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Video: Don't be self-righteous on Egypt, Brzezinski cautions US

The Obama administration should pay attention to 'self-restraint, tone, and discretion,' said Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser under President Carter.

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski knows and has worked with Egypt's presumed new leader, Omar Suleiman, and says he's "not a stupid guy." Furthermore, he added at a Monitor Breakfast today, the U.S. needs to be careful about overly inserting itself in the Egypt crisis, lest it stoke Egyptian resentment.

As events in Egypt unfold, the United States should avoid giving advice that sounds self-righteous but should offer Egypt help in building democratic institutions.

That is the recommendation of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser under President Carter. He is currently a counselor and trustee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, also in Washington.

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Speaking at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters Thursday, Mr. Brzezinski said, “I am not objecting to specific advice. I am concerned how it is given and what its repercussions are going to be when it is given.” He said the Obama administration should pay attention to “self-restraint, tone, and discretion” when making suggestions to players in the Egyptian governmental crisis.

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Brzezinski spoke before the Egyptian Army announced Thursday it had stepped in “to safeguard the country” and before reports came out that President Hosni Mubarak might step down Thursday night.

Brzezinski argued, “There is a lot of resentment – not just in Egypt, but in the world – about this kind of self-righteousness of America on a number of issues, which seems to be telling other countries how to run their domestic affairs at a time when one cannot entirely say our own domestic affairs are most effectively conducted.”

The longtime foreign-policy expert characterized the situation in Egypt as “a great deal of generalized disaffection without public clarity regarding what specifically needs to be done." He added, "Mubarak is a symbol of this problem. And this is why his departure is unavoidable.”

A key challenge, Brzezinski said, is, "How can you have a democracy without a process, without some institutions?” In that area, he said, the US can be helpful: "The National Democratic Committee, the Republican committee, the [National] Endowment for Democracy, the [US Institute of Peace]. They all have resources ... and I think we should be working with the Egyptians on this. We are not dealing with stupid people.”