Since World War II, American foreign policy in general has been both realistic and moderate. There have been occasional bursts of intensified anxiety and paranoiac
fears, but, by and large, American presidents--both the Democrats and Republicans who've been elected since 1948--have been able to maintain a steady course. Today, however, we are facing the first case in which extremism of the kind that Barry Goldwater once foreshadowed is now dominant in the White House. In my view, there is a very simple equation here: Extremism equals recklessness. Extremism destroys the commonsense, inner core of realism and produces reckless policies justified by demagogy and even deception.
America cannot simultaneously wage a war against those who threaten us and become a protagonist in every other part of the world in which terrorism is directed at others. It is also senseless to claim, as Vice President Dick Cheney has, that terrorists hate all nations and all peoples.
In fact, the terrorists in Northern Ireland are waging a war against the British, and, obviously, we are on the side of the British. But the terrorists in Ulster are not waging a war on the Argentines. The terrorists in Kashmir, meanwhile, are waging a war against the Indians, but not against the Finns.
The terrorists that go after us tend to be identifiable, and they tend to come from the Middle East. This suggests that dealing with the problems of the Middle East--not only with the security aspects of it but also with the political conflict--is the necessary focus of any serious American response. Babbling in general terms about terrorism as an abstract evil and then attacking Iraq is simply a mechanism for increasing the ranks of terrorists who define the United States as their principal enemy.
America has no choice but to act as a stabilizer in the world. No one else can play that role. The problem is that we may not be doing so if we define our relationship with others by a phrase the president has been so fond of: “If you're not with us, you're against us.” The implication is that our leadership is not consensual but is based on a Manichaean doctrine: If you're not doing what we want you to do, you define yourself as our enemy.
Instead, the United States should focus on a clear identification of which terrorists are concentrating their hostility on America. You determine where they come from and then you attempt to eliminate them. At the same time, you should undercut the political, social, and religious impulses that recruit such terrorists. In brief, you do not wage a vague, undifferentiated, theologically defined, and universal war against “terrorism with a global reach” that, unfortunately, has the effect of multiplying our enemies and replenishing the terrorist ranks. Instead, you concentrate your response directly on those who truly threaten us. And you try to destroy them and isolate them politically.
Executing this is not so difficult. We know who the terrorists are. We should be able to establish where they come from. We have some basis for judging how they are recruited. And we also should have some broad awareness of the social atmosphere that creates them.
The neoconservatives in the Bush administration have been primarily preoccupied with creating a situation in the Middle East in which there would be no major security threat. But, in effect, they have created a doctrine that--if seriously pursued in Pakistan, North Korea, Africa, Latin America, and other parts of the world--would impose undertakings and obligations that would transform the character of American society. And if these obligations were undertaken and then abandoned, it would greatly increase global insecurity.
This is why the neocons' prescriptions are ultimately suicidal.
Zbigniew Brzezinski was President Carter's national-security adviser and is the author, most recently, of The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership.