TRNN’s Jessica Desvarieux reports on former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft testimonies related to Iran, Syria, and Ukraine.


Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Congress is in session, and Armed Services Committee chair Senator John McCain wants to school the Senate on national security. He kicked off his series with the testimonies of national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Scowcroft served in both President Ford and President George H. W. Bush’s administrations, and Brzezinski served in the Carter administration, helping to steer policy during the Cold War. JOHN MCCAIN, CHAIR, U.S. SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Today the Senate Armed Services Committee begins a series of hearings on global challenges to U.S. national security strategy. And I’m pleased to have as our first witnesses two of America’s most respected strategic thinkers and public servants. DESVARIEUX: These strategic thinkers have been labeled cold warriors for their roles during the Cold War. Senators asked them how to approach the conflict in Ukraine. Brezinski said economic sanctions against Russia should go even further. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FMR. U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: This is something that cannot be ignored. So economic sanctions, yes, in the long run they create an attitude, a concern in Russian society which will deprive Putin of his popular support and this ecstatic since we have become a superpower again. But in the short run we have to deal also with his motivations. And the only way to do that is to indicate to him by tangible steps, such as defensive arming of the Ukrainians, that we will be involved in some fashion in making that military engagement more costly. DESVARIEUX: But General Scowcroft seemed to differ, stating that the U.S. should not aid and abet the return of the Cold War. The Real News spoke to General Scowcroft after the hearing to get his take on how to approach the conflict in Ukraine. GEN. BRENT SCOWCROFT, FMR. U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Go back to the Russians and suggest that they and we and the Europeans put together an economic recovery program for Ukraine. I’m looking at a way we can end the struggle over Ukraine right now. And it seems to me that’s the way we can do it: all of us work together to make Ukraine a little more viable economically. DESVARIEUX: The Real News spoke via phone to senior fellow at the National Security Archive John Prados. He authored the book The Cold War: A Military History. He said he is not surprised by Brzezinski’s outlook, considering his past. JOHN PRADOS, SENIOR FELLOW, NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE: If you go back to Brezinski’s early days as an academic at Harvard and Columbia, in both places he ran Russia-centric academic institutes and advocated for policies, in those days, that would defeat the Soviet Union. One of those policies was the idea of stirring up different nationalisms within the Soviet Union. Now fast-forward that day to this. The expression of that same kind of thing is the manipulation of different ethnic groups in the post-Soviet republics. So you’ve got the Crimeans and you’ve got the Ukrainians, you’ve got the Russians. Brezinski is particularly attuned to this. When he was national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter, as national security advisor, in fact, Brezinski took the lead within the United States government in creating an interdepartmental unit within the National Security Council specifically to target the Russian ethnic minorities as a way to destabilize the Soviet Union. So I think that’s indicative of his depth of feeling on that issue. DESVARIEUX: On other issues, Brzezinski and Scowcroft were lock-and-step. They do not believe that Congress should issue new sanctions against Iran in the midst of nuclear negotiations. SCOWCROFT: I think two things are likely to happen if we increase the sanctions: they will break the talks, and a lot of the people who have now joined us in the sanctions would be in danger of leaving. DESVARIEUX: This position of no new sanctions seemed to be in direct conflict with Senator McCain’s past position. The Real News spoke with investigative journalist Robert Parry about the potential motivation for bringing in these two witnesses from the realist foreign-policy school of thought. ROBERT PARRY, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, CONSORTIUMNEWS.COM: Generally speaking, McCain has sided with the neoconservatives. He’s been very hawkish when it comes to, obviously, the Iraq War, how to confront Iran. He was the one who made the joke about bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. He’s been a big supporter of the Syrian rebels. He was also very active in supporting the coup d’etat in Ukraine, which put President Putin on the defensive–another aspect, another front in this sort of complex battle we’re seeing playing to play out geopolitically. But I would think that perhaps McCain was just–was bringing in some old friends, Brzezinski and Scowcroft, who he’s known for a long time. These are more what you might call cold warriors. They also are generally considered part of the realist faction. And in these days, realism is basically the idea of applying American power to support American interests, but doing so in a very fairly judicious way, not being overly aggressive or overly reckless. And I think the realists have tended to look at the neoconservatives in particular as ideologues who are pushing an agenda that is not necessarily helpful to the United States in the long term. DESVARIEUX: The long-term future of relations between the U.S. and Iran will be on full display in Congress in March. Republicans invited the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to address Congress in a rare joint session. However, President Obama will not be meeting with Netanyahu during the prime minister’s visit, a move Parry said is in line with the Republican calculus. PARRY: It’s been a longtime effort by the Republicans to undercut the Democrats’ historical advantage among Jewish voters. That’s one thing. There’s been this feeling that if the Republicans can be more strongly supportive of Israel than the Democrats, then they can gain politically. We saw this during the 2012 presidential election when Mitt Romney literally went to Israel and made a big show of his closeness to Prime Minister Netanyahu. So it’s not a new thing that the Republicans have been trying to do. They’ve had [only] marginal success in this, because, as we know from exit polls, Jewish voters have tended to stay with the Democratic Party and not be as predictable, I suppose, as the Republicans might think–that if they pander to Israel, that that will bring the Jewish voters in. It apparently hasn’t. But the Republicans still are trying. And I think the idea of undercutting President Obama has been a key feature of the Republican politics for the last six years. Why should that change? DESVARIEUX: For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.

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DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


Jessica Desvarieux

Jessica Desvarieux is a multimedia journalist who serves as the Capitol Hill correspondent for the Real News Network. Most recently, Jessica worked as a producer for the ABC Sunday morning program, This Week with Christianne Amanpour. Before moving to Washington DC, Jessica served as the Haiti corespondent for TIME Magazine and TIME.com. Previously, she was as an on-air reporter for New York tri-state cable outlet Regional News Network, where she worked before the 2010 earthquake struck her native country of Haiti. From March 2008 - September 2009, she lived in Egypt, where her work appeared in various media outlets like the Associated Press, Voice of America, and the International Herald Tribune - Daily News Egypt. She graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism with a Master of Science degree in journalism. She is proficient in French, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and has a working knowledge of Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Follow her @Jessica_Reports.