Second Chance
Three Presidents and the Crisis of America Superpower
By Z. Brzezinski, summarized by Walter Antoniotti

Related Summaries  1. Storm Before the Calm   2. How Democracies Die   3. Generations 

Updated 2/16/24   Please link to ,use as textbook, and share!

The Challenge of Global Leadership

2. The Mist of Victory

3. The Original Sin

4. The Impotence of Good Intention

5. Catastrophic Leadership

6. Beyond 2008 (and America's Second Chance

8. Prediction

9. Epilogue

10. Beyond 2008-America's Second Chance

1. The Challenge of Global Leadership2

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, American leaders without any official international blessing simply began to act like global leaders. A close historic precedent was set in 1876 when the British Parliament with a de facto coronation designated Queen Victoria empress of India. Less than twenty-five years later, Britain became involved in two successive distant, self-destructive, protracted, guerrilla Boer Wars which discredited the "liberal " British empire, gave Hitler the model for concentration camps, and saw the rendition of prisoners to confinement in distant British-held islands. Symptomatic of Brittan's supremacy was an increased frequency of military engagement in combat and coercive operations.

America's emergence as the world's most powerful state saddled Washington leadership with three new central missions:
1) to manage and shape central power relationships
2) to contain or terminate conflicts, prevent terrorism and the proliferation of mass destruction weapons, and promote collective peacekeeping
3) to address more effectively the increasing intolerable inequalities of the human condition.

How did America's first three global post-cold war leaders, George H. W. Bush, William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush interpret the essence of the new era? Did they use an historically relevant vision to peruse a coherent strategy? Did their most consequential foreign policy decisions leave the world in better shape with a stronger United States? What lessons can be drawn from America's performance as the first global superpower?
  This book postulates certain basic strategic conclusions and fundamental guidelines regarding the current moment in history that ought to enlighten future American Presidents. Moreover, Americans need to ask themselves whether American society is guided by values and its government structured in a manner congenial to effective long-term global leadership. Do they understand the historical moment?

As with all Presidents, our first three global leaders differed in experience and involvement. George H. W. Bush had considerable background, knew what he wanted to do and chose a close friend with similar views as national security advisor. Bill Clinton held the view that it was time to correct years of presidential neglect of America's domestic affairs and for his first term filled leading foreign policy positions with people who were not strategically dominate. His second term brought more politically active figures. George W. Bush delegated  national affairs to a distinguished national figure until 9/11 shocked the president out of his foreign affairs lethargy. Policy then gravitated to the vice president and highly motivated officials in the White House and Defense Department.

We will find that3 Global Leader I was most experienced, diplomatically skillful, but was not guided by a bold vision at a very unconventional historic moment. Global Leader II , the brightest and most futuristic, lacked strategy consistence in the use of American power.  Global Leader III had strong gut instincts but no knowledge of global complexities and a temperament prone to dogmatic formulations.


2. The Mist of Victory
(and the Spawning of Clashing Historical Views)
Confused Expectations-The Search for Certitude

The defeat of the Soviet Union was the consequence of a forty-year bipartisan effort that spanned nine presidencies. Complicating official perceptions and tempering public expectations at the end of the Cold War was that the world America inherited as its ward was neither historically at ease nor truly at peace.  Nevertheless, America's opportunity was greater than it was in 1945 but this was less clear. American power faced no threat and the Atlantic alliance was strong.  Even more promising was America's politically cordial relationship with the developing European Union. The rise of Asia was perceived as a distant prospect. The leading candidate for a major role was Japan which was  increasingly redefined as a "Western" democracy and a member of the trilateral club with America and Europe.

But, the formerly imperial Soviet Union was experiencing soon to be violent pangs of national separation. China was in the early stages of an impressively prudent politically guided social transformation. She was still quietly savoring the success of her semi covert strategic collaboration with America in finally defeating the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This was followed by a deplorable American neglect of that country's future. The issue of nuclear proliferation gained new urgency. North Korea, suddenly bereft of Soviet protection and began to seek its own atomic weapons. India's defiance of nonproliferation was more suspect, Israel's surreptitious acquisition was hardly a secret, and South Africa's efforts were being closely scrutinized.  Iran, Syria, and others were strategically adrift because of the loss of Soviet military and political support for their hostility toward Israel.  Lastly, the Third World lost the political and economic advantage of being a Nonaligned block and socioeconomic trouble was brewing  among its politically awakened populations.



Iraq invaded Kuwait and Bush I felt America had to respond and wisely realized that the response had to respect international law and the interest of other countries. The war ended quickly and represented Bush's greatest military victory and his most conclusive political outcome. But3, Most Americans remain blissfully unaware of the old Arab grievances against British imperial domination, the unfulfilled promise of emancipation from the Ottoman rule, and the periodically brutal repression of rising Arab nationalism. During 1992 contentious squabbles slowed extensive efforts to foster peace between Israel and her neighbors without a fundamental breakthrough. See D'Arcy Oil Concession

The unfortunate result was that President Bush's unconsummated success in Iraq became the original sin of his legacy: the inconclusive but increasingly resented and self-damaging American involvement in the Middle East

The lack of a priority concerning nonproliferation became especially apparent in late 1992 when the administration's draft Defense Planning Guideline was leaked to the press. It contained sensible and tough-minded recommendations for exploiting the fall of the Soviet Union and the defeat of Iraq. It postulated a view heavily influenced by traditional balance-of-power politics while bluntly asserting American global military superiority. The zone of U.S. predominance was to expand eastward in Europe and was to be firmly consolidated in the Middle East.  The imperious overtones were tempered in the final draft by a public outcry of the March draft. The midlevel Defense Department and NSC officials who wrote the guideline were senior level officials. A decade later its principle sponsor, then the Secretary of Defense, was now Vice President Cheney.

3. The Original Sin Begins With Bush 1
(and the Pitfall of Conventional Imagination)
Victory Diplomacy-Forsaken Triumph






Summary War on Terror Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction
The Bush I administration (1989-1992)  had to confront intensive, wide-ranging global turmoil. He did a good job managing the fall of the Soviet Union by still treating them as a preeminent player. China's crisis, as exemplified by Tiananmen Square, was handled with a relatively mild public rebuke and without jeopardizing the strategic relationship that had developed between the United States and China after President Carter's 1979 breakthrough in the normalization of  relations. But the Bush administration was caught unaware of the escalating Yugoslav crisis. They underestimated the genuine depth of non-Russian nationalism within the faltering states and had considerable concern regarding the eventual collapse of "a strong center." They were  predispose to help preserve it. The lone dissenter was Secretary of Defense Chaney.  Finally, the administration was very passive toward war torn  Afghanistan with nearly 20% of its population living as refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Just days after Bush I took office, Soviet troops withdrew from their ten year invasion of Afghanistan.

They had failed to crush persistent Afghan Muslim resistance backed by a semi covert coalition of the U.S., G.B., Pakistan., China, Saudi Arabia, and others.

The deployment of U.S. troops on the sacred ground in Saudi Arabia provided the stimulus for religious fanatics to articulate a doctrine of hate for America. The Sunni Wahabis echoed, in a somewhat different terminology, the Iranian Shiite leadership's earlier labeling of America as the "Great Satan." A fatwa by a hitherto obscure wealthy Saudi militant family targeted America as the desecrator of holy Islamic sites and the principal sponsor of Israel. Al Qaeda thus made its appearance on the world stage.    

A  top priority of the Bush I administration was to make certain the Soviet nuclear arsenal did not fall into unreliable hands. A lot of energy and skill was expended to the redeployment of  weapons from newly independent Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

A late 1989 U.N. resolution cosponsored by Pakistan and Bangladesh in favor of a South Asia nuclear -free zone was passed, but failed because India opposed it.

Anxiety surfaced that North Korea might also be seeking nuclear weapons. In 1991, hoping to persuade her to accept International Atomic Energy Agency supervision, the U.S. removed its nuclear weapons from South Korea. She issued the Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In 1992, North Korea ratified the safeguard agreement with IAEA and admitted to possessing small amounts of uranium and plutonium.

















4. The Impotence of Good Intentioned Bill Clinton
(and the Price of Self-Indulgence) Shaping the Future*Indulging the Past
Editor's Note: Zbigniew Brzezinski was Carter's National Security Advisor

Summary The War on Terror Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation
Wanting to stress domestics issues, the Clinton administration (1993-2000) emphasized globalization. This  provided a convenient formula for melding the domestic and the foreign policy into a single theme and freed him from perusing a disciplined foreign policy strategy. The second term brought adjustments with new Secretary of State Madeline Albright who was strongly committed to the expansion of NATO.

The Soviet disappearance as a Soviet superpower created three significant opportunities for Clinton to pursue his agenda of enhanced global security and cooperation:
1) Limiting the arms race was helped with the consolidation of the Soviet nuclear arsenal within Russia. Started in Bush's last year, it  was completed in 1996. The 1993 Start II agreement provided significant cuts in American and Russian nuclear arsenals.
2) A more comprehensive global system of shared security was made possible by the disappearance of a bipolar world.
   The American-European partnership was upgraded to have greater global significance. The most constructive and enduring parts of  Clinton's foreign policy was the creation of a stronger relationship with Russia, the successful enlargement of NATO, and  the formation of the European Union. Editor's Note: Was Putin happy?

The passage of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade and the establishment of the World Trade Organizations marked continued progress toward global economic order.

But there were problems. The liquidity crisis in Southeast Asia, Japan's financial malaise, U.S. obstruction of the Ottawa Treaty banning land mines and the Rome Statute for the new International Criminal Court which could have made American military subject to international prosecution all  hinder global cooperation.  The U.S. Senate approval 95 to 0 of a resolution opposing the emission limiting Kyoto Protocol didn't help.

Clinton's charisma at home eventually lost some of its glow because of personal difficulties and the rising popular sentiment against social self-denial required by global leadership.
The 1993 Oslo Accords established de facto Palestinian self-rule. Prime Minister Rabin and PLO leader Arafat would later share the Nobel Peace prize. The Israeli-Jordan Peace treaty meant Israel now had normal relations with two of her three immediate Moslem neighbors.  Progress came to an end in 1995 when a Israeli right-wing fanatic assassinated war hero Prime Minister Rabin.

In 2000 Israeli-Palestinian tensions rising.  Clinton went for broke by calling a meeting between the parties at Camp David (much as President Carter had done twenty plus years earlier). What happened is in dispute. Arafat came to be widely blamed for refusing  a generous offer and Palestine claimed the offer was never spelled out formerly, with maps. Violence soon followed and led to the second  intifada (rebellion)3

As a result the US policy gradually drifted from the commitment to a fair settlement to an increasingly one-sided pro-Israel posture. Editor's Note: Americans would soon learn of a Muslim Jihad.

The issue of Iraq lingered on with periodic administration ordered air strikes against Saddam's military and a doubling of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. This provided grist for the mills of anti-American fundamentalists, notably, Osama bin Laden. Neoconservatives began campaigning for unilateral military action to remove Saddam before he could acquire weapons of mass destruction. Many of these people became officials in the next administration. 

An Iranian 1995 overture to open its oil fields to U.S. investment failed as President Clinton banned trade with extremist Iran.  Iranian moderates won the 1997 election but President Clinton feared domestic repercussions from Israeli and Iranian-American lobbies chose not to react. Before long anti American fundamentalists were back in charge.

In 1993, Al Qaeda's failed attempt to blow up the World Trade Center resulted in retaliation bombings of their operation in Sudan and Taliban controlled Afghanistan.


In 1998, Al Qaeda attack U.S. Embassies in east Africa
and the U.S. retaliated by bombings their operation in Sudan and Afghanistan


In 2000, Al Qaeda boomed the USS Cole
(CIA and legal action followed3).



A wider global system of shared security started with more effective impediments to nuclear weapons  proliferation.  A danger from the use of these weapons by impoverished countries to settle local political conflicts had emerged during the Bush I presidency. Countries included North Korea, India, Pakistan, and Libya.  In 1995 Iran contracted with Russia for the construction of the Bushehr nuclear plant.

Within weeks of Clinton's first 1993 inauguration North Korea refused  the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) demand for additional inspections and threaten withdrawal from the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The Clinton administration responded with a proposal to help North Korea with a peaceful nuclear program and promised not to use force against her, but no credible punitive threat was used. Preemptive 1996 strikes against North Korea nuclear facility were considered and rejected. Numerous political initiatives failed.

American opposition India and Pakistani's quests for nuclear weapons showed similar futility. Editor's Note: There 1998 membership into the nuclear club was a surprise to all, including the CIA.

As the North Korea saga unfolded, the U.S. administration succeeded in its efforts to obtain an indefinite extension of the NPT though French and Chinese nuclear tests made these efforts more difficult. The Senates failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and this strengthen the view of many abroad that the American quest for nonproliferation was driven by essentially monopolistic motives.




















5. Catastrophic Leadership from George Bush
(and the Politics of Fear)
The "Central Front" as the Cemetery of Neocon Dreams* And the Rest of the World


Bush II choice of top associates, vice president Chaney, secretary of defense Powell, and secretary of defense Rumsfeld  implied continuity with the realism of Bush I's foreign policy.

Initially, they focused on  Bush I's unfinished business of missile defense, military transformation, and big power relationships.


War on Terror

Strategically, the "war on terror" reflected the traditional imperial concerns over control of Persian Gulf resources and the neoconservative desire to enhance Israel's security by eliminating threats from Iraq.

Critical roles were held by national security advisor Rice, the VP's chief of staff Libby, and Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz. The later two collaborated on a 1991 strategic document articulating the case for unadulterated American global military superiority and both held strong views on the Middle East.  

Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation



The initial focus of the Bush administration
was not on nuclear proliferation.



In 2001,
at their first meeting in Ljubljana,
Bush looks into Putin's soul and
has positive vibes.
9/11/01 Occurs and the U.S. had  unanimous national and international support to overthrow the Taliban controlled government of Afghanistan, because it proved al Qaeda shelter.  
In 2002 President Bush labeled North Korea, Iran, and Iraq the "axis of evil ." The  U.S. withdraws from the ABM treaty and the International Criminal Court Treaty.  Israeli, with U.S. support, crushes the Palestine authority. Using force in Iraq was approved by Congress and  the UN. A 2002 cleavage of what to do next developed between
neoconservative Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
who wanted to follow-up against Iraq and Secretary of State Powell who was mindful  of a riskier larger war.


In 2002 North Korea rejected IAEA restrictions and states that its nuclear facilities are a discussion matter for only herself and the United States. Russia  began constructing Iran's first nuclear plant at Bushehr.


In 2003, Turkey refuses to allow U.S. troop deployment, France, Germany, and Russia openly oppose the Iraq War. Weapons of mass destruction are not found.  NATO takes command of the Afghanistan International Security Assistance Force.



It took a mere three weeks to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime.  By elevating the 9/11 criminal attack into an allegorical declaration of war, his advisors anointed the president with the status of "wartime" commander in chief with enhanced executive authority. The arrogance that swept the Bush administration was captured by Ron Suskind's October of 2004 New York Time Magazine story which a senior Bush aid derisively dismissed the criticism. Said the official," ...  We are the empire now..." Not surprisingly, a nemesis  was not long in coming. In 2003, the United States responded to North Korea's announced withdrawal from the Nonproliferation Treaty with a call for a regional solution. Russia and China block U.N. condemnation of North Korea.



In 2004, NATO expanded by seven countries and the EU expanded by ten countries. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal erupts while resistance to U.S. occupation and sectarian strife mount in Iraq. Terror bombings hit Madrid in 2004  

In 2005, Kyoto Protocol without the U.S. goes into effect. Iraqi Sectarian violence intensifies.

In 2006, Violence mounts in Palestine and Iraq, erupts in Lebanon, and resurfaces in Afghanistan.


Terror bombings hit London and 
Ahmandinejad elected president of Iran.

Bush II finally accepted the international architecture demonstrated by the Six-Party talks concerning North Korean nuclear activity and explored negotiations with Iran over the 1990
member of the "axis of evil. After the war, the U.S., rebuffed a an Iranian probe regarding the possibility of a dialogue on security, economic issues, and nuclear safeguards.
Six-Party talks (North Korea, South  Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the U.S.) concerning North Korea's nuclear program were announced, Iran promises to suspend uranium enrichment, and Libya abandoned its nuclear program.

Iran reverses its pledge not to enrich uranium.
North Korea announces it possess a nuclear weapon
Iran resumes enriching nuclear weapons.


6. Summary


Three articles of faith were largely derived from the neocons worldview
were fervently embraced by the Bush 2 administration.
They underlie the decisions that transformed military success in Afghanistan into a disaster in Iraq.

1) Terror originating from the Middle East
reflected a nihilistic rage toward America that was unrelated to recent history and political conflicts.

2) The political culture of the region respected force above all else.

3) The electoral democracy could be imposed from the outside.

War on Terror
The cost of removing Saddam Hussein were it
1) discredited America's global leadership which limiting her capacity to affect nuclear proliferation and other issues.
2) killed many.
3) created a geopolitical disaster diverting attention and over 300 billion dollars from the war on terror.
4) removed the only Arab state capable of standing alone against Iran.
5) increased the terrorist threat to the United States as it relabeled  the Iraq war as "the central front in the "war on terror."
6) enhanced the unified Islamic opinion against the U.S. and created fertile soil for new terrorist recruits.

Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction 

Mobilizing Chinese and Russian support in limiting  North Koreas nuclear efforts were undermined
by Bush's unilateral decision to abandon opposition to India's nuclear weapons program.


7. Prediction

America failed to capitalize on her Cold War victory and missed two historical opportunities.
1) failing to shape and even institutionalize an Atlantic community with a shared strategic focus
2) she failed to act decisively on the Israeli-Palestine problem.

America may have a second chance because Russia can not decide whether  she wants to be
a socially backward Eurasian authoritarian state or a genuinely modern European democracy.

China has a Far Eastern rival in Japan and has to resolve the contradiction between
her freewheeling  economy and her bureaucratic centrist political system.

India has yet to show it can sustain unity and democracy should her
religious, ethnic, and linguistically diversity become politically charged.


Success as the World's leader
will depend on her answering important questions.
Answers are not easy.

1) Is the American system structurally equipped to formulate and sustain a global policy to protect her own interests and also promotes global security and well-being? Policies with worldwide impact must no longer be structured largely on domestic stimuli. The  executive and legislative branches must have a formal policy for taking a long-range view at the global future and for consulting about needed policy.

Lobbying leaves the impression that American foreign policy is for sale needs fixing.

2) Is the American society up for a sustained leadership role that requires a degree of responsible self-restraint derived from an understanding of global trends? Material self indulgence, personal short comings, and public ignorance about the world are compounding in an increasing way. This adds to the difficulty our democracy faces in formulating a globally appealing program for effective global leadership.

3) Does America intuitively sense what the global political awakening implies?
Today's global political awakening  is socially massive, politically radicalizing, and geographically universal. It has aroused  modern populist political passions, sometimes against distant targets while not having a unifying Marxist like doctrine.  

8. Epilogue

American paramount has been described as the new global empire and history shows the longevity of empires has recently, because of political awakenings and technology, shrunk dramatically.

Populist activism's anti-Western character has more to do with historical experience and Western domination than ideological or religious bias.

By 2020 the Euro-Atlantic world will have only 15% of the world's population and
the power shift is most evident in increased Asian economic power.

Geopolitical conclusions:
1) America must preserve and fortify her special transatlantic ties.
2) Atlantic community must become open to maximum participation by all successful states.
3) America must promote Sino-Japanese reconciliation to increase China's participation in the larger global system and lower the possibility of a potentially dangerous rivalry.
4)  The G8 must be replaced with a  more relevant body with much wider participation.
5) America and her policy needs a renewal derived from the American people's appreciation of the revolutionary impact of a more politically assertive humanity.



9. Beyond 2008-America's Second Chance

Geopolitical Trends Adverse to US

1) Intensifying Arab World Western hostility
2. An explosive Middle East

3. An Iran predominate in the Persian Gulf
4) A volatile, nuclear armed  Pakistan

5) A disaffected Europe
6) A resentful Russia

7) China setting up an East Asian community
8) Japan more isolated in Asia unity

9) Populist anti-U.S. wave in Latin America
0) Breakdown of the nonproliferation regime

Grading the Presidents
  Bush I Clinton Bush II
Atlantic Alliance A A D
Post-Soviet Space B B- B-
Far East C+ B- C+
Middle East B- D F
Proliferation B D D
Peacekeeping na B+ C
Environment C B- F
Global Trade/Poverty B- A- C-
Overall Solid B Uneven C Failed F
Comment Tactical skill but missed
strategic opportunities
Major gap between
potential and performance
A simplistic dogmatic worldview
prompts self-deceptive unilateralism

Quick Notes Footnotes
1  From the 2007 first edition
2. Table, column and row titles, and name abbreviations are by Walter Antoniotti
3. Walter's addition
4. Authors note: I have concentrated on the war on terror and nuclear proliferation at the expense of activities associated with Israel, China, Russia, Palestine, Lebanon, the new "Global Balkans" many more important topics.

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