Damn! I missed a meeting at the Center for Strategic and International Studies yesterday with three of my favorite national security thinkers — David Ignatius, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft.
Chris Nelson who writes the uber-insider and very tough to get Nelson Report was there and gve me permission to run his own account of the meeting.
But I also have the good news that the New America Foundation and Basic Books are releasing a new book on September 8, 2009 that features David Ignatius provoking Brzezinski and Scowcroft in a conversational format about what it will take to change America’s strategic course. The book is titled America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy and you are welcome to pre-order from this Amazon link.
From the Nelson Report:
Adult Supervision on Iran From Brent & Zbig
IRAN…while Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama continues what has, so far, been his very excellent adventure in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East, here in DC there was a most excellent application of Senior Adult Supervision by former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, at CSIS.
(We’ll look at how Obama is doing in terms of his goals of “looking presidential and a convincing leader on foreign and security policy” later this week.
But when even the arch-conservative Washington Times notes that Iraqi leaders endorsed the Obama position on setting a deadline for US combat troop withdrawal…it hasn’t been a good week for Republican nominee John McCain.)
At CSIS today, Republican Scowcroft (who has rather pointedly not endorsed anyone so far this year) and “Zbig”, who rather strongly has backed Obama, warned against “militarizing” the Iran nuclear issue by presenting the options as negotiate or fight.
Democrat Brzezinski said he worried that under a McCain Administration, a Secretary of State Lieberman, or Secretary of Defense Giuliani might jump at the use of force against Iran, but that a Secretary of State or Defense Armitage “may be different”.
On that, Scowcroft smiled his best enigmatic smile and studied the ceiling tiles…
Brzezinski seemed to go a bit further than Scowcroft in decrying ANY use of force, by either Israel or the US, as a “regional and world catastrophe” for US interests, and perhaps the US itself.
(While certainly agreeing on all of the hazards, Scowcroft has in the past warned that there are certain red lines…N. Korean nuclear proliferation, especially…which might simply be too much to tolerate, so that force became the only rational option.
He didn’t repeat that sort of concern explicitly today, but it was noticeable that he didn’t always join in Brezinski’s very complete denunciations of force, period.)
Perhaps showing his native Poland influence, Zbig also warned that while Russia and China do seem to be sincerely upset with Iran for not being more forthcoming, a cold calculation of interest tells you that Moscow would not be a big loser if things got really bad in the Middle East.
Host/co-moderator David Ignatius of The Washington Post added that “Russia has to be the key”, and said that the Russians clearly are “very concerned at the tone” of the Iranian responses in Geneva, and “clearly tried to impress on Iran the need to do something…”
Scowcroft said whether it’s Bush, or McCain/Obama next year, the trap of “not taking force off the table” is that it offers “the illusion of a clean solution” to a problem which in fact would only get more dangerous and complex.
The two urged a realistic recognition of Iranian strategic interests as regional players, as Persians in an Arab sea, and as an ancient state with an historic track record of sophisticated appreciation of its real interests.
Don’t therefore “empower” President Ahmadinejad by echoing his bellicose rhetoric, especially as that, or pushing to sanctions prematurely, would likely only improve what are currently his diminishing support in elections next year.
However, Scowcroft urged, the US, China, Russia and the European alliance must “show Iran a solid line on sanctions, but give them a way out without losing face. Take them up on their proposition that they don’t want nuclear weapons, but do want nuclear power….” preferably using Russian fuel which the US et al would subsidize, all under continued IAEA supervision.
The point, “to make our negotiating position and the incentives for cooperation as appealing as possible to the Iranian people”.
More than one member of the audience was heard to murmur, on leaving, “that was further proof that we could use a Council of Elders in this country!”
I’ll be coming back to the themes of the new Brzezinski-Scowcroft-Ignatius book frequently in coming weeks.
— Steve Clemons
UPDATE: Jim Lobe also attended the CSIS meeting and shares his thoughts here on the call by Brzezinski and Scowcroft to drop pre-conditions on Iran negotiations.