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Zbigniew Brzezinski: Syrian conflict ‘not as horrible or as dramatic as it is portrayed’

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Jeff Poor
Media Reporter

On Tuesday’s “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, former Carter administration national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, the author of “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power,” went against the grain and downplayed the ongoing crackdown on rebels in Syria, saying that “it is not as horrible or as dramatic as it is portrayed.”

Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haas, Brzezinski’s co-panelist on the morning program, asked if one of the appropriate measures would be for Syria’s neighbors in the Middle East to withdraw their diplomats from Russia to show their disapproval of Moscow’s support for Syria.

“I don’t think the Russians will be terribly impressed by that,” Brzezinski said. “Ambassadors will be gone and what has changed in Syria is the consequence. I think the fact of the matter this issue is extraordinarily sensitive.”

“At the same time,” he added, “it is not as horrible or as dramatic as it is portrayed. If you look at the world in recent years, the horrible war in Sri Lanka, the killings in Rwanda, and the deaths in Libya and so forth. You know, let’s have a sense of proportion here. This is a neurologic part of the world in which all of a sudden if we are not intelligent about it we can create a nexus between a difficult internal problem which has not assumed huge proportions yet and a regional problem and a global problem which involves our relationships with the other major powers, particularly Russia, but also the negotiations with Iran over the nuclear problem.”

Brzezinski said an agreement would have to involve Russia, but also China and the major European powers as well.

“It’s not going to be solved by recalling ambassadors from Moscow or telling the Russians they are acting like thugs,” he said. “The fact of the matter is unless there is international cooperation which results in some proposal that the Assad government can live with, and which involves some sort of supervised effort to establish some domestic consensus, this conflict is going to go on. And let’s not exaggerate this conflict.”

He said that the Syrian uprising is distinct from other conflicts because violence isn’t widespread geographically, the army has remained intact and the business elite has remained supportive of the Assad government.

His “Morning Joe” co-panelists, including Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, seemed to disagree with Brzezinski by saying the level of violence was horrific, citing the massacre at Houla as an example.

Brzezinski reacted by saying that acting on the emotional appeal of one incident would create a much worse problem.

“Don’t put me in a position of defending brutality and knifing people,” Brzezinski said. “Frankly, that’s not the issue. We do know these things happen, and they are horrible. They also happened on a much larger scale in many other countries in which we have not intervened. My point here is we are dealing in a region with which all of these issues are interconnected. And if we act simply on the basis of emotion and sort of vague threats that the Russians have to be forced to be good boys, we’re going to produce a region-wide outbreak in which the issues within Syria will become linked with the conflict between the Saudis and the Shiites. Iraq will become destabilized. Iran will be involved. The Israelis on the side are also interested in not having a particularly strong Syria. So they are watching here carefully.

“We are watching the breakdown of negotiations with Iran on top of it,” he continued. “And we’ll have a major international problem on our hands with political and economic consequences that are very serious. And what I hear is a lot of emotion and sloganeering. But I haven’t heard what the secret plans of the White House is conceiving actually are on how they’re going to be implemented unless we get international cooperation on it.”

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