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US Headed For Change, Says Former National Security Advisor

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former United States National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, weighs in on the tasks awaiting President-elect Barack Obama. He predicts big changes in foreign policy.

Obama giving a speech with a change sign

Brzezinski: It may take time, but Obama will bring change

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the son of a diplomat, was born in Warsaw on March 28, 1928. In the 1950s, he was considered one of the leading Western experts on the Soviet Union. In 1960, Brzezinski advised John F. Kennedy on Eastern Europe during his successful candidacy for the US presidency. Known for his hawkish foreign policy, Brzezinski served as National Security Adviser to US President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981. Today, Brzezinski is a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and has served as an advisor to Obama.

Zbigniew Brzezinski: I think this election means first of all that a very negative chapter in American foreign policy and American domestic affairs has come to an end. I particularly mind the various unfortunate moves that characterized the past eight years of the Bush administration. But secondly, I think it means something much more positive. Namely that America is now defining itself increasingly as a 21st century universal society, in which membership in that society is based not on ethnicity or on race, but increasingly on shared values, fundamentally universal values, democratic values. The election of a president whose father came from Kenya and left him after being his father for only two years or so, a candidate who spent his childhood in Indonesia, a candidate who comes from a race which in America was discriminated against massively until several decades ago – and some aspects of that discrimination still continue – means that America is now defining itself as a prototype of what eventually might characterize the world at large. A system of governance that is based in free will and shared values.

Deutsche Welle: So will this election improve the image of the US in the world?

I think all the reactions, maybe with the exception, surprisingly, of the Russian government, have been very, very positive. And I think public opinion polls show that there is a general sense of gratification around the world that America has turned a new leaf and that America is moving in a new direction.

President Bush makes a statement about the economic bailout bill and financial crisis

Brzezinski isn't sorry to see Bush go...

Will American foreign policy undergo this change that Obama has talked so much about?

There will be a change. There will certainly be a change in its philosophy, in its priorities, but there will not be a dramatic change in all of its manifestations. You have to think of foreign policy as, for example, a boat moving on the sea. A huge ocean liner doesn't change its course in the way that a fast motor boat does. Therefore it is not possible for the United States dramatically to change every one of its policies. But I think there will be a significant shift in substance and in tone.

Do you think it's less important what the president says than how he says it?

Well that helps a lot too. I think being intelligent and sophisticated and also inspirational is very helpful in a democracy.

What effect does the election of Obama have on transatlantic relationships between Europe and America?

It provides a point of departure for a more meaningful and constructive dialogue; provided there is a partner in Europe that can speak for Europe. And that is still to some extent a problem, as you know well. I would hope that Europe would more rapidly move towards the articulation of a common foreign policy for Europe. And until that time comes I think it's also important that Germany, France and Great Britain coordinate as closely as they can and their common foreign policy is something that America will have to respect and listen to carefully.

What are the biggest challenges for Obama right now?

Well first of all there is the economic crisis, which has very significant foreign policy implications. One which was absolutely unavoidable and necessary and is a serious problem, and that is Afghanistan. And one which was unnecessary and avoidable and has proven to be very costly and persisting and should be brought to an end, and that is Iraq. And in between there is the unresolved question of Iran, which has to be addressed seriously and responsibly.

Talking about Afghanistan, Obama wants to reinforce the NATO mission in Afghanistan, bringing more troops to Afghanistan. Europe nations, including Germany, are saying exactly the opposite. They have no interest in sending more troops to Afghanistan. Will this become a big point of contention and how can it be solved?

Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski in Washington on February 1, 2007

If tested, Obama will react rationally and effectively, says Brzezinski

Well if we are in Afghanistan together then I don't think one can have an arrangement whereby one party deliberately chooses to only be in one area in which there are no challenges and no difficulties. That then is not a real partnership. The question of partnership pertains to shared decisions because of shared burdens. Under President Bush, unfortunately, there was an American tendency to make decisions and then expect everyone else to also share in the burdens. But only too often, and in this particular case it may be true of Germany as well, Europeans feel that they should be partners in making decisions, but that the Americans should assume the burdens, and that certainly will not work if we are serious about the partnership.

Let's talk a little bit about Pakistan. In an interview, Obama said that he would considers sending troops to Pakistan, a military engagement there. What do you think about that?

He doesn't say he'll send troops to Pakistan. But he does say that there are situations on the margins of Pakistan's territory in which it is known to a high degree of probability that some form of very serious al-Qaida activity is ongoing and it is in these circumstances that Pakistan is unable to react, then an American reaction is justified under the international principle of self defense because al-Qaida initiated the attack on the United States. It's not that the United States initiated the attack on al-Qaida.

Let's talk about this Islamic terrorism. Vice President-elect Joe Biden said he could imagine that Obama might be tested. What do you think about that?

It's possible. There's no way of predicting that. It's a possibility, but it's by no means a certainty. But one way or another every American president is tested in some fashion by new challenges and circumstances. I think that Obama has shown that he is very calm, very rational and very deliberate in his approach to issues and I think if he is tested he will respond cogently and rationally and effectively.

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