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How to avoid the next war

By Angelo Matera

Posted 9/24/08 at 1:15 AM

If you’re concerned about where Republican fear-mongering on the war on terror might lead us, don’t turn to the Democrats, who when it counted caved in to Bush on the Iraq War (and now mostly echo McCain/Palin’s position on the Middle East). Instead, go to clear-eyed foreign policy realists like Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski (both former National Security Advisors, under Bush I and Carter, respectively). Scowcroft bravely opposed the Iraq War from the start (despite his friendship with the Bush family), and Brzezinski has been a voice of reason in the post-cold war era (despite his hawkish stance during the Cold War). In their new book, America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy, they don’t mince words in diagnosing what’s wrong with our post-9/11 foreign policy, as this review in the NY Times makes clear:

Unlike neoconservative ideologues in the current administration, the two former national security advisers say that talks with hostile parties can be a useful tool, and they argue that in the wake of 9/11, the Manichean language employed by President Bush has alienated allies and aggravated resentments in many parts of the world.

They point to the importance of alliances in an increasingly complicated and interconnected world. And they object to what Mr. Scowcroft refers to as the propagation of ‘an environment of fear’ at home, which Mr. Brzezinski says has made Americans ‘more susceptible to demagogy’ and to ‘a fearful paranoia that the outside world is conspiring through its massive terrorist forces to destroy us.’

What makes these discussions between Mr. Brzezinski and Mr. Scowcroft so bracing is their combination of common sense and an ability to place America’s relationship with a particular country in both a historical perspective and a regional context of competing interests and threats. Their book should be required reading not only for the next president elect but also for any voters concerned with the foreign policy issues that will be on the next administration’s plate.”

Since it looks like John McCain and Sarah Palin are even more prone to paranoia, demagogy, and “Manichean” language—reducing every global conflict to a battle between good and evil—than George Bush has been, every voter should be concerned about how the next administration will conduct foreign policy.

By now, I would think Americans are tiring of the pathetic post-mortems that follow each crisis or catastrophe that brings ruin to economies (ours), cities (New Orleans) and countries (Iraq). We need to recognize and stop irrational policies and behaviors before they destroy. The world is too complex, interdependent and dangerous to allow irrationality to trump reason. This new book by Scowcroft and Brzezinski can help remedy that in foreign policy, before we blunder into a catastrophic war.