Bring Back Brzezinski

On The Daily Beast former New York Times columnist and president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie H. Gelb suggests that Barack Obama “desperately needs a sweeping staff shakeup to save his presidency.”

Gelb is most concerned about White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who, although “a terrific political mind”, lacks the “management skills and discipline” to run the president’s office. He also proposes that National Security Advisor James Jones “has to move on.”

The career Marine was greatly admired and respected as Commandant of the Corps and as NATO’s military chief. He handled those duties with great skill. But by wide acclamation inside and outside the White House, he has not emerged as a strategist — perhaps the key requirement of this key position. The person in that job has to pull everything together — laying out achievable objectives and precise plans to dispense carefully packaged carrots and sticks.

The man to replace him? Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor. “He has a first-rate strategic mind — a rare quality — and knows how to deliver results.” Obama will just have to iron out his lack of sympathy for Israel and Russia.

Brzezinski is the Henry Kissinger of the Democratic Party and despite his age, deserves serious consideration.

The Obama Administration got off to a good start abroad. Transatlantic ties were restored, an effort has been made to “restart” relations with Russia while a policy of “strategic reassurance” is now pursued with regards to China. It is time to step up the pace.

The president’s current team seems to believe that every foreign policy hiccup can be fixed with the giving of a new speech. But this won’t push the Russians into signing a new START agreement. It won’t smooth things over with the Chinese who are still a bit wary about America’s commitments to Taiwan. And it won’t be enough to get anything done in the Middle East.

As Gelb puts it, “Obama doesn’t know what’s really going on.” The president admitted that he had underestimated the difficulty of revitalizing the Middle Eastern process last year. “He had to be totally out of it not to realize that the Palestinians and Israelis were nowhere close to sitting down with each other and dealing.”

Brzezinski on the other hand seems to understand the hardships ahead and has both the experience and the vision to advise the president thoroughly. He was critical of the Bush Administration’s neoconservative stance and its War on Terror. Foreign policy, according to Brzezinski, ought not to be conducted with the purpose of shaping the world in America’s image. But Obama, he said in 2007, “understands that we live in a very different world where we have to relate to a variety of cultures and people.”

His plans for the future range beyond the Middle East. As early as 1997 he published his take on American foreign policy in the post-Cold War era under the title The Grand Chessboard. Brzezinski asserted that the United States is the first, only and last truly global superpower and as such, “Eurasia’s arbiter, with no major Eurasian issue soluble without America’s participation or contrary to America’s interests.” The country ought to be much more engaged in the Caucasus and Central Asia for that reason, besides the Near and Far East.

James Jones is a good man who deserves a place in any administration. But for the sake of ensuring American leadership into the twenty-first century, Obama needs to get someone like Brzezinski on board.


  1. You mean like – put the Brzezinski “face” on the Brzezinski policies? Or that Zbigniew Brzezinski is not currently involved in Obama foreign policy?

  2. Gelb proposes to actually make Brzezinski National Security Advisor. That’d be wonderful, I think, though merely putting a more Brzezinski-esque “face” on US foreign policy, as you call it, would be a great start.

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