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Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter. His most recent book is "The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership" (Basic Books, March 2004). He spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on Monday, April 12.

Nathan Gardels: Adnan Pachaci, a leading member of the U.S.-backed Governing Council in Iraq, has said the American siege of Fallujah amounts to "collective punishment" of Iraqis for those who killed and dismembered Americans there two weeks ago. This phrase brings to mind Sharon's policies on the West Bank and Gaza. What are the parallels and the perils of these twin occupations?

Zbigniew Brzezinski: The perils and parallels, unfortunately, are quite striking. In the eyes of Iraqis, the American occupation is becoming increasingly similar to what they see on the West Bank and Gaza. In the eyes of Palestinians, what they see in Iraq is similar to what they are experiencing under Ariel Sharon. For many in the Middle East, the two occupations have become conflated into one all-embracing conflict. In both cases the perceptions may be exaggerated -- but are nonetheless highly emotional.

In politics, perceptions are part of the reality. One cannot dismiss them. If the United States is not careful, it will become seen as the principal enemy of the entire Arab world and then, gradually, by extension, of the entire Muslim world. Cumulatively, that would be a disaster first of all for the United States, but also for Israel because the United State is its main protector.

Gardels: A year after the U.S. invasion of Iraq there have been terror bombings in Madrid, Istanbul and Casablanca, as well as hostage seizures in Iraq of Japanese, Koreans and even Chinese, not to speak of the uprising against the United States within Iraq. Is the world safer or worse off in the wake of the U.S. policy?

Brzezinski: The Middle East is in the process of being set on fire because U.S. policies have inflamed collective Arab reaction. Muslim hostility toward the United States has been intensified. The United States has isolated itself from its principal allies, notably the Europeans. As a consequence, the world is less safe. There is an increased risk of terrorism directed at the United States. And we are all more vulnerable.

Gardels: What is the way out?

Brzezinski: The way out is to treat the issue of peace in a serious and sustained fashion that does not rely, as U.S. policy now does, almost exclusively on the use of force. The United States must try to engage the United Nations and its European allies in providing a political umbrella for the stabilization of Iraq so the U.S. role and visibility can be reduced. This, in turn, will enable the more moderate Muslim states like Pakistan or Morocco to send peacekeepers to Iraq, thus reducing the perception of a war with Islam. At the same time the United States needs to seriously join the U.N. and the Europeans in formulating a comprehensive and fair proposal for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Instead of this, the United States at present appears to be conniving with Sharon for a peace imposed largely by force while not engaging the Palestinians. Such a peace will not only lack international support, but also legitimacy in the region. Then the United States will become unable to promote an equitable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that the international community could also support. A further partition of the West Bank, imposed unilaterally by Sharon with U.S. support, is a formula for permanent conflict in the region and U.S. global isolation. As I said, this conflict and the one in Iraq have become conflated. If the United States leaves Iraq abruptly with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still going on, any subsequent Iraqi government will be both anti-American and anti-Israeli.

Gardels: Absent a multilateral or U.N. stamp of legitimacy, isn't the very presence of the United States in Iraq now seen as a provocation by the very Iraqis it is liberating?

Brzezinski: It was inevitable this would happen. Had we moved rapidly to deal with the totality of Middle East problems - above all the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - after the occupation of Baghdad, perhaps this situation could have been avoided. Instead, the United States dilly-dallied for almost a year on the peace process as resentments festered and the toll of innocent civilians killed on both sides mounted unabated. As a result, the United States is no longer viewed as an impartial and benign party in the region, but, increasingly as an occupier (of Iraq) and a supporter of occupation by Israel.

(c) 2004, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 4/12/04)