Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower
Those who ignore the mistakes of the past, the hoary old adage goes, are doomed to repeat them. As Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and other assorted 2008 presidential hopefuls crisscross the country fortifying campaign chests, stoking crowds, and sewing up regional alliances, let's pray each potential free-world leader is finding time to peruse Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower. Therein, Carter administration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski soberly explains how the United States has cumulatively squandered its top-banana world's policeman status since the Cold War ended--with increasingly dire results. He succinctly critiques and grades the foreign policies of George H.W. Bush (B), Bill Clinton (C), and George W. Bush (F); the concluding summary offers prescriptionary measures for the White House's next inhabitant.
"Bush I," Brzezinski writes, "was not a visionary but a skilled practitioner of power politics and traditional diplomacy in an untraditional age." During Bush I's relatively short watch, a good deal went down--Tiananmen Square, the Berlin Wall, the first Gulf War--but Poppy, a top-down manager, was nimbly able to keep the world on a fairly even keel. Saddam Hussein's forces were routed from Kuwait; by piecing together a wide-ranging international coalition and opting not to topple Saddam's regime, Bush avoided throwing the Middle East into chaos. This decision, however, allowed Saddam to continue persecuting Iraq's Shiite population. "The resulting resentments fed into the intense Sunni-Shiite hostility that so vastly complicated the political scene in Iraq years later, after Saddam's fall," Brzezinski writes.
Clinton's sins were ones of obliviously idealistic omission: Absorbed by domestic concerns and later hobbled by a Republican-controlled Congress, he assumed globalization would make for an effective international pacifier and eventual equalizer. For the most part, Africa's internal rumblings were ignored; the proliferation of nuclear materials and technologies wasn't contained aggressively enough, a failing carried over from the previous administration; al-Qaida puppeteer Osama bin Laden wasn't neutralized. On the plus side, Clinton had a hand in strengthening NATO and encouraging the formation of the European Union, and came close to fomenting peace between Israel and Palestine.
Unsurprisingly, the bulk of Brzezinski's scorn is reserved for the current administration, whose policy moves embody the most loathsome aspects of the contemporary American mind-set: selfishness, stubbornness, single-mindedness, a tendency to live way beyond one's means, and a gaping deficit of diplomatic tact. Bush II's blithely ruinous Iraq tunnel vision has come at the expense of every other simmering world issue and slashed the credibility of the United States. The next president must restore our beaconlike standing, bail us out of debt, and respectfully lead billions of people into an age of uncertainty.