From an interview in Spiegel. Full version here:
“SPIEGEL: Dr. Brzezinski, President Bush compares the dangers of terrorism with the dangers of the Cold War. He has even spoken repeatedly of a “nation at war” and will only accept “complete victory.” Is he right or is he using exaggerated rhetoric?
Brzezinski: He is fundamentally wrong. Whether that is deliberate demagoguery or simply historical ignorance, I do not know. For four years I was responsible for coordinating the U.S. response in the event of a nuclear attack. And I can assure you that a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union on a comprehensive scale would have killed 160 to 180 million people within 24 hours.
No terrorist threat is comparable to that in the foreseeable future. Moreover, terrorism is essentially a technique of killing people and not the enemy as such. If one wages war on an invisible, unidentifiable phantom, one gets into a state of mind that virtually promotes dangerous exaggerations and distortions of reality.
SPIEGEL: What are these distortions?
Brzezinski: After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States was energetic and determined, and during the 40 years of the Cold War it was patient and deliberate. In neither case did any U.S. president intentionally preach fear as the major message to the people – on the contrary.
With his very loose formulations, the president is now creating a climate of fear that is destructive for American morale and distorting of American policy.
SPIEGEL: Is fear, as at the thought of a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists, not something very natural?
Brzezinski: Certainly, such a notion is not entirely unrealistic, but on the other hand we are not confronted with the Soviet nuclear weapons arsenal. I do not wish to minimize the danger of a single or even multiple terrorist acts, but their scale is simply not comparable.
SPIEGEL: Yet sometimes the discussions, in the United States but also in Europe, create the impression that radical Islam has taken the place of the former Soviet Union and that some form of Cold War is continuing.
Brzezinski: Radical Islam is such an anonymous phenomenon that has arisen in some countries and not in others. It has to be taken seriously, but it is still only a regional danger most prevalent in the Middle East and somewhat east of the Middle East. And even in those regions, Islamic fundamentalists are not in the majority.
SPIEGEL: Fear-mongering is therefore not a valid response?
Brzezinski: We have to formulate a policy for this region which helps us to mobilize our potential friends. Only if we cooperate with them can we contain and eventually eliminate this phenomenon. It is a paradox: During the Cold War, our policy was directed at uniting our friends and dividing our enemies. Unfortunately our tactics today, including occasional Islamphobic language, have the tendency of unifying our enemies and alienating our friends.
SPIEGEL: So it is exaggerated rhetoric which ensures that Osama bin Laden is elevated to the level of a Mao or Stalin?
Brzezinski: Correct. And that is of course a distortion of reality – notwithstanding the fact that bin Laden is a killer. He is a criminal and should be presented as such, and not intentionally elevated into a globally significant leader of a transnational, quasi-religious movement.
SPIEGEL: Has there been any progress at all in the fight against terrorism for the past five years?
Brzezinski: Yes and no. Knock on wood. So far, there has been no repetition of a terrorist attack in the United States, and that – as was the case with the recent plot in London – is probably partly due to preventive measures we have taken.
Also, there is a growing realization among the modern elites in the Moslem world that Islamic terrorism is a threat to them as well – but it is a slow process. Moreover, this process has been handicapped, as with our invasion of Iraq, which has galvanized a lot of hostility in the Islamic world towards the United States. Our insensitive and ambiguous posture in the Israel-Palestinian conflict is also a very important reason for the hostility towards us. All this helps terrorism.
SPIEGEL: Is complete victory, as demanded by the president, actually possible?
Brzezinski: That depends on your definition of victory. If we act intelligently and form the necessary coalitions, the appeal of terrorism may diminish and limit its capacity to find sympathizers or even would-be martyrs. Then it will probably gradually fade away. If, however, we envision victory as the equivalent of a Hitler shooting himself in the bunker, that will not happen. This is precisely why the whole analogy with the war is so misleading. It is not helpful for making the public understand that we are dealing with a long-term problem in a very volatile region, the solution of which depends on mobilizing moderate forces and isolating fanatics.”