It’s no secret that Jimmy Carter has devoted his post-presidential career to the cause of anti-Israel agitation. Yet, in his extreme animus against the Jewish state, the 39th president now has a rival in a onetime member of his own administration: his former National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Ambitious though the task may seem, Brzezinski is determined to go even further than Carter in his condemnation of Israel. In 2006, when Israel launched a belated military offensive to combat Hezbollah terrorism, Brzezinski outrageously claimed that Israeli Defense Forces were guilty of the “killing of hostages” – this even as the Israeli military took maximal precautions to minimize civilian casualties.
Now Brzezinski has taken his anti-Israel stance to a new extreme. In a little-noticed interview this past weekend, he suggested, in effect, that the United States should go to war with Israel in order to protect Iran. Specifically, Brzezinski opined that America should prevent an Israeli air strike against Iranian nuclear facilities by any means necessary – up to and including engaging Israeli warplanes as they cross Iraqi airspace to reach their Iranian targets.
This boggles the mind. It’s difficult even to imagine such a scenario unfolding, with Israeli and American pilots (flying aircraft probably built in the same factory) trying to blow each other out of the sky. And yet it seems that Brzezinski was quite serious. He warned that a confrontation between Israeli and American pilot sent to block their path to Iran could become “a Liberty in reverse,” a reference to the tragic friendly-fire incident that saw Israeli aircraft heavily damage an American naval vessel, the USS Liberty, during the Six-Day war of 1967. But of course the Israeli attack on the Liberty was an accident, for which the Israelis apologized and paid reparations.
By contrast, Brzezinski is calling for the United States Air Force deliberately to shoot down Israeli planes, insisting that “we have to be serious about denying them [access to Iran]. That means a denial where you aren’t just saying it. If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not.” And if Israel does go ahead with an attack on Iran – whose government has pledged to wipe Israel off the map and which continues to sponsor anti-Israel terrorist groups – then, by Brzezinski’s logic, the U.S. would have to declare war against its closest Middle Eastern ally.
To be sure, such a scenario is unlikely to unfold. For the moment, Israel seems content to permit the diplomatic options to run their course. Should the Israelis decide to strike at some future point, as they certainly have excellent reasons to do, it is reasonable to assume that the United States will be informed in advance. If President Obama absolutely refuses to permit the attack to transit Iraqi airspace, Israel will have to attack using other means. That is a thoroughly unsatisfactory outcome, but is far and away better than Brzezinski’s vision of an American-Israeli battle.
Nonetheless, Brzezinski’s statements deserve scrutiny. For instance, it is frightening to wonder how much of his foreign policy “wisdom” Brzezinski imparted to his young friend, Senator Obama, whom he advised during the presidential campaign. An early convert to the Obama cause, Brzezinski helped the Illinois senator bulk up his foreign policy credentials early on in the nomination process. The recruitment of Brzezinski to the Obama campaign was seen as a major win for the senator, and helped shore up his efforts to defeat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
Even at the time, though, Brzezinski could not hide his hostility to Israel. At one point, he drew unwanted publicity for the campaign after he praised John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of the Israel Lobby, a book that that many condemned as a conspiratorial and anti-Semitic broadside against Israel and its Jewish supporters, for rendering a “public service” with their work. Fortunately, Brzezinski is no longer advising Obama on foreign policy. Indeed, he has become something of a critic of the administration, most recently talking down the chances for an Allied victory in the Afghan War.
But while Brzezinski may no longer have the president’s ear, he certainly exemplifies the anti-Israel bias prevalent among much of the Western world’s intellectual elite. That includes the foreign policy elite. In recent years, for instance, Brzezinski has emerged as a leading light of the so-called “realist” school of foreign policy, which cast itself as the sensible alternative to the “neoconservative” theorists who, as they saw it, orchestrated the Bush administration’s war in Iraq. Brzezinski’s saber rattling against Israel makes a mockery of that self-serving account. After all, how realistic is it to claim that the United States should not only prevent a loyal ally from retaliating against an existential threat, but actually risk war with its ally for the sake of appeasing a fanatical Iranian regime?
Brzezinski’s implicit threat against Israel is, as the president might say, a “teachable moment.” At the very least, it should undermine the establishment figure’s right to be taken seriously. More broadly, it is another grim postscript in the history of the Carter administration. The Carter presidency will already be remembered as one of the worst in American history. Carter and Brzezinski have accomplished the unlikely feat of making it look even worse years after its unlamented end.