Zbigniew Brzezinski: From Grand Chessboard to Obama Advisor. Part Four

This is the final installment of a four-part analytical article reviewing Zbigniew Brzezinski’s post-Cold War writings from 1997 to 2008




Zbigniew Brzezinski: From Grand Chessboard to Obama Advisor. Part Four


By Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.


This is the final installment of a four-part analytical article reviewing Zbigniew Brzezinski’s post-Cold War writings from 1997 to 2008



Internal contradictions


Looking at Brzezinski’s latest writings, there is no change in his stress on the need for continued American worldwide hegemony compared to what he wrote a decade ago. In Second Chance, he tells us that America plays the role of essential stabilizer and warns ominously that “the most likely short-term alternative to a constructive American world role is chaos.” What has changed is Brzezinski’s appreciation of serious domestic factors in the United States standing in the way of successful exercise of leadership.


This is not to say that the essential contradiction which vitiates his entire line of argumentation in favor of American hegemony was not present in his Grand Chessboard of 1997. In his concluding remarks in that book dealing with America’s hegemonic legacy, Brzezinski remarked that the window of opportunity for what he called ‘constructive exploitation of global power’ might be shortened because the country’s populist democracy was not attuned to an imperial role. He pointed to poll statistics indicating that only 13% of Americans were pleased at the notion of the country’s standing as sole remaining superpower whereas 74% preferred if the United States shared problem-solving in the international arena with other countries.


In the same pages, Brzezinski attributed this phenomenon of the unwilling hegemon to hedonism and hesitation to sacrifice the lives of its young men on other shores. He discerned instead a popular fixation on ‘mass entertainment and social escapism,’ saying: ‘The cumulative effect has made it increasingly difficult to mobilize the needed political consensus on behalf of sustained, and also occasionally costly, American leadership abroad.”


One might have thought that the wake-up call of the attack on the World Trade Center and President Bush’s war on terrorism would have changed this moral laxness in the American public, but in his 2007 writings Brzezinski feels compelled to devote far more attention to the domestic problems limiting America’s effectiveness as global leader and the problems appear to be intractable.


In the concluding 30 pages or so of Second Chance, he catalogues vast changes in public consciousness and governmental processes of the United States which are needed for the country to lead less badly than during the past three presidencies..Going through his list, it is patently obvious that such change cannot and will not occur…


Determinism and voluntarism


It is a curious thing that at the beginning of Second Chance Brzezinski calls attention to Francis Fukuyama and his seminal work The End of History calling it a major contribution to the social acceptance of Neoconservative thinking in the 1990s following the end of the Cold War, standing alongside Sam Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations.. He tells us that after 9/11 Neoconservatives found in Fukuyama’s explanation of the inevitability of democracy a compelling argument for acting as history’s agent, leading to governmental policies which he calls ‘dogmatic activism.’


It is still more curious that towards the end of the same book, Brzezinski reiterates the guiding motifs of End of History without attribution and speaking on his own behalf.. I have in mind his passages on the ‘global political awakening’ which mark our times and which the United States should take as its North Star when formulating foreign policy. The driving force of this awakening is the quest for human dignity as embodied in freedom, democracy and respect for cultural diversity.

It would be no exaggeration to say that Brzezinski himself was very receptive to the notions of Fukuyama and imbibed deeply at the well of Neoconservatism….

Looking at the body of Brzezinski’s writings from 1997 to 2008, I must conclude that the ‘Leninist’ feature of the Bush-ite Neoconservatives perfectly describes the working principles of Brzezinski’s own foreign policy strategy: to identify the spirit of the times and proactively, consciously accelerate events during the window of opportunity one is granted for transformational purposes.



© Gilbert Doctorow 2009-2010


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For the full analysis, see the author’s 2010 book Great Post-Cold War American Thinkers on International Relations.   G. Doctorow was a 2010-2011 Visiting Scholar of the Harriman Institute of Columbia University. He is today (2013) an occasional lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and a Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest work, published in April 2013, is Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Non-conformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12. Both works are available from amazon.com and amazon websites worldwide in paperback and e-book editions. They are also on sale at Barnes & Noble and other leading bookstores.