Joyce Karam
Dar Al-Hayat (Interview)
June 23, 2011 - 12:00am

As the political turmoil sweeps across the Middle East, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski laments the declining American influence in the region . He tells Al-Hayat about a sense of disappointment among Washington's allies from its shy performance especially on the peace process.

The renown political thinker and author of several books on international relations including “Second Chance” and “The Grand Chess Board”, talks about the need for Saudi-Turkish cooperation on the situation in Syria, and voices doubts on the ability of the Syrian regime to overcome its current crisis.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What is your take on what we are seeing in the Arab world?

There are two ways to respond to this. One would be by dealing with the general phenomenon and two, of course, by addressing the specificity of the different national settings. In my view, what is happening in the Arab world is part of a wider global political awakening. For the last 200 years there has been a worldwide spread of an increased popular political consciousness, and until then, most of the world was politically passive.

Secondly, one has to take into account the differences between specifics of each of the Arab nations. Obviously what is happening in Egypt is the most important, and in some respect Cairo is the spearhead of political and social change in the Arab world. One cannot draw, however, conclusions from Egypt that necessarily are relevant for Libya or Yemen.

Q: You mention Egypt, a strategic ally for the U.S. What is at stake here for Washington -with all the changes in the region-?

Let me respond indirectly. Thirty five years ago and roughly since Camp David Accords (1978), Washington enjoyed good relations with the four most important countries in the region, and the U.S.’ interests were secure and America was able to work with the key players: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. Today and with every one of these four countries , we are witnessing a largely reduced American influence.

In the case of Iran, it is hostility; in the case of Saudi Arabia, it is disappointment with the U.S.; in the case of Egypt it is an increasing nationalism and some reservations about the Egyptian-Israeli relationship; in the case of Turkey, it is a sense of impatience with America’s perspectives and a disappointment that Washington has not proven to be a stronger ally as Ankara had hoped. In brief, we are witnessing a significant deterioration in the American position in the Middle East.

Q: What in your opinion can or should the Obama administration be doing more to recapture some of that lost influence?

Well, recently the New York Review of Books has published a letter [1] signed by me and former U.S. diplomats and senior officials, and that contains the answer to the question. (The letter calls on U.S. President Barack Obama to take a more robust role in pursuing peace between Palestinians and Israelis and based on a clear set of parameters addressing the issues of Borders, Security, Jerusalem and Refugees.)

Q: Do you think that President Obama’s speech endorsing the 1967 borders with agreed swaps as basis for negotiations is enough of a big step?

No I do not, and the whole purpose of that letter, which was written before that speech, was to indicate that the United States has to be more ambitious and more constructive in its efforts to promote peace. That does not mean siding with one of the sides, but rather that the United States cannot be passive or relying merely on speeches.

Q: Why is the US in this position and to a degree that its Middle East Envoy George Mitchell resigned last month?

It is probably connected with the domestic difficulties, which obviously have pushed foreign issues into a secondary position.

Q: If we go back to the Arab Spring, what are your thoughts on what is happening in Syria?

I think that is the most extreme case of an awakened political consciousness, resulting in massive violence and social disruption.

Q: Knowing the Assad regime, do you think it can overcome this?

I doubt it. It is always possible that in the short run force will prevail, but certainly the scope of discontent is not a good augury for the future of the existing regime.

Q: Can the U.S. do more, absent of Russia’s cooperation at the U.N.?

Even if Russia cooperated, it wouldn’t result in any serious or effective response. The fact of the matter is neither the United States nor Russia are in a position to act in a manner that would be decisive on Syria.

Q. So what would be a game changer for the situation in Syria?

I think first of all, it is the domestic dynamic that can be decisive. Secondly, if Turkey and Saudi Arabia could cooperate, then perhaps their combined political influence would have a constructive impact.


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