Most know that Zbigniew Brzezinski is endorsing Barack Obama for the presidency. The Washington Note was one of the first to report his announcement.
But no matter whether Obama, Clinton, Edwards, Romney, McCain or other of the candidates emerge as triumphant in the race for the Democratic and Republican nominations for the presidency, they should read his important book Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower which compares the structure of decision-making and analysis that George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and then George Bush have used in addressing major foreign policy challenges in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I think that the book should be a must read primer for anyone who aspires to the White House — and I’d feel more comfortable with Obama, Clinton or others if we had some sense of their decision-making approach. How would they have done managing the challenges these former presidents did?
Can the candidate make the strategic case for a policy action — even if it runs against public opinion?
I was impressed recently with Brzezinski’s post-Bhutto assassination comments about the missteps in American policy towards Pakistan. Whether one agrees with Brzezinski’s take that we ought not to have exported candidates into Pakistan’s political system, which the Saudis mimicked in exporting Nawaz Sharif, the honesty of the commentary is something none of the candidates — not even his own choice Barack Obama — have been able to match:
I think the United States should not get involved in Pakistani politics. I deplore the absence of democracy in Pakistan, but I think admonitions from outside, injecting exile politicians into Pakistan, telling the Pakistan president what he should or should not wear, that he should take off his uniform, I don’t really think this is America’s business and I don’t think it helps to consolidate stability in Pakistan.
In his book, Brzezinski gives Bush’s father the highest praise for managing systemic shifts in global power but criticizes him for not laying the course for a new post-Cold War policy that would have helped avoid the disequilibrium in the international system that neither Bill Clinton nor Bush 43 have managed well. He does give Clinton some credit for effort — and then pretty harshly slams George W. Bush, the incumbent with just a year left.
I think Second Chance is an important, basic primer on how to think in a structured way about national security decision-making, and whether you are a fan of Zbigniew Brzezinski or not — and I am — lay readers, students, and presidential candidates can learn something valuable from this book as we trip into 2008.
Happy New Year! And best wishes to all the candidates and their believers for the races ahead in Iowa and New Hampsire and after
— Steve Clemons
The images embedded around this blog essay were drawn by Zbigniew Brzezinski, a self-described “unfulfilled artist” — in addition to being one of the world’s greatest strategic thinkers. I saw these graphics, which he calls doodles, on something personal his office sent out and asked permission to post them on this New Year’s Day 2008 post.
The Washington Note thanks him for granting permission.