Monday, January 30, 2012


I went to hear Zbigniew Brzezinski, his daughter, Mika, andJoe Scarborough speak yesterday at a small synagogue down near CapitolHill. Their talk was on Brzezinski’s newbook Strategic Vision, which assesses the United States’ position in the worldand what the state needs to do to survive in the future.

Brzezinski had a lot to say about the future of U.S. foreignpolicy and what our role should be for the next fifteen years. His major themes were one, that the UnitedStates will have to cope with a somewhat chaotic world where no one state candominate global politics; two, that successful foreign policy must be builtupon a strong domestic foundation of economic and political strength; andthree, that the United States should maintain its leading role in globalpolitics by acting as the chief “balancer, manipulator, and conciliator.” I thought his two most interesting points, though,were that greater civic engagement around the world will have unpredictable consequences and that America’s internal dysfunction is dangerous.

Rising dominantmasses will change the world.”

Brzezinski described how nearly the entire world populationwas “without political ideas” two hundred years ago. Now, though, the world consists of “enabled,angry, and restless populists” who are eager to become civilly engaged and capableof bringing about tremendous political change. He carefully emphasized, however, that populism is not a synonym fordemocracy -- particularly for countries like Egypt where there is no democratictradition and the state’s economy is largely controlled by the military. The most likely outcome of the Arab Spring, he said, is the installation of military juntas in most states.

Internal dysfunction

In the introduction to his book (that’s as far as I’vegotten…), Brzezinski compares the United States now to the Soviet Union duringthe seventies and early eighties. As theSoviets faced internal political gridlock, expensive foreign policy failures(re: Afghanistan), and a weak economy that benefitted only a privileged few,the U.S. Congress is a joke (albeit a terrible one), the war in Iraq addedtremendously to our national debt, and the Occupy movement is calling attentionto growing social inequity in our society.

Remembering that Brzezinski is a Polish Jew who never showsmuch sympathy for Russia and the former Soviet Union, I think his comparison ofthe U.S. and U.S.S.R. is a harsh, but marginally valid, criticism. People became frustrated with the SovietUnion and ultimately rebelled against the Kremlin because there were few, ifany, opportunities for economic advancement. In his talk, Brzezinski pointed out that children born in Europe nowhave better opportunities for economic advancement than children being born inthe United States. I haven’t checked thefacts on this claim (has anyone else heard this/ checked the facts?), but if theU.S. actually is falling behind in terms of providing everyone with an equalopportunity to succeed, I’m afraid that it will struggle, as the Soviet Uniondid, to adapt to a rapidly changing geo-political scene in which success isdetermined by flexibility, hard work, and cooperation.


1 comment:

Camron said...

I believe this speaks to a discussion that those of you in Knut and I’s foreign policy class last semester will remember quite well; the idea of America’s place in a changing world, where BRIC nations are on the rise and our own political and economic problems are beginning to dictate our foreign policy. Some believed, in the same manner as Jeremiah Wright, that our proverbial chickens were coming home to roost; others thought that the nation was simply suffering an economic downturn which would temper the nation as a blacksmiths hammer and forge strengthen and shape steel. Regardless of which stance one supports it is evident that America is no longer perceived as the hegemonic super power which dominated world affairs after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Even so it is also clear that the dollar’s dominance, our force projection capabilities, and cultural clout mean that the U.S. will not be swept off the world stage anytime soon.