Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, told Congress the war in Iraq was a calamity and was likely to lead to "a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large."
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, Brzezinski skewered Bush administration policy as driven by "imperial hubris" and as a disaster on historic, strategic and moral grounds.
While other former U.S. officials and ex-generals have criticized administration policy in committee hearings, none savaged it to the degree Brzezinski did.
"If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, and I emphasize what I am about to say, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large," said the security adviser in the Democratic administration of former President Jimmy Carter.
He set out as a plausible scenario for military collision: Iraq fails to meet benchmarks set by the administration, followed by accusations Iran is responsible for the failure, then a terrorist act or some provocation blamed on Iran, and culminating in so-called defensive U.S. military action against Iran.
That, Brzezinski said, would plunge the United States into a spreading quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Proposing a massive shift in policy, Brzezinski, who holds a senior position at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the United States should announce unambiguously its determination to leave Iraq "in a reasonably short period of time."
Second, he said, the United States should announce that it is undertaking talks with the Iraqi leaders to jointly set with them a date by which U.S. military disengagement should be completed.
Instead, he said, the administration is developing a mythical, historical narrative to justify the case for a protracted and potential expanding war.
Initially based on false claims Iraq had secret arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, Brzezinski said "the war is now being redefined as the decisive ideological struggle of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism."
Also testifying, Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to Republican Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, said a buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq "might be a positive blip" if it helped stabilize Baghdad, but it would not change the situation in Iraq fundamentally.
‘A tactic, not a strategy’
"It is a tactic, not a strategy," the former Air Force general said.
Scowcroft recommended that U.S. troops gradually be deployed away from sectarian conflicts in Iraq, which should be handled by Iraqi troops "however well or badly they are able to handle it."
U.S. troops should concentrate on training the Iraqi army, combating insurgents, limiting outside intervention and helping to protect Iraqi institutions, he said.
"That does not mean that the American presence should be reduced," Scowcroft said. "That should follow success in our efforts, not the calendar or the performance of others."