Through the big black door with the bold brass lock steps Dr. Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski. Looking good. Lithe and lean. And even though his mother worries that he doesn’t take his vitamins, you can tell he is thriving on power. This once-upon-atime Canadian who used to be Polish and is now American strides through the White House like he owns it. His confidence is only capped by his arrogance. Later, when I am invited back through that black door and into the cavernous office behind, I ask what he will do next. He chuckles. He grins. He says: “Well, I’m a Catholic. Maybe I’ll be the first lay Pope.”
Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, has emerged as probably the single most influential voice in American foreign policy today. He is a major mover of the Western world. His critics liken him to Dr. Strangelove. They call him a “cold war warrior” a hard-line anti-Communist with little concern for détente. A scholar turned bureaucrat who intends, above all else, to outKissinger his old rival Henry Kissinger. His disciples, and there are many, say he is a driving force for a new world system that puts humanity and caring before hegemony and commerce. In truth he cannot be categorized, despite his prolific writings— 210 articles and eight books. Like his boss and pupil,the President, he is avery political animal.
Most of his family still lives in Montreal. And in a sense he is once again part of Canadian life—although he has not lived north of the border for 28 years—because the plans and policies for which he is responsible affect us all. And one cannot help reflecting that if the United States is keeping a close watch on Quebec’s political instability (which it is) the reports go to Brzezinski. If contingency plans are being drawn up to deal with Canada’s prospects should Confederation totter (and diplomatic Machiavellianism would seem to dictate that such plans are in existence) then the man behind them is Brzezinski. His parents live in a modest little house on Madison Avenue in a middle-class neighborhood of Montreal. Mrs. Leonia Brzezinski, crippled with arthritis, fairly puffs up with pride when she talks about her son. Two stories, having taken on the aura of parables in the family history, come spilling out.
When Zbigniew was seven years old the family went on vacation to the Carpathian Mountains in southern Poland. One hot, humid day they returned from a long diffi-
cult climb and as his mother now remembers it: “Everybody ran for water. But he stood. No. He would not drink. He would stay dry, parched. He wanted to experience for himself the suffering that was going on at that time in other parts of Europe.” Later, on returning home to Warsaw, the young Brzezinski refused to sleep in his bed. He chose to rest on a hard wood floor. Again, he wanted to experience the suffering of others in order to “understand.” Zbigniew was an enfant terrible. Sensitive with a flair for the dramatic. Able by single small gestures to grab attention, keep it, and make lasting impressions. One of his recent and most damning critics wrote at the time of Brzezinski’s appointment to the White House: “In many ways he is the ideal talk show guest, quick and smooth and sure. Those qualities can seem to transform fairly simple ideas into impressive insight.”
Obviously, it is his name that strikes you first. It could hardly be more foreign to the English tongue. Then comes the accent, unmistakably Eastern European. Polished with an old world charm, edged with pre-
Zbig on foreign policy priorities:
f f The first is to identify the United States and perhaps the West more generally with certain fundamental values which are other than just material. This is where human rights become very important. If the West doesn V stand for something more than consumption, it will risk historical decline. The second is to build a wider, more competent, international system going beyond the traditional alliances and becoming less preoccupied with EastWest confrontation. Thirdly is for the United States to help resolve those conflicts which threaten international order, notably the Middle East and southern A frica. And fourthly, to sensitize the world's governments and world public opinion to certain global problems which call for collective responses — notably nuclear proliferation and arms transfers.
cisión. He is now just 50 years old. Trim, in well-cut, three-piece suits. A long face below brushed-back receding reddish brown hair. Darting blue eyes, full of expression even though he keeps them narrowed, Mongol style. Women, especially those of a certain age, find him attractive.
To friends and family he is known as “Zbig” (giving the White House “wags”— “wits” would be too strong a word—the opportunity to wonder aloud if he will “grow too Zbig for his britches”). He has deliberately cultivated a low-key, full-offriendship-and-shared-responsibility image within the Carter administration hierarchy and among his own staff. In some ways he is intensely private, protecting his wife and family from publicity and curiosity. But at the same time he keeps a fairly large public relations staffbusy. No shrinking violet, his appetite for power is fed by high ambition.
He was born in Warsaw of a Polish aristocratic family in 1928. His father, Tadeusz, was a diplomat with the prewar Pilsudski dictatorship. The family moved during the Thirties to embassy assignments in France, Germany and then in 1938 to the consulate in Montreal. The Nazi invasion and then the Communist take-over of Poland made them permanent exiles. They lived in Westmount, part of the intellectual émigré community, and bought a small farm north of the city. Zbigniew and his two brothers attended private Catholic schools. In 1950 he was graduated with an MA and first-class honors from McGill.
He spent 12 formative, growing-up years, from age 10 to 22, in Canada. When he left it was for Harvard where in three years he earned his PhD in Eastern European studies and was appointed an assistant professor. The word most often used to describe his early academic career is “brilliant.” He married an American girl, Mushka (the grandniece of Eduard Benes, the last non-Communist President of Czechoslovakia) and soon after took U.S. citizenship himself. He has three children.
Brzezinski left for Columbia University in 1960 and from a New York City vantage eased his way into the Democratic Party’s foreign policy establishment. He worked as a “think tank” consultant to Lyndon Johnson defending or remaining politically silent and uncritical throughout the worst of the Vietnam War. His attitude, widely decried as “loyalty over principle,” set him up for 1968 and a job with Democratic Presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey as chief academic adviser.
The Nixon years were put to good use as he formed a power base, along with banker David Rockefeller, in the Trilateral Commission, a Rockefeller-inspired institution aimed at perfecting a new political-business world order. Through it Brzezinski met prospective Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. He became Carter’s first foreign policy instructor and wrote all his campaign speeches on foreign policy. Along with a couple of members of the so-
called “Georgia mafia,” Brzezinski is as secure with the President as any kissing cousin. His appointment as national security adviser was one of the first Carter made on coming to office.
The prestige and the power of the job are reflected in its trappings. Brzezinski’s office is but a few seconds down a wide corridor from the President. Through that black, brass-fitted door, past a bevy of secretaries and guards huddled into a cubbyhole outer sanctum, then into the huge corner room. Heavily curtained and high ceilinged, it smacks of old-time grandeur. A mounted globe in the corner, a massive walnut desk dominate. There is a thick, deep blue carpet, an atmosphere of authority. He is charming, totally relaxed and seemingly open. It is only when you touch on sensitive subjects that you find how evasive he can be.
I wonder if he still has a feel for Canada, and ask him what impressions remain. He answers, as always, with the certainty of a television newsreader. There is no pause for thought. “Oh, I remember the snow. I very much miss a real Canadian winter. Another impression is the compartmentalization of life. I really had no contact whatever with the French-Canadian community. I remember as a small child in Montreal being asked by my teacher along with my classmates to identify ourselves by nationality. Most said Irish or Scottish or English. I said Polish. The only kid who said he was Canadian was the only French Canadian in the class of 20.” There emerges a sympathy, a regret for the Quebec cultural dilemma. “We were terribly remote from the French culture of the province. And, unfortunately, in the social sense, we had a feeling of hierarchy.”
It is hard to draw him out on meaningful
Canadian issues. I ask about a classified “study” he wrote for the State Department on French-Canadian nationalism while he was teaching at Columbia. “It was just a very brief think piece precipitated by the defection from the Liberal Party of Mr. Lévesque. It simply suggested that unless English Canadians took some remedies that were timely, there would be a very serious problem of separatism in Canada. That’s all it said. I am not embarrassed to have made that analysis in 1966 or 1967 as the case may have been.”
And what if Quebec votes for separation, if the province breaks away, what will be American reaction? “I am not prepared to speculate on hypothetical situations.” He is adamant. But there must surely be contingency plans? “1 am not aware of any,” he says. “1 know of no contingency plans dealing with the breakup of Canada. We are operating on the assumption that we will have a strong and healthy Canada to the north of us, as a neighbor. And we welcome that. What more can I say?
What more he can say, we don’t know, because he doesn’t say.
Brzezinski has grown steadily if quietly more assertive during his first year in the White House. Like those who have gone before him he seeks to influence the President, not just provide policy ideas. His readiness to take on the Russians (this is said to be an instinctive attitude, a product of his strong Roman Catholic beliefs, his upper-class East European background and his training as a specialist in Soviet affairs) was given sway from the start with the “human rights” program. Other Western leaders, Pierre Trudeau among them.
advised that a more diplomatic, backroom approach paid off better. But pushed by Brzezinski, Carter turned the issue into a moral crusade, confronting the Soviets on what they claim is a domestic affair. As a result, we have seen some of the worst dissident crackdowns of the decade and further restrictions on exit visas. At the same time, U.S.-Soviet relations have deteriorated noticeably and Strategic Arms Limitations Talks have stalled.
The whole business is classic Brzezinski. The idea is superbly simple, inarguably right, a broad brush concept with drama and flair. It has worked at home to draw support—who could be against human
rights?—but out where it matters, in Moscow and Tehran, Seoul and Pretoria, nothing has changed for the better. To date it’s a flop. One Washington observer notes: “You see, on the surface the idea is deep. But deep down, it’s shallow.”
Harvard professor Stanley Hoffmann, a longtime Brzezinski rival, seems to agree with that assessment. He says: “Maybe the thing I am most mad at in the case of Zbig ... he was a man who could have been an absolutely first-rate scholar. And to me he has a little bit prostituted that talent in order to get power.”
Whatever recognition Brzezinski has gained, he has certainly worked for it. And
never harder than now. He gets to the office soon after seven and rarely leaves much before nine at night. Does he enjoy the job? “I have very little time for conscious enjoyment of it. When it’s finished I will probably say to myself, sadly, I should have savored it more when 1 had it. But when you are in here you don’t have very much time to enjoy it because you are continually struggling with difficulties.”
Back in Montreal, his parents are concerned about the toll on his health. Says his mother: “I am worried, yes. How can anyone work all the day and then all the night without stopping?” His father interjects: “We are so proud that he is able to put into effect so many good ideas. The idea of human rights, increasing cooperation among the Western countries.” Back to his mother: “If you say that I am worried he would be furious with me. He calls us every week. I always ask about his health and he doesn’t like it. I send him vitamins but he gives them to his dog.”
Vitamins or no, Brzezinski does not lack vitality. And yet interestingly, he does not use it for internal politicking. When McGeorge Bundy held the NSC job, back in the Kennedy years, there was constant friction with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and the power plays were often vicious. And of course, when Kissinger held the office he used it to humiliate Secretary of State William Rogers during the first Nixon administration. Brzezinski has a warm personal relationship with Cyrus Vance, however, and there seems to be no back stabbing. “1 want to prove that in this day and age of very rapid and intense change the President can have around him a team of people who work together well,” Brzezinski says. “I see the challenge before me not to undercut my colleagues.”
Some years ago Brzezinski accused Kissinger of indulging in diplomatic “acrobatics” at a time when “architecture” was called for. Now he shies away from comparisons, but when pressed he says: “It is important to realize that we are in our first year here, and if comparisons are to be made, they should be made with his first year. The comparison of Henry’s eight years should be made to our eight years— if we have eight years.
“Henry and I are reasonably good friends. When I say reasonably good friends, I am being precise. To me, the word ‘friend’ means something. I don’t like to describe someone as my friend and then be asked if I know the name of his wife or his children and have to confess that I don’t. We are not intimate friends, but we are certainly very good acquaintances.” For the next three years, the remainder of Carter’s present term, Brzezinski is likely to stay as national security adviser. After that, should the President win another election, there is considerable speculation that the former Canadian will be the next secretary of state. For Carter remains an avid fan. But if that doesn’t work out, there’s always the Vatican ...
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