The week the Iraq war started, in March 2003, Zbigniew Brzezinski received a briefing from President Bush's top security advisers: Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Dr. Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, asked them whether they were "really confident" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
"I've known some of them for 20 years," he recalled at a Monitor breakfast Thursday. "They looked me in the eye, and each of them said, 'We know, Zbig, we know they have weapons of mass destruction.' I was skeptical."
Brzezinski then recounted appearing on national television the day the war started, and saying that he prayed to God that there are WMD in Iraq, "because if we started this war on false assumptions, it's going to be very costly."
Today, Brzezinski says, his fears have been realized. In the session with reporters, he said he believes Mr. Bush has resigned himself to bequeathing the war to his successor – and that whoever succeeds him will end the war. The question is, how?
Brzezinski lays out a two-point plan for the US: First, he says, go to the Iraqi leaders and say: Let's sit down and discuss a jointly defined date for departure.
"And when I say Iraqi leaders, I don't mean just the guys in the Green Zone. I mean a lot of the guys outside of the Green Zone," the guys with militias, Brzezinski says. "A lot of the guys in the Green Zone – not all, but a lot of them – will pack their bags and leave when we leave."
Next, he says, he would suggest a US departure in about a year, and see which Iraqi leaders are prepared to go along with that. "My guess is it will be the guys who are not in the Green Zone, but who have the militias," he says.
Brzezinski would, at the same time "and more overtly," set in motion a process of "really consulting" all of Iraq's neighbors, plus possibly Pakistan, Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt, about arrangements for security in Iraq after the US leaves.
"All of these countries have a stake in Iraq not blowing up," he says. "And the fact of the matter is, if you go around Iraq and look at each country systematically, whether it's Iran or Turkey or Syria or Jordan or Saudi Arabia, each one is seriously threatened if Iraq blows up."
Some of that is already being done by those countries on their own in an effort to promote regional stability, he notes. But he sees a US-led effort to engage these countries in a collective effort as helping a great deal to absorb the "shock effects" of a US departure.
"My final point is, yes, there will be some escalation in the violence when we leave," he says. But "I don't subscribe to the view that it's automatically doomed to become an explosion."
Brzezinski has just published a new book called "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower." In it, he critiques the three most recent US presidents' performance on foreign policy – the first leaders of the post-cold-war era. He gives the first President Bush a "B," President Clinton a "C," and the current President Bush an "F."
And how about the president he served from 1977 to 1981? In the foreign-policy arena, Brzezinski said, Mr. Carter had three good years and one bad one, marked by the Iran hostage crisis. But he did not assign a letter grade.
[Editor's note: The original headline misidentified Brzezinski's former position.]