Zbigniew Brzezinski blows the lid off Jimmy Carter's White House! Hear the Chinese vice premier forget Cy Vance's name! Read how the WASP elite is on its way out! Watch Fritz Mondale comb his hair!
It's all in "Power and Principle," a serious text on the machinations of foreign policy that's sprinkled with cheerful attacks on Brzezinski's friends, his enemies and Washington's powerful.
"I think it'll hurt me with a lot of people, sure," says Brzezinski. "I think a lot of people are going to be mad at me. I didn't write it to make them mad, but I wasn't going to write anything that wasn't true."
The Carter administration, an era that is rapidly becoming a collection of memoirs, has spent the past two years producing several versions of its own history. Jimmy Carter wrote "Keeping Faith" and Hamilton Jordan, "Crisis." Now, from the former national security adviser, comes the first book to cause former colleagues to lob grenades at its author.
"He spent four years and 573 pages trying to convince people that he never wanted to be a secretary of state, a Henry Kissinger or a Cy Vance, but after reading the book I would say he need have no fear of becoming any one of the three," says Robert Strauss, the former Mideast negotiator who Brzezinski says took the job because he thought it would make him a "Democratic Henry Kissinger, a mass-media star."
"What is this ludicrous garbage?" Patt Derian, the former assistant secretary of state for human rights, wrote for The Washington Post's opinion page. "This is the story of how the president's national security adviser tried to cut the throat of everyone who stood in the path of his power and strategic principle."
Her husband, Hodding Carter, the former State Department spokesman whom Brzezinski suspected of attacking him anonymously through the newspapers, says, "From what I hear, it's so classically Brzezinski that I'm sure he does for himself exactly what he deserves." Carter says he has not read the book. says Hodding Carter, the former State Department spokesman that who Brzezinksi suspected of attacking him anonymously through the newspapers. "It reveals him to be self-serving, singularly petty, and irresponsible."
"I don't think kiss-and-tell books have much to do with history," says Maxine Isaacs, the press secretary to Mondale. "Mondale hasn't read it, he has no immediate plans to read it, and therefore has no comment."
Neither does former secretary of state Cyrus R. Vance, Brzezinski's number-one rival, who presumably will have something to say in response when his own memoir, "Hard Choices," comes out in June. Many former colleagues aren't rushing to read it, although presumably that doesn't preclude a quick riffling of the index. Among the nonreaders: Edmund S. Muskie, the other former secretary of state from the Carter administration, and Stansfield Turner, the former CIA director whom Brzezinski says he cleverly kept from attending the morning national security briefings that he had alone with the president.
There are defenders. "Other people may find the world as portrayed in his book distorted because he'll be at the center and around the edges as well," says former defense secretary Harold Brown, a Brzezinski ally, "but that doesn't mean it's not a valuable book."
"He had a lot of critical things said about him for four years," says David Aaron, Brzezinski's former deputy, described in the book as "an energetic and competitive official" with a "keen intellect." "Maybe this is an opportunity for him to express himself on a lot of personal matters. And you should understand the pressures he was under from his publishers to get a little zip into the book. He's a foreign policy expert. If his portraits lack a little delicacy, I'm not surprised. He's not Plutarch."
And few Washington memoirs read like Plutarch's "Lives." In this city, the government autobiographies that former Carter speechwriter James Fallows once said should be entitled called "If Only They'd Listened to Me" come in two distinct forms.
There is the bland, please-everyone volume, not unlike Carter's "Keeping Faith," in which criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin is couched in statements such as: "His preoccupation with language, names, and terms could severely impede free-flowing talk." Carter's former colleagues say that in fact he couldn't stand him Begin.
Then there is the kiss-and-tell, not unlike John D. Ehrlichman's Watergate book, "Witness to Power," in which he writes that former protocol chief Shirley Temple Black "had become a matron of more than ample girth" and that Chief Justice Warren E. Burger "wanted a seat on the Supreme Court so passionately that he would have agreed to almost anything to get it."
In either case, nowhere is it more evident than in the Washington memoir that history is subjective.
Brzezinski's book, an account of political infighting that shows the competing voices of Carter administration foreign policy, also contains a long section on the SALT talks, a repeated argument for a tougher strategy toward the Soviets, a revelation that he argued for an American-supported coup in Iran, a call for a more powerful "Director of National Security Affairs" subject to Senate confirmation, and much praise for Carter and his own National Security Council staff members. Nevertheless, the history and analysis may be overshadowed by the gossip. As former Carter press secretary Jody Powell delicately puts it: "Sometimes the personal difficulties tend to distract from the policy discussions."
"I have never believed in flattery or lying as a way of making it," says Brzezinski, his leg casually thrown over the edge of a chair in his K Street office at the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies, the hard-nosed think tank. On the walls are pictures of the former national security adviser jogging with Carter in Jerusalem and playing chess with Begin at Camp David.
"I have made it on my own terms," he says. "If one starts sitting down and saying, 'Will this help me? Will this hurt me? Should I be embarrassed about that? Should I take credit for this?,' then you're not writing a memoir. You're engaging in some sort of self-serving promotion, some exercise, in effect, in deception."
In "Power and Principle," the reader is told that:
* Underneath Mondale's "genial demeanor" was "some inner tension and insecurity." He rarely thought of foreign policy except in terms of domestic politics, Brzezinski says, adding that "I was also amused by the loving way he would comb his hair in front of the mirror in his office before proceeding to any meeting."
* When Chinese Vice Premier Kang Shien visited the White House while Vance was still secretary of state, he "went out of his way" in the Cabinet Room to praise Carter and Brzezinski for achieving normalization. "Then, making no effort to whisper Kang Shien turned to the translator and said in Chinese, 'I suppose I should also mention the secretary of state; what's his name?' "
* At Muskie's swearing-in ceremony as secretary of state, he "launched into a protracted speech, which then turned into a press conference." Vance and Brzezinski left the room and went to Brzezinski's office, where they turned on the closed-circuit television to find Muskie still at the podium. "Both Vance and I were stupefied as the show went on and on. After a while, neither of us could suppress laughter, and there we were, alleged bitter enemies, giggling uncontrollably as the new secretary of state reveled in his moment of glory."
* During the Camp David talks, Brzezinski "was somewhat struck by the fact that when Stan Turner arrived to debrief the president . . . and I was lounging on the floor with a drink while the table was being set for dinner, Turner was not then invited to stay."
* When Brzezinski told Carter that the hostage rescue mission was down to five helicopters, the two were in the president's office. "Here I was, alone with the president. Perhaps I could convince him to abandon military prudence, to go in a daring single stroke for the big prize, to take the historic chance." Brzezinski never got the opportunity. A few moments later, Carter got a message from mission commander Charles Beckwith that convinced persuaded him to abort.
Does Brzezinski view this retelling as immodest?
"No, I think I say something else," he says. "Maybe I could persuade him to do it. That was a fact. You seem to think that one should somehow or other shade the truth either to accommodate some would-be powerful friends, or alternatively, to describe situations in some fashion deliberately, so no one can say, 'That's immodest.' "
There are several theories about why Brzezinski wrote this kind of book. His critics maintain that it's plain meanness. Those more generous say that Brzezinski, often described by former colleagues as both sophisticated and childlike, was unaware of what he was doing. "The policy stuff is good material for students of government, but on the other hand, you do get the digs," says one former official. "I'm not sure he knew how they'd sound."
Others say he did know--and didn't care. "This is a book by somebody who is not looking to go back to government," says David Rubenstein, the former deputy to White House domestic policy adviser Stuart Eizenstat. Eizenstat is now Brzezinski's lawyer. "It is an honest book. I think it is the best book that will come out of the Carter administration."
Brzezinski's agent, Irving (Swifty) Lazar, had a difficult time peddling the book idea to publishers at an asking price estimated at $1 million. Brzezinski eventually sold it himself to Farrar Straus Giroux for a six-figure advance. Now publisher Roger Straus maintains: "It's off like a greyhound."
But just as Brzezinski's career is often measured against Henry Kissinger's, "Power and Principle" may be compared to Kissinger's memoirs, two volumes that are more sweeping--and more politically expedient.
"I am not inclined to the view that it is worthwhile to try to do something twice," Brzezinski says. "America is not a country in which people who are prepared to make waves and to stand for something usually get a second chance. America could have a terrific government composed, let's say, of Jim Schlesinger, and Melvin Laird, in some ways John Connally, Henry Kissinger, perhaps myself. But if you're controversial, you don't make it again in America. You only make it if you're safe."
He never was in the Carter administration. Brzezinski, the hawk, faced criticism from both inside and outside the White House, yet always remained professionally--if not personally--as close to Carter as an adviser could. Many were mystified by their relationship. Just what was it that Carter saw in Brzezinski?
"In part, it was doubtless that mysterious interpersonal quality called 'chemistry,' " Brzezinski writes. "In part, it might also have been a curious cultural affinity. We were both outsiders, not just to Washington but in a larger sense to contemporary America."
Brzezinski also writes about Carter's "three smiles": the genial one for public consumption, the one he used to hide anger, and the shy, relaxed smile he would use among intimates when sharing a joke.
"When you work with someone as closely as I did," Brzezinski says, "after a while you develop a kind of additional sense. You know what he's going to say before he says it. Beyond that, I liked him a great deal, and respected him. And I think he knew that I liked him, and I think he basically liked me, even though I occasionally irritated him and drove him up the wall."
Brzezinski, a Catholic born of an aristocratic Polish family, also writes about the demise of "the once-dominant WASP elite"--a group in which he places Vance. "Cy would have made an extraordinarily successful secretary of state in a more tranquil age," he writes. "He was at his best when negotiating with the decent parties of the world . . . he was at his worst in dealing with the thugs of this world."
How much does he resent this "WASP elite?"
"Curiously enough, I don't," Brzezinski says. "I regret that it's passing . . . The problem with the WASP elite is that it is politically fragmented and no longer exercises any homogeneous influence on our foreign policy. Socially, it has become increasingly effete, weak, guilt-ridden, indecisive."
Brzezinski, 55, teaches part-time as a professor at Columbia University. He also says he has informally advised several Democratic presidential candidates, although he won't say whom. He is a foreign policy consultant to several corporations and financial institutions, but again, he won't say which ones. He says Alexander Haig used to call him for advice when he was secretary of state. He says he's making lots of money.
He is not particularly introspective about his personal side. ("I never felt the need to go to a shrink. I don't spend time contemplating my navel.") He also writes, travels, speaks, sees foreign visitors, plays tennis and says he doesn't mind hanging around Washington (he and his wife, Emilie, known as Muska, still live in Virginia) as a spectator.
"There's no doubt that the Washington political game that's played in this city is fascinating in its own right," he says. "And in a sense, the political reporters in this city become like the sports reporters. If you describe a hockey game, the action itself is so absorbing that you're not going to write a treatise on the history of hockey. Therefore, who did what to whom becomes almost a game in itself. Some people excel in it and others try to imitate it . . . Yes, I do like the game, I don't deny that. And in a way, to do what was being done, one had to play the game. But the game was not the only thing."
The interview is over. Brzezinski leans back in his chair, relaxed, a man who may well have started new Washington wars by settling old scores.
"Are you going to write my biography," he asks playfully, "when I become secretary of state in Bob Strauss' administration?"