By Daniel Dombey in Washington FT
July 20 2008
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former US national security adviser and prominent supporter of Barack Obama, has warned the Democratic presidential candidate that he risks repeating the defeat suffered by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
Mr Obama has called for up to 10,000 more US troops to be deployed in the country, where the USSR once sent tens of thousands of soldiers only to suffer cataclysmic military failure.
But in an interview with the Financial Times Mr Brzezinski warned: “It is important for US policy in general and for Obama more specifically to recognise that simply putting more troops into Afghanistan is not the entire solution . . . We are running the risk of repeating the mistake the Soviet Union made . . . Our strategy is getting in deeper and deeper.”
He added that while the Soviets invaded the country thinking there was a communist Afghan elite on which they could rely, “we have to be careful not to overestimate the appeal of the democratic Afghan elite, because we run the risk that our military presence . . . will gradually turn the Afghan population entirely against us”.
Afghan society was deeply conservative and resistant to dramatic change, he said.
Mr Brzezinski is sometimes seen as a controversial figure because of his trenchant criticism of Russia and his calls for US policy on the Middle East not to be “subordinated to Israeli interests”. Today he depicts himself as a supporter who has declined to join the Obama campaign because of his unwillingness to be kept quiet or on message during the duration of the election.
“I realise that in an electoral campaign you don’t want to antagonise large groups which are highly motivated,” he said.
Nevertheless, their personal contact has left its mark on the 80-year-old former Harvard and Columbia professor, a veteran of the Johnson and Carter administrations. He said that of all the presidential candidates since 1960, he was most impressed by Mr Obama and John Kennedy, both of whom he considered “in tune with the music of the time”. But he argued it was more difficult today for Mr Obama to define a clear foreign policy position than it was for Kennedy.
“This is a very dangerous period of time with very unpredictable consequences,” he said, referring to tensions between Iran and Israel and the US. “You have three countries doing a kind of death dance on the basis of confusion, division and fear.
“If we end up with war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran at the same time, can anyone see a more damaging prospect for America’s world role than that?” he asked. “That’s the fundamental foreign policy dilemma at the back of this election. A four-front war would get us involved for years . . . It would be the end of American predominance.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008