Washington D.C. is a town as obsessed with power as Hollywood is with fame and New York is with money. So naturally when there is a major power struggle in town it becomes Topic A.
The power struggle, so hotly denied in the beginning, between Secretary of State Cy Vance and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski is now more or less out in the open.
The interesting thing about it is that the perceptions about who is winning in this power struggle are very different, depending on whom you talk to. And that's a key part of the game: maintaining illusions.
If you ask some of the highest State Department officials they will tell you that Brzezinski has an enormous amount of power, that he seems to be winning the game, that he has the ear of the president every day.
Several in the White House inner circle say just the opposite. They say that while Brzezinski serves a purpose in presenting the other side of a case to the president, he knows his place in the White House, loses almost every big battle to Cy Vance and would never dare get out of line with the Georgia boys.
Says one Carter adviser: "Inside the White House I don't think Zbig could win a major battle with Ham or Jody. There's no question that if Jody wanted to take Zbig on Zbig would get his a-- handed to him. Just look at all the nicknames they call him [Woody Woodpecker]. If he messes with Ham or Jody he'll get his legs cut off.
"Cy," says this adviser, "does not lose many battles. He has an ally in [vice president Walter] Mondale.
If Zbig is afraid of anybody he's afraid of [secretary of defense] Harold Brown. He's a sharp customer.But Zbig does love the infight. Especially with Mondale. There's a lot of tension there. But he knows if he goes too far he'll get his fingers burned."
David Aaron was originally Vice President Mondale's foreign policy adviser when Mondale was a senator. After Carter was elected and Brzezinski was named national security adviser, Mondale wanted one of his own on the staff and he had the clout to place Aaron as Brzezinski's No. 2 even though Aaron was widely considered more liberal than Brzezinski.
The tension between Brzezinski and Aaron grew even greater, according to a former NSC staffer, as Aaron developed an identity of his own and began to emerge as a strong figure on the staff. Aaron soon was being written about favorably in the press and was seen often on the Washington social circuit.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Jasper Welch was brought into the National Security Council as defense adviser in a job on a par with Aaron's. The move prompted speculation that Aaron was being elbowed aside and that it was a slap in the face to the vice president.
"Zbig enjoys keeping people off balance," says a former member of his staff. "He genuinely respects David but he also felt in competition with him. He doesn't like being upstaged. It's complicated. There's real tension."
"I think," says former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young, "that Aaron lost power when he quit arguing with Zbig and started trying to out-Zbig Zbig."
"Can you imagine, or would you prefer," Brzezinski has said in an unpublished statement to another reporter, "that a president's assistant for national security affairs was widely seen as soft and weak, fearful of the use of power." Comparing With Predecessors
Shortly after Carter's inauguration, a small dinner was given by a new member of the administration.
The 14 or so guests were a mix of Carter people and press. At dinner, Brzezinski sat next to a reporter who spoke admiringly of Kissinger. Brzezinski waited.
"Tell me," he finally demanded, "what has Kissinger got that I haven't got?"
Henry Kissinger. Henry Kissinger. Henry Kissinger. The specter of Henry Kissinger looms over Brzezinski. And the media, which Kissinger manipulates so beautifully, won't stop comparing the two.
They are different. Everyone who knows them agrees with that. For one thing, Kissinger taught at Harvard. Brzezinski left Harvard and went to Columbia.
Once Brzezinski was asked by another reporter if he felt competitive with Kissinger.
"Not really, no," he said. "We weren't at all competitive, in fact. We always got along -- always -- and we still do; but we weren't competing. Again, there's a myth in the press that we competed for a chair at Harvard; we weren't in the same area.I was in Soviet affairs. He was in international affairs; but we kind of paralleled each other and he was always one year or so ahead of me; but he did things in the public domain and I did things in the public domain. He did them earlier than I."
"The irony of Henry and Zbig," says a high State Department official, "is they hate each other, yet Henry made Zbig possible. . . .
"Where Kissinger prevailed," says this man, is that "he handled both China and Russia brilliantly. And he could threaten the Russians one day and negotiate with them on SALT the next."
"Henry Kissinger," says a local political pundit, "is arrogant and devious. He talked soft and acted hard. But Henry was intelligent. We could tolerate Kissinger's arrogance because he was smart."
Although Kissinger himself refrained from commenting on the differences between himself and Brzezinski, those who know them both well pinpoint some: "Zbig goes for the big splashy one-shot solutions, the dramatic events. He thinks if he gets one great thing done, that's the end of the policy. Zbig was always on to the tour de force. Henry deals with things more systematically, more long range, more complicated and where his politics were not dramatic it took a long time to get to a point where the dramatic was visible. Zbig may have a more romantic view of things than Henry." Clarity of Purpose
Many foreign policy observers agree that the crux of the problem between Secretary Vance and Brzezinski is the Soviet-China situation.
"They have diametrically opposed objectives," says a senior State Department official, "and the president has never reconciled it. It is the heart of American foreign policy and their disagreement couldn't be more basic."
He points to the famous Annapolis speech on foreign policy that Carter gave -- now referred to as "one of the greatest paste jobs in American foreign policy" -- as an example of the president's not being able to decide which version to take. So he took both and put them together which left everyone confused.
This same State Department official defines the differences between Vance and Brzezinski on the China-Soviet situation this way: "Cy is a lawyer, he believes in adjudicating settlements between conflicting parties.He believes the two most powerful nations in the world contain mutual interests. . . . On the other hand, Zbig believes it is an adversary relationship at heart, that we're too naive about the Russians, that Vance doesn't understand Soviet communism which he thinks is different from Chinese communism."
". . . Zbig represents a view of foreign policy that is legitimate," says a former State Department expert, "but it's a very narrow view of what the world is about. It all begins and ends with the Soviet Union.
"His singlemindedness about the Soviets gives him power. It doesn't diffuse his energies with complexities. He doesn't have to think over what he wants to fight about.
"We went to Geneva to negotiate SALT II with Gromyko," says this same expert. "Right before, we had announced the normalization of China" -- considered one of Brzezinski's highest priorities.
"Our announcement about China was a major factor in not being able to conclude SALT. The Russians were not going to give us concessions for playing the China car."
"You don't know how to blame," says Andy Young. "But I will always wonder whether we could have been tougher with China or slower to recognize them and not lost six months on SALT."
"For Zbig," says one of the highest State Department officials, "the normalization with China meant reaching great personal heights. For him it meant Zbig over Cy, China over Russia, Zbig over Henry. It was the greatest moment of his life. China for Zbig is very heady stuff."
"Most of the time," says one White House staffer, "Carter has sided on critical issues with Vance. But every time Zbig wins, he (Zbig) goes crazy about it. He's certainly a more graceful loser than he is a winner."
As for his being an ultimate winner in the biggest games of all (becoming secretary of state), says one very close adviser to the president: "Cy's dying breath would be to stop that."
Last year Cy Vance and Paul Warnke, Carter's arms advisers, plus a team of negotiators, went to Geneva to meet with Gromyko on SALT.
Vance and Warnke were rather pleased with the way things were going and so advised the president in a cable. Brzezinski felt that Vance and Warnke had been soft on the Russians, that they had to get something more out of them, convinced the president and cabled back Vance to that effect. Vance phoned Brzezinski and asked him to please present his point of view once more to the president, and try to impress upon Carter how strongly he felt about it.
Shortly afterward, Vance went over to the Russian Embassy to continue negotiations. While he was there he received a phone call from Brzezinski. He told Brzezinski he didn't think they should be talking on the phone at the embassy which was obviously bugged.
According to subordinates who were on the trip Vance told them that Brzezinski insisted; that regarding the matter they discussed earlier, "I want you to do what I told you before." Exploiting the Personality
Old friends who try to explain Brzezinski's behavior will tell you to look at his background. He is a Polish immigrant, the son of a diplomatic family who left when the Communists took over Poland. His wife Muska is the grandniece of former Czech president Eduard Benes, who was thrown out when the Communists took over his country. This would explain, they say, some of his preoccupation with the Soviets, his brusque manner.
One of his oldest friends, writer Jerry Kosinski, who took a course from Brzezinski at Columbia, confirms this.
"First of all," says Kosinski, "it occurred to me recently that of all the emigres, we both have the most impossible names and we have both refused to change them. Our attitude, then, would be that 'I am what I am.' Not to accommodate but to co-exist."
Kosinski ascribes his behavior to the fact that Brzezinski has "trained himself to be dialectic. He sees yes and no as the same process, a person can be a friend and an enemy at the same time. To Americans, being dialectic is being diabolical, nonethical. But Zbig sees that dialectic in foreign policy is reality."
Kosinski compares Brzezinski to American southerners and feels that because of the opposite natures, he and Carter are drawn to each other.
"Under the kindness and gentility there is a harshness in southerners and you must know it," he says. "The smile is a coverup. Like Rosalynn. In the South, on the surface they are extremely gentle. But don't confuse it for weakness. There is a stubbornness there. The way Carter sees Zbig, Zbig is what Carter would have been had he been worldly. Zbig sees Carter as what he would like to have been if he'd been American.
"Ironically," says Kosinski, "brzezinski may be the first generation for Americans. He may be too American. He is a Pole in America and he has to think of himself as both."
To another reporter, however, Brzezinski vehemently denies that his views on anything, particularly the Russians, have anything to do with his being Polish.
". . . The views I have of the Soviet Union happen to be somewhat similar to the view of Henry Kissinger and to a large percent of the American people, none of whom are of Polish-Catholic origin. How do you explain that?"
(In terms of the Cold War) "So, it has nothing to do with my being a Polish Catholic, I could have the same views even if I wasn't. Therefore, we have just refuted the idea that my views are rooted in the fact that I am of Polish-Catholic origin."
At an elegant going-away party for German Ambassador and Mrs. Berndt von Staden recently, Zbigniew Brzezinski was talking to a group of about 12 people. The pope had just visited Washington and a debate ensued on the pope's position on birth control.
Brzezinski, a Polish Catholic, called for attention.
"I freely admit," he told the assembled group with a grin, "that I employ contraceptives."
It is Averell Harriman's 88th birthday, a good excuse to promote Salt II. The entire Washington Establishment shows up at the Kennedy Center for a pro-SALT film and a buffet in the Atrium afterward. Brzezinski is there, representing the president.
Some of Harriman's friends are surprised that Brzezinski showed up since Harriman and Brzezinski have been opposites on ideology. Harriman is more compatible with Vance on the Soviet question. Not only that, Harriman, wanting to have some influence over the Soviet-China debate, invited Brzezinski to stay with him in Georgetown when Brzezinski first came to Washington and before his wife and children joined him. Brzezinski accepted the offer and stayed in the Harriman's guest house for about six months. After that Harriman was more or less left out in the cold as a counsel, except for his friendship with Vance.
At the buffet in the Atrium, reporters and columnists are lined up knee-deep to glean any nugget they can from Brzezinski, who is basking in the attention.
The reporter had made dozens of requests over a five-month period for an interview with Brzezinski. To no avail. When, at the buffet, Brzezinski is talking to columnist Rowland Evans, this reporter approaches, making a final unsuccessful request for an interview. t
"You blew it," says Brzezinski with a wide grin. Then to Evans, "I told her if she wanted to do an interview she would have to come live with me. But she refused. She wouldn't do it. She had her chance."
Evans appears amused. "She was worried about her husband," Zbig continues unabashed. "But I told her I could destroy him. I can take care of him. I'm not afraid of him."
Brzezinski turns back to this reporter. "It's too late now."
But he's not finished. "You know," he beams, "another reporter just came up to me and she said, "'Zbig darling, don't ever forget. I made you.' And do you know what I said to her?" He is puffed with pleasure.
Everyone leans closer, expectantly.
"I said, 'Ah, but I haven't made you'."