incompetently executed to be sure, but Brzezinski’s accusation reflects a better understanding than displayed here of colonial rule(s).

    It strikes me the sole solid criticism worthy of attention is really with respect to Islamophobia, for the American president has never displayed that as such (although members of his government have).

    The remainder is mere trivial harping (e.g. polling) or lack of knowledge (colonial rule).

  • Well, a modification, the critique re the political situation is spot on.

  • Lounsbury,

    With respect to your first comment, police certainly are important in a civil war/insurgency (and for the record, Iraq is both). Not police as you and I know them in our respective home nations, but police nonetheless in that they provide security and law enforcement on a daily basis at the local level. Armies simply are not good at providing local-level security. That isn’t “terribly naive,” particularly with regard to Iraq – what’s naive is the notion that the Iraqi “Army” can. Police that operate continuously in a local area are able to build and maintain a detailed intelligence picture of insurgent activity, strength, support, etc. The army or “federal” forces that move from one hot-spot to another cannot. Perhaps if the Iraqi conflict was analogous to the US Civil War you might be right.

    “At some point perhaps Americans will overcome their parochialism and understand that not all the world is the same as the US, nor are perceptions and reactions conditioned by the same frameworks.”

    I really don’t understand what you’re trying to say here. All people, not just Americans, have primarily parochial interests – it’s human nature. Show me a country or a population that doesn’t. Most people aren’t well-traveled like you and, to a lesser extent I’m sure, me. I wonder if you meant to use paternalism instead.

  • Mate

    I live and work in the Middle East, my point of reference is not my homeland or the West in general. Rather it is with the Middle East.

    The police – in a paramilitary sense – were a solution in 2003 or perhaps 2004.

    Since then, it is well behond police; the army is indeed the solution – most armies around here are hardly aimed at external enemies, although I grant you that likely the Americans are training a l’americain and thus inappropriately.

    Regardless, police or army are now merely factional units, and there is nothing that will change that except the Iraqi sectarian factions finally coming of fatigue to an accord.

    My point re American parochialism (and indeed you are right) was with respect to the parochialism combined with the projection of power – call it parochialism married to and dominating naive paternalism.

    Or in short, if one proposes to invade an Iraq (or a Somali) spend some time getting to know it first, among the decision makers that will be involved. Proper planning and all that.

  • With respect to the Islamophobic critique, I believe you may be interested in Col Pat Lang’s note which while perhaps itself flawed as any short note does make the specific connexion between the loose Islamofascist language and generally anti-Islamic or anti-traditional Islam positions.

    While not perhaps something to nod one’s head in agreement on, it does give a context for looking at the Islamophobic comment.

  • Lounsbury,

    Governments need police forces to maintain order and defeat insurgencies. It’s that simple. For the Iraqi government to establish or reestablish control over Iraqi territory, police are a required element. Historically, police are much more important in combating insurgencies than regular military forces, particularly in urbanized areas. Armies have more utility in rural insurgencies.

    Now, any government’s two most basic requirements are the authority to make laws and the power to enforce them. Iraq has the former and not the latter. One could argue the Iraqi government at the present time is just a puppet of various factions and is incapable of governing with any degree of independence or effectiveness. Certainly, without any sort of effective police force, the government (and the Iraqi people) is forced to rely on militias to fill that role. My whole point in this tangential debate we’re having is that if the US wants the Iraqi government it says it wants, then it should be training a police force and not an army. That virtually everyone has given up on fixing the police will, in my opinion, doom the Iraqi government to failure – or, rather, has already doomed it.

    Now, if the whole thing dissolves and the government looses authority through collapse or the dissolution of the coalition or whatever, then there is no more insurgency and you do have a full-blown civil war. At that point, with no government, there are no police – just factional forces fighting for whatever purpose. My theory that I’ve been pondering for a few months is that the core of the Iraqi army would likely become the US proxy force in this scenario (provided the US can sufficiently professionalize the force and instill loyalty to the organization above tribal and sectarian loyalties – admittedly a long shot). With US backing, they’d be positioned and equipped to install a military dictatorship and establish control through force.

    And that’s really the difference between operations in a civil war and operations in an insurgency environment. An insurgency is a battle for a population, a civil war is a battle against a population. Right now, Iraq has aspects of both.

    Anyway, I’ll have nothing further to say here on this subject as we’ve already departed from the topic at hand.

    Finally, though, I think I do understand your point now with regard to American parochialism and power projection. However, I wonder if the situation would be any different if some other nation had the ability to project power instead of, and to the degree that, America can. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my travels through the two-dozen or so countries I’ve been in, it’s that no one has the market cornered on parochialism or naiveté. Ignorance combined with confirmation bias is everywhere. The difference with America is it is a powerful nation. You previously said “At some point perhaps Americans will overcome their parochialism and understand that not all the world is the same as the US….” Perhaps instead of pining for America to overcome the human condition called parochialism we should instead hope that all of humanity does.

  • Oh, one more thing which I just ran across. It looks as those the Iraqi Army is on the same path the police were:,,1989397,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=12

  • And an interesting interview with an Iraqi policeman in Falluja:

Leave a Comment