The United States appears headed on a collision course with Iran that could lead to a war with “disastrous” consequences, a former adviser to ex-president Jimmy Carter has warned.
“We think we are going to avoid war by moving towards compulsion,” Zbignew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to Carter in the late 1970s, told an audience at an Atlantic Council think tank event in Washington late Tuesday.
“But the more you lean towards compulsion, the more the choice becomes war if it doesn’t work. That narrows our options in a very dramatic way,” said the former official, who remains an influential voice on U.S. foreign policy.
Brzezinski said he was concerned about an escalation in “rhetoric,” as the U.S. approach to Iran’s nuclear program appeared solely focused on forcing Tehran to comply with international demands, leaving Washington little flexibility.
“A lot of small decisions are being made which in the meantime narrow your freedom of choice in the future,” he said.
Tuesday’s gathering featured four former national security advisors, including president Richard Nixon’s powerful deputy Henry Kissinger.
Brzezinski warned repeatedly of his concerns that the United States could stumble into a war with Iran.
“If we slide into a conflict with Iran, in this or that fashion, the consequences for us will be disastrous, disastrous on a massive scale and also globally at the same time,” he said.
Brzezinski was in office in 1979 when America’s ally, the Shah of Iran, fell from power in a revolution that resulted in an Islamic theocracy in Tehran.
After the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran and the taking of American hostages that same year, Brzezinski presided over a plan to rescue the captives but the military operation failed before it got off the ground.
Tensions have grown between Iran and the United States in recent months as Washington has pushed for stricter sanctions to punish Tehran over its nuclear activities and amid speculation Israel may be weighing possible pre-emptive military action.
The other former national security chiefs included Brent Scowcroft, who served under president George H.W. Bush, and Jim Jones, who until recently advised President Barack Obama.
Along with Brzezinski they all agreed that the world faced the most significant historical shift since the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades before, citing this year’s wave of Arab uprisings and China’s newfound clout.
The former senior White House advisors also voiced concerns that polarized American politics had undermined attempts to forge an effective foreign policy.
Brzezinski said there was a need “to galvanize this country into a deeper understanding” of international challenges facing the United States.
“One of the most appalling things that I see is that we are more challenged than before in a more complex fashion,” he said.
“Our public is driven by fear, ignorance, demogagy to a very high degree and that I think has a paralyzing effect in intelligent management,” of foreign policy, he said.
Brzezinski, who endorsed Obama for president during the 2008 campaign, described what he called a “strange situation,” with Obama and his fellow Democrats failing to assert leadership while their Republican rivals were advocating extreme or ill-informed policies.
“The party in power is frozen, and the party out of power is raving mad,” he said, AFP reported.