- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sometimes, a seemingly intractable problem can be resolved, paradoxically, by expanding that problem. In broadening the scope of the problem to be solved, strategic rather than tactical or piecemeal solutions may be found. Iraq is a case in point.

Daily events in Iraq fixate public attention. Debate is, for the moment, irreversibly split between letting the surge play out and beginning a staged troop redeployment and drawdown. The long term is measured in news cycles, not years or decades. Meanwhile, disaster lurks.

The civil war and insurgency along with Shi’ite-Sunni violence could expand into the region. Iraq could disintegrate. And local powers such as Turkey and Iran could find themselves drawn into the conflict.

By dramatically expanding this “problem” into thinking about what happens post-Iraq, interesting questions arise. What would a post-Iraq war world be like? Will it resemble the aftermaths of World Wars I and II, the Cold War or the first Gulf War? Or will this era mirror post-Vietnam, with no real strategic consequences? What will America’s role be in this era and will the United States still have sufficient influence and credibility to exert major leadership? If not, who might?

As a first cut in answering these “mega-questions,” Zbigniew Brzezinski’s stunning new book “Second Chance” argues that the next president will have the opportunity to restore American leadership. While Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser inspires hope and reason in making his case, given the potential for catastrophe in the greater Middle East and the unsparing hostility of domestic politics growing even worse over the next 20 months, answers to these questions cannot be deferred.

Two hundred years of history broaden this perspective even further.

With the demise of Napoleon and the Concert of Vienna, Europe was largely stable for a century. World War I destroyed that system, tragically sowing the seeds for World War II. From World War II came the Cold War and the dominance of the United States and the Soviet Union. This bipolar world focused attention on the two competing alliances. American strategy was principally crafted in terms of deterring and containing the Soviet-Communist empires and then leveraging Beijing against Moscow.

After the Soviet Union imploded, we entered a so-called unipolar moment with one remaining superpower — us. Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, went further, declaring that the United States had become the world’s “indispensable” power. Of course, in retrospect, it is unclear what benefit America derived as sole superpower.

In a post-Iraq-war world, the most significant security challenges will not be centered exclusively on competing alliances, competing states and competing armies. Underscoring this point is the dilemma in Iraq today of how the world’s best army defeats an adversary that lacks one.

Violence will not be restrained as the Darfurs, Somalias and other human crises suggest. And the metastasizing of jihadist extremism under a charismatic and determined leader such as Lenin or Hitler is a nightmare that too easily could happen.

The traditional European powers of Britain, France, Germany and Russia each lack the resources and clout to fill the role of global leader. Organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations are also limited. For the moment, China and India seem to be driven by commerce and economics. And Japan cannot fill any vacuum. The damage done to the United States by its Iraq intervention is still to be determined.

So, over the next 20 months, before a new president has the opportunity to take the reins, what should we as a nation be considering? Following World War I, the United States largely withdrew from international politics or at least from assuming a leading role. Following World War II, quite the opposite occurred, although the expansion of the Soviet Union westward and the descent of the Iron Curtain were powerful motivating forces. Post-Iraq, there may not be an equivalent forcing function. Yet, the options of American impotence or some form of withdrawal and retraction are unacceptable and may prove dangerous if not disastrous.

Broaden the problem. All responsible states have shared and common interests. Over the coming months, we should be considering ideas, including whether a global form of NATO partnership or other cooperative structure can be fashioned to address the many cross-cutting challenges of proliferation, disease, climate change, environmental disaster, instability and mass violence that endanger virtually everyone. As the U.N., World Bank and IMF were created after World War II, what modernized or new institutions are needed for a post-Iraq world? For example, can the Six Party Talks over North Korean nuclear ambitions be broadened in membership and scope to take on global proliferation of dangerous weapons and materials?

We must be creative. From that process of creatively broadening the problems, good ideas will emerge. Leadership can then follow.

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