GLOBAL VIEWPOINT: The gulf war was the first exercise of the new relationship President Bush has called "the new world order." And it was the Soviets - not the Saudis, Egyptians or European members of the anti-Iraq coalition - who made the new cooperative order a "world" order.
Yet, didn't the 11th-hour Soviet peace bid last week, which would have kept Iraq's military intact and avoided a U.S.-led ground assault, reveal a different vision of a new world order in the Middle East than that held by the United States?ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: We have to recognize that the Cold War came to an end not because there suddenly emerged an identity of interests between America and the Soviet Union, particularly with regard to the Middle East, or Central Europe. The Cold War came to an end because the Soviets lost.
In the Middle East, (Mikhail) Gorbachev was trying to pursue the Soviet national interest, which does not involve allowing the Middle East to be completely dominated by the United States. In this, he has failed. The fact now is that the American military victory is establishing an unprecedented preponderance of American power in the region.
The Soviet intention with the peace initiative was to have their cake and eat it too. On the one hand, they wanted to retain close links with America and to appear to be partners with America and other key European powers in the anti-Iraq coalition. On the other hand, they wanted to retain some residual influence in the Arab world, particularly if much of the Arab world in the postwar phase were to become more anti-American.
Gorbachev's so-called peace initiative was designed to accomplish both of these ends. And I suspect that Gorbachev initially thought his proposal might be accepted, thus providing a protective umbrella for Saddam Hussein, while sparing the United States the costs of a final ground campaign.
But it fell short on both counts because it was impossible to satisfy fully such disparate objectives.
GV: Some have suggested that Gorbachev's peace bid was launched in part to assuage the increasingly powerful Soviet military conservatives at home. Do you agree?
ZB: I'm sure there was an element of domestic politics involved, with Gorbachev trying to strengthen his role at home by being a seemingly important international player. But I believe the geopolitical considerations of Soviet national interests, which are far different from those of the U.S., were paramount.
GV: Not only was Gorbachev's peace initiative rejected - it was apparently ignored, since we now understand that the date for launching the ground campaign had already been set weeks before. Thus, wouldn't you say that it is not only Saddam who is being humiliated, but also Gorbachev?
ZB: I think what has happened shows how very limited Soviet influence is these days. That is the most painful lesson yet to be assimilated by the Soviet political elite.
Undoubtedly, the failure of Gorbachev's initiative will intensify the Soviet debate over the relative merits and costs of the "new thinking" foreign policy of the Soviet leader.
There is a growing body of opinion in the USSR that argues that Gorbachev's external policies have been more damaging to the Soviet Union than even the internal chaos caused by perestroika. In effect, his opponents may now argue, he now has not only lost Eastern Europe but the Middle East as well.
GV: What form will the unprecedented preponderance of American power in the Middle East now take? A permanent presence of U.S. troops, for example?
ZB: Some form of U.S. military presence on a prolonged basis is going to be a fact of life in the Middle East. Whatever happens to Iraq, Iran is now going to be the strongest regional power in the Persian Gulf. Iran has been hostile to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. An American military presence will be required to offset that possible threat.
Whatever the eventual circumstances in Iraq, the American military presence in the region will be of an enduring character. Probably it will be based in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or both. These countries are, after all, client regimes. They are very rich but very vulnerable. They are very dependent on the United States and will probably be the object of intensified Arab hostility.
GV: Is it wise for the United States to be the "global policeman" who enforces rules on another civilization, that is, Islam?
ZB: Probably not. But the time to think about that was before Jan. 15. Now, the American role is a fact. The only question is what to do with our overwhelming military preponderance in the region. My concern is that the U.S. may not be prepared to assume the necessary political responsibilities that flow from military victory - the creation of a whole new structure of security in the region, the promotion of redistribution of wealth among the Arabs, the advancement of the Arab-Israeli peace process.
The region has been so saturated with weaponry over the past few years and the political, ethnic and religious antagonisms are so enormous that a great deal of time and commitment from America will be required to help resolve all these problems.
Only if we assume these responsibilities can we fully redeem and make worthwhile the suffering caused by the war.
GV: Without a Soviet counterbalance that counts in the region, who will help mediate between the U.S. and the legions of embittered Arabs and Muslims this war has produced?
ZB: There is no mediator. We Americans will have to assume the task ourselves and try to prove that U.S. policy for the region goes beyond the big stick, that it has a constructive component as well. That is imperative now.
GV: Does the Bush administration have that vision?
ZB: I hope it develops. The administration has been preoccupied so far with the conduct of the war.
GV: When the gulf crisis erupted, it was said that this was the first test of the "new world order." As the crisis moves toward its end, doesn't it look like that "new order" is nothing more than another version of Pax Americana, absent the Soviet rival?
ZB: I have argued for years that there is only one superpower in the world. That thesis now, I believe, has been fully validated. But the notion of a reborn Pax Americana is insufficient.
That is why I think the "new world order" has to be given a substantive definition. The word "order" is perhaps not the best word to use because, especially in the Middle East context, it implies freezing the status quo. But the world needs constructive change, not static order. America will now have to be involved more actively in creating a just and peaceful order than would otherwise have been the case.
1991, New Perspectives Quarterly
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