Brzezinski is incomparably qualified to explain and comment on foreign affairs in the last two decades, given his high-level academic and experiential backgrounds, and numerous current contacts. "Second Chance" begins by pointing out that the U.S., having emerged from the Cold War as the unquestioned victor, enjoyed an unprecedented degree of international dominance. Unfortunately, the subsequent three presidents squandered a great deal of its power and prestige - especially Bush II. Brzezinski's intent is to lay out all the problems in the hope that America does better when it gets a second chance after the '08 elections.
Before getting into the details, however, Brzezinski also points out that the collapse of the Soviet was NOT the work of a single person (Ronald Reagan), but the consequence of a 40-year bipartisan effort, beginning with Harry Truman, and also aided by Lech Walesa (defied communism for a decade and compelled compromises that ended communist monopoly on power and precipitated uprisings in Czechoslovakia and Hungary), Pope John Paul II (revived spiritual viability), and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Bush I, according to Brzezinski, did a good (B) job overall - his main achievements were dealing positively with Gorbachev and the U.S.S.R.'s collapse, and then building an impressive coalition to handle Hussein. His two criticisms are that Bush could have done more to resolve the Israeli-Palestine rift (though he did forcefully confront Israel's push to expand settlements), and that Bush I left the Iraq problem unresolved.
Clinton, according to "Second Chance" worked well to move former USSR warheads back into the new Russia, preventing proliferation. However, he did not effectively confront North Korea's efforts to build a bomb, and ultimately failed with Pakistan as well (ignored the fact that India's possession put enormous political pressure on Pakistan). As for the Israeli-Palestine conflict, Clinton's bringing the two parties together was a good step, though Rabin failed to renounce continued settlements; the second effort (Barak and Arafat) also failed, with even Barak's foreign minister noting that he would have rejected the offer as "too vague." Perhaps success would have been attained with more time - part of the problem was that Gore did not want pressure put on the Israeli's near his election campaign.) Another Clinton strength, per Brzezinski, was his bringing the U.S. government to surpluses, generating an even greater impression of world power. Overall, Clinton is rated as a "C" in foreign policy.
Bush II, however, is spared no scorn in "Second Chance," and rates an "F." Until '03 the world was accustomed to believing the word of the U.S. president. Our moral standing also suffered via Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo (without high level accountability), and the brutality of counterinsurgency efforts in the midst of hostile civilians. Our failure to decisively prevail further lowered America's esteem, and further helped unite our enemies and creates more terrorists. Resources diverted from the terrorist threat have led to a resurgence in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Pakistan. Taking Iraq out of the picture has also strengthened Iran; our bias towards Israel has increased - further acerbating a major issue within the Muslim world. Meanwhile, Russia and China, with their new economic strength (oil and manufactured goods, respectively), and lacking the constant mentoring and admonishments of the U.S., are becoming stronger and more involved throughout the world. Disrespectful treatment of China's President Hu during his D.C. visit (no state dinner, allowing hecklers outside the Blair House to continue late into the night, playing the Taiwanese anthem by mistake), as well as supporting more nuclear weapons for its neighgor India were also cited as mistakes by the author. Finally, Brzezinski believes our summary rejection of the International Court (even pressing to exempt U.S. personnel from local courts) and the Kyoto proposal also lowered our esteem.
The world is no longer automatically America's to lead, and by 2050 only 15% of the total population will be in North America and Europe. Hopefully, after the 2008 election we begin to regain our influence.
An excellent overview!
Aside: Brzezinski likes to use the word "Manichean." I had to look it up - means presenting or viewing things in "black and white" fashion.