The world is changing and America's presumed status as the unrivaled global power is declining, says Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. In Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power, Brzezinski lays out America's ills and provides a blueprint for the future. He recently spoke with U.S. News about some of the domestic and international challenges facing the country and how to deal with them. Excerpts:
Has the United States lost its hegemonic status?
I think it's quite clear that the United States is still the pre-eminent power. But it is no longer the kind of hegemon that many people assumed and expected that America would become, myself included, after the fall of the Soviet Union.
What is the reason for the decline in status?
The two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have sapped America's vitality, drained its treasure, spilled much of its blood, and more importantly created more international hostility towards the United States than otherwise would have been the case.
What's the way out of Afghanistan?
We have to try, if we can, to stabilize the situation on the ground, both by weakening the Taliban but also by making some local accommodations with it. And trying to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan government to deal with its problems. And internationally, we have to try to create a regional understanding regarding help from Afghanistan's immediate neighbors to its stability and in turn security.
What is global political awakening?
The new reality of the world's population being politically conscious, politically activist, politically self-assertive. That has not been the case worldwide until relatively recently.
What is the consequence of this?
The world is much more volatile politically, much more turbulent and chaotic.
What has caused this awakening?
It's a combination of several things. Ever since the French Revolution there has been the progressive spread of political involvement and awareness on the public level. And today, particularly since the impact first of radio, then of television, and now the Internet, the world is interconnected, conscious and aware of itself politically.
Why is growing economic inequality in America a national security issue?
Because social consensus depends to a significant degree on a sense of social justice and social opportunity. Twenty or so years ago, the average wage of the top people in America was about 70 times higher than that of the average worker. Now, 20 years later, it's 325 times higher. That creates a sense of resentment and of injustice.
What should be America's role in the world?
First of all, America has to do more to get its house in order. And I talk at length both about the liabilities that America today confronts but also about its residual assets that it can mobilize in order to reawaken the American Dream. But it also has to be an intelligent player on the world scene because it is still the pre-eminent world power even though its advantage has been reduced over the last two decades or so.
What does that look like?
A West that engages an eventually democratizing Russia and exploits the democratization that's ongoing in Turkey to make the West larger and more vital. And secondly, an intelligent American role in the Far East, where we try to partner with China and try to use our presence in Japan to reconcile China and Japan the way Germany and France reconciled in Europe. And we try to mediate any conflicts between China and India.
Was President Obama's announcement that the new military focus will be on Asia a smart move?
No, I think it was rather dumb. We are militarily in Asia, we are in Japan and in South Korea, so there's nothing new to announce. I think what the administration was trying to say is we're going to be more active in Asia, but I thought giving this particularly strange spin, to the effect that our new policy in Asia is going to begin with a deployment of American troops in Australia, struck me as kind of absurd.
How should America deal with Iran?
It should be patient and determined. Patient to give the problem a chance to work itself out and also for the more democratic forces in Iran to assert themselves, which will not happen if we only give them the choice of a peaceful accommodation if they accept either strangulation or capitulation. Secondly, we have to be able to tell the Iranians publicly and openly, just as we have done in the case of Japan and South Korea vis-à-vis North Korea, and as we did for many years for our European friends vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, that any threat by Iran directed at any Middle Eastern country, including Israel, would be viewed by the United States as a threat against the United States with obvious consequences to follow.
Do any of the GOP candidates propose a sensible vision for America?
The ones that have appeared on television haven't sounded terribly impressive.