Brzezinski: True, that might be the case. They hope that in a sense Syria would redeem what happened originally in Iraq. But I think what we have to bear in mind is that in this particular case the regional situation as a whole is more volatile than it was when they invaded Iraq, and perhaps their views are also infected by the notion, shared by some Israeli right-wingers, that Israel’s strategic prospects are best served if all of its adjoining neighbors are destabilized. I happen to think that is a long-term formula for disaster for Israel, because its byproduct, if it happens, is the elimination of American influence in the region, with Israel left ultimately on its own. I don’t think that’s good for Israel, and, to me, more importantly, because I look at the problems from the vantage point of American national interest, it’s not very good for us.
Heilbrunn: You mentioned in an interview, I believe on MSNBC, the prospect of an international conference. Do you think that’s still a viable approach, that America should be pushing much more urgently to draw in China, Russia and other powers to reach some kind of peaceful end to this civil war?
Brzezinski: I think if we tackle the issue alone with the Russians, which I think has to be done because they’re involved partially, and if we do it relying primarily on the former colonial powers in the region—France and Great Britain, who are really hated in the region—the chances of success are not as high as if we do engage in it, somehow, with China, India and Japan, which have a stake in a more stable Middle East. That relates in a way to the previous point you raised. Those countries perhaps can then cumulatively help to create a compromise in which, on the surface at least, no one will be a winner, but which might entail something that I’ve been proposing in different words for more than a year—namely, that there should be some sort of internationally sponsored elections in Syria, in which anyone who wishes to run can run, which in a way saves face for Assad but which might result in an arrangement, de facto, in which he serves out his term next year but doesn’t run again.
Heilbrunn: How slippery is the slope? Obama was clearly not enthusiastic about sending the arms to the Syrian rebels—he handed the announcement off to Ben Rhodes. How slippery do you think this slope is? Do you think that we are headed towards greater American intervention?
Brzezinski: I’m afraid that we’re headed toward an ineffective American intervention, which is even worse. There are circumstances in which intervention is not the best but also not the worst of all outcomes. But what you are talking about means increasing our aid to the least effective of the forces opposing Assad. So at best, it’s simply damaging to our credibility. At worst, it hastens the victory of groups that are much more hostile to us than Assad ever was. I still do not understand why—and that refers to my first answer—why we concluded somewhere back in 2011 or 2012—an election year, incidentally—that Assad should go.
Heilbrunn: Your response earlier about Israel was quite fascinating. Do you think that if the region were to go up into greater upheaval, with a diminution of American influence, Israel would see an opportunity to consolidate its gains, or even make more radical ones if Jordan were to go up in flames?
Brzezinski: Yes, I know what you’re driving at. I think in the short run, it would probably create a larger Fortress Israel, because there would be no one in the way, so to speak. But it would be, first of all, a bloodbath (in different ways for different people), with some significant casualties for Israel as well. But the right-wingers will feel that’s a necessity of survival.