Jennifer Rubin’s Non-Realist Slant on Brzezinski’s Realism


brzezinski scowcroft 2.jpgI have yet to meet the Washington Post‘s new online oped contributor, Jennifer Rubin, who has chastised Zbigniew Brzezinski for unrealistic realism but I look forward to a chance to seriously discuss the evolution of US foreign policy thinking and how each of the boxes views the others.
One part of her argument is that Brzezinski, she believes, raises “personal relationships” over core national interests — and she finishes her piece with substantial commentary from two leading neoconservatives, Jamie Fly and Stephen Yates, about the core character and intentions of China being incompatible with American interests.
A couple of points. Even realists would argue that if personal connections can be made between leaders so that basic understandings about intentions and national resolve can be firmly and unsentimentally established and understood, then those personal relationships play a role. Such relationships certainly mattered to Kissinger and Nixon in opening China. When Yeltsin’s Russia was in freefall, Richard Nixon in his last years worked hard with George H.W. Bush and leaders in Japan and Europe to throw Yeltsin a life preserver — thus holding Yeltsin in power a bit longer but more importantly preserving what was then an experiment in democracy in a previously ruthlessly totalitarian state.
Second, I happen to appreciate the work and thinking of Stephen Yates and Jamie Fly and follow both of them. Yates and I have communicated for years and find ourselves in both occasional agreement and disagreement over China.
They are not the problem of Rubin’s article.
The problem is a complete absence of commentary on Brzezinski’s brand of realism from either the right or left realist spheres.
It seems to me that a stronger article might have sought out the Nixon Center’s Dimitri Simes or Paul Saunders or might have reached out to Henry Kissinger himself. Or she could have polled her Washington Post colleagues David Ignatius or Katrina van den Heuvel, my favorite realist on the left. There are others like Charles Kupchan at the Council on Foreign Relations, Brian Katulis at the Center for American Progress, Flynt Leverett at the New America Foundation, Martin Indyk at Brookings, or John Hamre at CSIS; Chuck Hagel at Georgetown, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Center for the Study of the Presidency chief David Abshire, former CFR Chair and US Trade Representative Carla Hills, former Secretary of State James Baker or even Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations to acquire a realist critique of what Rubin felt was Brzezinski’s left field offering.
Let’s hope that Ms. Rubin works harder to reach out to some who might be able to provide some other portals into national security realism than those she usually hangs with.
As I wrote earlier, I feel that Brzezinski offers a sensible and important framework for thinking about US-China challenges. Rubin seems not to realize that China is perceived by many nations today as the Google of countries — while the US looks more like a GM of nations, a very well-branded, sprawling, yet underperforming mega-country.
America needs to rewire and retool — and in the world that lies ahead, it is going to be important to use areas of convergent interest between China and the US to try and leverage more globally constructive and responsible behavior by China, which I agree with Rubin, is behaving in troubling ways of late.
But as her article stands now, Rubin’s piece is more swipe than substance and could have been used to really elucidate much more seriously the differences between the values-driven schools of foreign policy and those in the national-interest wings.
— Steve Clemons


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