Choosing a Constituency
Last April Dr. Zbigniew Brzenski's wife, Muska, had an art show at the Pyramid Gallery. The opening night was filled with members of Washington's power elite, including senators, representatives, people from the White House and State Department, many ambassadors and even Rosalynn Carter.
"Mom, is the president coming?" asked 14-year-old Mark Brzezinski.
"No, no, Rosalynn was here."
"But Dad's telling everyone he's coming."
"You'd better go talk to your father. The president's too busy to come.It was so lovely of Rosalynn to do so."
The reason why the Brzezinskis attract such a crowd is that Zbigniew plays very well to the most important audience in town. . . the president.
The great mystery still is, what does the president see in Brzezinski?
"I think," says Bob Strauss, formerly President Carter's Middle East negotiator and now running his campaign, "that Zbig has an exceedingly facile, imaginative, creative mind. He also has a considerable understanding of what makes things happen in the world, how power is used. You can agree or disagree with his philosophy or conclusions, but the president likes to sip from more than one cup when he goes to the decision-making process for advice.
"No one advises more crisply and precisely than Zbig. That doesn't mean that the president always or even often takes that advice. But the president finds him very challenging."
"I don't think," says former U.N. ambassador Andy Young, "that the president is aware of the animosity towards Zbig around town."
One of the most important reasons the president is fond of Brzezinski, say those who know Carter well, is that Carter is loyal and Brzezinski was the first member of the foreign-policy community who took an interest in him.
"He was for Carter," says a former colleague of Brzezinskis, "when nobody else was for Carter. That's a very endearing characteristic. There was Zbig willing to support him actively and to help him."
Brzezniski was a founding member of the now-famous Trilateral Commission. He loves to tell the story of how Carter came to Japan when Brzezinski was living and writing there. Carter gave a press conference and invited Brzezinski to come. Brzezinski was so impressed that he sent Carter a check for $20 for his presidential campaign.
After that, Brzezinski began sending Carter little notes with advice, and then offered to list himself as a supporter. "I had a gut feeling that he would be president," Brzezinski explains now.
Not to be discounted, Brzezinski observers point out, is the fact that Rosalynn Carter likes Brzezinski. "He has courted her assiduously," says one source close to Rosalynn. And, too, say Rosalynn observers, she likes his, tough, hard-line approach to things. It makes the president look tougher, more like a leader.
Brzezinski has also courted the 1> president's secretary, Susan Clough. He writes her little notes, plays little tricks on her and calls her on the phone frequently with little tidbits. lOnce, when a reporter spent several hours talking to Clough in her office, Brzezinski called at least three times to talk to her, a little joke here, a little piece of gossip there.
There is another thing, too.
Brzezinski is trying to appeal to Carter by trying to be "one of the boys," according to White House insiders.
According to one of Brzezinski's social friends, his greatest social hit with the president so far has been the disco dancing.
"It's not at all characteristic," says a good friend and staffer who finds his behavior puzzling. "He's a quiet family person, with no desire to publicize himself. I suspect in his job it's very hard to do, though, if he has a desire to disco, not to see himself in the paper. You can't do one without the other."
"And he works so hard at it," says one of Carter's closest advisers. "He's so proud of his dancing. So proud of it."
His big problem, says this man, is that "he's heavy, there's no lightness there. A joke is a serious undertaking."
A recent joke between the president and his national security advisor was over rhinoceros horns, according to a Wall Street Journal story. When the president of Zaire gave Carter rhinoceros horns as a gift, Brzezinski sent Carter a note saying that rhinoceros horns were an aphrodisiac and asking whether he could borrow them. Carter replied, "If you certify the need and identify your partner."
"The key to all of this is his relationship with the president," says a hostile State Department source. "The fact is that he has tremendous hold over the president. The president is tenacious in protecting Zbig against his enemies."
Many anti-Brzezinski sources said at the end of their interviews, "If you're looking for balance, call Henry Owen." Henry Owen is in charge of foreign economic affairs on the National Security Council and has been a Brzezinski advocate for years.
Here's what Henry Owen says about his boss: "The question you have to ask is this. Does the person in that job have the wit to define the separate functions? Can he provide the president with intelligent foreign-policy advice, separate it from his own advice, and expose it to the other agencies? My impression is that he does. . ." But he adds, "My view is not worth much money. Because we're very close friends." Pursuing the Correct Rivals
In the spring of 1978, the Vance-Brzezinski rift grew to such proportions that the House International Relations Committee wrote a letter to the president asking who was running the foreign-policy show.
This development might have been an outgrowth of the natural rivalry inherent in the two foreign-policy jobs.
At about the time the House committee queried the president, Vance was planning to give a speech on African policy.
The speech enunciated a "positive" U.S. policy toward the conflicts in Africa rather than Brzezinski's confrontational policy. At a crucial moment, Vance went to extraordinary measures to bypass the national security affairs adviser. Vance sent an assistant over to the White House, where, by prearrangement, the chief usher of the White House living quarters came out to the south lawn in his formal clothes. There the papers were delivered into the usher's hands to take directly to the president.
Later that afternoon, the speech came back with notes in the margin by the president approving what Vance wanted to do.
This bureaucratic end run enabled Vance to enuciate a U.S. policy of seeking accommodation rather than confrontation in Southern Africa without the risk of immediate objections from the NSC.
"There's a tragic quality about the situation between Cy and Zbig," says one of the highest officials at State. "From the beginning, everybody in the foreign-policy community knew there would be trouble between the two. But Vance didn't fully understand how bad it would be."
One of the instruments of communication with the president is "the nightly note" sent to the president from the secretary of state each evening.
Every other communication from the State Department or Defense goes through the national security adviser's desk. This is where Brzezinski can put a covering memo over anyone else's memo, or kill it entirely. It is accepted practice, however, that he cannot prevent "the nightly note" from going through. He just gets a copy. Often this is Vance's only means of communication with the president unless he calls him. "But," says one very high up and very frustrated former State Department official, "Zbig has sat on memos Cy sent over for weeks and Vance refused to call the president." o
There are those who feel that both the attitude of an adversary relationship with the State Department and the cult of personality built up around the national security adviser are unhealthful.
"The person in that job ought to have, as Roosevelt put it, 'a passion for anonymity,'" says one person who no longer works with Brzezinski.
Not unlike his predecessor, Henry Kissinger, Brzezinski has turned the job of national security adviser from that of someone who assimilates opinions and facts and presents them to the president, into that of someone who formulate policy.
Henry Kissinger has been very explicit, in his book, "White House Years," about saying he does not feel it is healthful for the government to have the role of national security adviser as he or Brzezinski have performed it. He feels it automatically sets up a conflict with the State Department that is not constructive.
According to Kissinger, "the best national security adviser was Gen. Brent Scocroft, (NSA under Nixon and Ford after Kissinger) because he was strong enough, he was not at all a pushover, but he was a great orderer of operations. He was totally trustworthy in reflecting the views of the participants and he had complete trust of the presidents."
"The role of the national security adviser is what the president decides it should be," former arms negotiator Paul Warnke, who quit last year to return to his law practice with Clark Clifford. "It is a mistake to pick someone with Zbig's backgroud. The role ought to be that of honest broker, a conduit, but if you pick a Henry or a Zbig you are tacitly saying that the National Security Council is a source of policy and you can't expect them not to be."
"If Carter didn't want him to play that role he would stop it," says a former Brzezinski staffer. "Its the fault of the president. If the president spoke with a clear voice, the fact that Zbig and Cy didn't degree wouldn't matter."
There are others who feel that, although Brzezinski is a constant headache for Vance, he has not been all that successful in influencing policy.
Even though he didn't work at the White House, Andy Young was one of the Georgia mafia -- worked with Carter in Atlanta and is close to those around him. He doesn't worry about Zbig taking over. He does point out, as one high-ranking ambassador says, "that the person who puts the last chit on the memo before it goes to the president has power."
"In any showdown between the two of them, Cy has always prevailed," says Andy Young. "But Cy has got to be there fighting, and every now and then on the everyday stuff, Zbig just slips stuff through and Cy doesn't feel like fighting about it."
"The fact that anybody can keep a score of wins and losses in that job," says columnist Joe Kraft, "is a testimony that you've mishandled the job."
One of the problems of doing an article on Brzezinski is that no one from the State Department will talk on the record. Few White House people will, either, although everybody will talk off the record.
"Vance," says a top State Department person, "gives table-pounding orders -- you will not speak evil of Zbig. Yet what Zbig does on the record to Cy is devasting, not to mention off the record."
"Part of Cy's problem," concludes this person, "is that when Carter consulted Vance about choosing Zbig as national security adviser before he was inaugurated, Vance told Carter he could get along with him."
"I've been a corporate lawyer," he told the president.
Brzezinski is very sensitive to the charge that he and Vance don't get along well because he understands, in the subtlest of Washington power terms, that Vance is very popular and has a large constituency. Recently, in an interview, Brzezinski claimed he and Vance really were friends. As an example, he said he and Vance, their wives and another couple had watched the election-night returns together. He agreed that they didn't see eye to eye on "some of the more sensitive aspects of our relations with the Soviets; but that's normal.
"What has developed this conflict," he said, "is something else, namely subordinates. . . and more so in the State Department than in my shop, because it's larger and also more insecure: and that has developed out of a fear of these subordinates that I would somehow or other encroach on Cy's role.
"It's not entirely an accident that whenever I did something that was reasonably useful or important, there would then be the wave of allegations or criticism or innuendoes. . . The newspapers," he concludes, "particularly in Washington, like conflict -- personal conflict. They were looking for conflict between me and Cy. When it didn't develop, they simply had to produce it."