All of a sudden, everyone seems to be in favor of sending more troops to Afghanistan. As Barack Obama encourages Europeans to dispatch more NATO forces and John McCain says that U.S. troops could be sent in greater numbers, the idea that a bigger military footprint is needed has become something of a consensus in the political mainstream.
But Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski is not on board -- though it's not the first time President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser has cast a skeptic's eye on the usefulness of dispatching great numbers of troops to the country. In an famous 1998 interview with France's Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski admitted his own role in funding Afghanistan's Mujahadeen in 1979, thereby "increasing the probability" that the Soviets would invade a tough, demoralizing, mountainous theater for combat.
And it's with a similar perspective that Brzezinski now doubts the that the answer to what ails Afghanistan is more troops. "I think we're literally running the risk of unintentionally doing what the Russians did. And that, if it happens, would be a tragedy," Brzezinski told the Huffington Post on Friday. "When we first went into Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban, we were actually welcomed by an overwhelming majority of Afghans. They did not see us as invaders, as they saw the Soviets."
However, Brzezinski noted that just as the Soviets were able to delude themselves that they had a loyal army of communist-sympathizers who would transform the country, the U.S.-led forces may now be making similar mistakes. He said that the conduct of military operations "with little regard for civilian casualties" may accelerate the negative trend in local public opinion regarding the West's role. "It's just beginning, but it's significant," Brzezinski said.
His own program for improving the state of affairs in Afghanistan -- where U.S. casualties have surpassed those in Iraq for two months now -- revolves around pragmatism. He believes Europe should bribe Afghan farmers not to produce poppies used for heroin since "it all ends up in Europe." Moreover, he thinks the tribal warlords can be bought off with bribes, with the endgame being the isolation of Al-Qaeda from a Taliban that is "not a united force, not a world-oriented terrorist movement, but a real Afghan phenomenon."
Brzezinski, who has endorsed Obama, was far more critical of a few figures now surrounding McCain, who he suggested were pushing the presumptive GOP nominee towards a radical foreign policy on issues such as Iran.
"Well, if McCain is president and if his Secretary of State is Joe Lieberman and his Secretary of Defense is [Rudolph] Giuliani, we will be moving towards the World War IV that they have been both favoring and predicting," he said, calling that an "appalling concept" (and adding that by their lights, the Cold War counted as World War III). "So it depends on who are the principal officers. If it's [Richard] Armitage, or if it were to be Brent Scowcroft, I think it would be very different."
Asked who he would like to see in a potential Obama cabinet, Brzezinski said: "I think [Sen. Chuck] Hagel. I would like to see a bipartisan cabinet. I think we need one very badly -- and we did well in the Cold War when we had one. I would say Hagel and [Sen. Dick] Lugar would be very good Republicans [for Obama]." He also cited Sen. Joe Biden as a potential Secretary of State, in which case it would also be possible to "keep [Secretary of Defense Bob] Gates in the job for a few months."
Brzezinski said such a cabinet would be an important step in redressing the increased partisanship of foreign affairs in recent years, adding: "I think there is a tendency, because of the very complexity of the issues, for solutions to become polarized and more extreme. ... Republicans move toward neocon-ish formulas, and Democrats [follow] idealistically escapist formulas. In either case you don't end up with the necessary mix of idealism and realism."