Zbigniew Brzezinski, appearing on PBS's Charlie Rose talk show Tuesday night, vehemently rejected any proposal of arming rebels in Syria, denounced the British and French for creating the "mess," and spoke of working with Russia and China. The alternative, he said, will be regional war.
The show was on the theme of a recent paper by National War College professor Michael Mazarr, that the current U.S. strategic posture is unsustainable. Mazarr was a guest on the show, along with former Obama national security adviser Gen. James Jones and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
Host Rose asked Brzezinski how 'strategic unsustainability' applied to Syria. He replied:
"[We must consider] ... what are the prospects, perhaps, of that war rapidly spreading. Syria is next door to Iraq. Iraq is on the verge of a breakdown between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites, into a civil war. Syria is also on the brink, on the edge, of the Kurds, and their role in the region. It could be very, very destabilizing, if the war started spreading. There is, of course, Iran next door, which could become in some fashion involved. In brief, I have the feeling, that it's not exactly within the realm of our means, of our resources, or compatible with our recent experience, to enter the fray, without thinking very seriously, about the likelihood that if we enter into it, particularly if we enter into it — because we're not exactly popular in the Middle East these days — the result will be a much wider war, with really serious consequences then for Turkey, and perhaps for Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and because of its economic consequences, for Europe. So I'm afraid that the word I tend to emphasize in this context is 'prudence,' rather than 'engagement.'"
When rose spoke on the topic of arming the opposition, Brzezinski interrupted, "You can't start supplying arms to someone, without becoming engaged in the consequences of that! You can't maintain that kind of sealed detachment from the supply of arms, and eventually engagement in the process. Especially if the supply of arms itself creates temptations to spread that war."
Later in the show, Mazarr described how the Obama Administration was groping toward a Syria policy in the new paradigm, potentially arming opposition groups, and a variety of similar steps, "but they're going to be very messy, and they're not going to satisfy a lot of advocates of short-term action, and we're going to have to keep at them for a long period of time. It's not going to be as clean as advocates of intervention had once thought." Rose, off camera, said: "Zbig, you're smiling as you heard him say that. What does that smile mean?" The camera shifted to Brzezinski, who chuckled, and smiling broadly, responded,
" Well, I just don't understand how we can get involved in supporting and arming, and thus intensifying, the makings of a civil war, without thinking as to how long it may last, how much blood will it consume, how deeply we'll have to become engaged, and how it might spread. This is an extremely volatile region. You have to think of it, not just Syria, which is more that 20 million people. Yes, 30 thousand have been killed, but it's 20 million people, and most of the 20 million people are still controlled by the government. So we're going to try to overthrow that. So we're going to make that civil war more intense, more extensive, more bloody.
"And, it will affect the neighborhood, because it will ignite the Sunni-Shi'ite conflict. It will destabilize Jordan. It's already destabilizing Lebanon. It might draw in the Turks. Are the Turks prepared to lunge into Syria? Maybe they would like us to clean up Syria, but we have to ask ourselves about the consequences, if we try. Are we prepared to do it seriously, or are we just going to provide arms, as it progressively gets worse? I think after ten years in Afghanistan, after the mess in Iraq, we better think calmly and coldly about this issue.
To Rose's question, 'So, we do nothing?', Brzezinski said there are a lot of other things we can do, and advocated working with the Russians and Chinese to develop a viable solution to be presented to the Assad government as something workable — rather than dictating to them our ideas and then denouncing their non-acceptance of them.
Gen. Jones said, well, we have to figure out what we can do and how, and Brzezinski rejoined, "And I'm saying, let's see if we can still do it with the international community with us, and I think that having the Russians and the Chinese is not yet to be excluded. We can't really rely on the advice of the French and the British, because they are the architects of the mess that is now beginning to collapse." (Emphasis added.)
Brzezinski also expresses deep skepticism about our alliance with the Saudis: "We have to be very careful about Saudi Arabia, because the Saudis are involved right now in fanning Sunni-Shiite conflict in Syria. Is that really in our interest? Are we really supposed to be supporting that?"