A Rare Moment of Clarity

There’s some rare good news today: Some of Washington’s ex-greats — or at least its ex-influentials — are back in the spotlight, providing great patriotic service again. They are issuing the capital’s most clear-eyed insights into the crises that our president and his high command have caused, and then compounded, around the world.

Most importantly, these ex-officials, Republicans and Democrats, are doing something you just don’t hear from our elected officials in the administration or Congress; they are proposing a few solutions that can make us all safer. If only those in power will listen and heed.

Seeking an assessment of what has gone wrong and how to fix it, I began by reaching back three decades and calling Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and has become one of the capital’s few clarion voices in warning of the consequences of President Bush’s global policies. Brzezinski had just written such an assessment. He began by quoting Arnold Toynbee’s spot-on phrase (in his epic “A Study of History”) for what it is that causes the collapse of imperial powers: “suicidal statecraft.”

Brzezinski wrote (in his own op-ed article for Tribune Media Services International), “that adroit phrase might be applicable to the policies pursued by the United States since the cataclysm of 9/11.”

For more than two years we have been eyewitnesses to a painful sight we thought we’d never see: The leader of the free world, flailing and failing _ dumbfounded by consequences he never dreamed of, misled by experts he trusted. Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq that diverted resources from the vital U.S. effort to crush al Qaeda in Afghanistan _ and the invasion quickly became an occupation that we now know was more faith-based than planned. Each day, Americans die in Iraq for mistakes made in Washington.

Another painful sight we thought we’d never see: The self-afflicted diminishment of the worldwide influence by the planet’s lone superpower. Worse yet, we’ve seen policies that have driven new recruits into the camps of the militant Islamic terrorists who attacked us before and will again. We have actually given new life to the terrorists our president once vowed to get, dead or alive.

Other clarion _ and in this case courageous _ early warnings were sounded by Gen. Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush. His on-target warnings were courageous because he is the elder Bush’s close friend, and yet he publicly cautioned his friend’s son not to invade Iraq (after his private attempts to make the case didn’t get through). In a stunning piece by Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker, Scowcroft attacked the neoconservatives who fed Bush’s zeal to invade: “This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism.”

Arab TV recyclings of images of hideous abuses at Abu Ghraib have enraged Muslims who otherwise might have sat on the sidelines; now they are joining al Qaeda.

“Compounding U.S. political dilemmas is the degradation of America’s moral standing in the world,” Brzezinski wrote. “The country that has for decades stood tall in opposition to political repression, torture and other violations of human rights has been exposed as sanctioning practices that hardly qualify as respect for human dignity.” It is, he said, “an international debacle.”

Brzezinski favors a prompt withdrawal of U.S. troops. He urged Bush to forge a “common sense” plan with input from congressional Democrats.

Meanwhile, a former Reagan Pentagon official who now thinks in a progressive (see also: liberal) Washington think tank has produced a creative solution called “Strategic Redeployment.” The proposal would withdraw the 140,000 U.S. forces in Iraq in two phases, by the end of 2007. Co-authored by Reagan assistant defense secretary Lawrence Korb, and national security expert Brian Katulis, for the Center for American Progress, their plan would redeploy some troops to other Islamic terrorist hot spots and keep 14,000 troops in Kuwait and offshore in the Persian Gulf, in case escalating violence threatens the region.

” ‘Strategic Redeployment’ differs from other plans for what to do in Iraq,” Korb and Katulis wrote, “by recognizing that Iraq is now connected to a broader battle against global terrorist networks _ even though it was not before the Bush administration’s invasion.”

Brzezinski likes the spirit but favors a faster withdrawal. The mere presence of U.S. troops is an al Qaeda recruiting tool, he said, adding: “Our presence in Iraq is not making things better _ it is making things worse.”

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)