Efforts by the formidable anti-Brzezinski cabal to cut down President Carter's national security adviser in the wake of Cyrus Vance's resignation are falling short of the mark, partly because of misrepresentation, partly because Carter won't play.
The misrepresentation took a particularly malignant form when State Department officials hostile to Brzezinski persuaded the New York Times' respected columnist, Anthony Lewis, that blame for two grievous errors by the Carter administration belonged to Brzezinski.
One of these was the boomerang following Carter's March 1977 decision to pressure Moscow for radical reduction of nuclear arms; the other was the administration's inept handling of the Soviet combat brigade in Cuba last fall.
In more normal times, this kind of bureaucratic warfare, although indecently close to the Oval Office, would be tolerable. But today, with the Western alliance fractured and the Soviet Union on the move worldwide, it damages both the president and the nation. It derives from dubious concern, widely shared by bright lights in the media, that Brzezinski is the anti-Soviet warmonger that Moscow claims him to be.
In his May 15 column datelined Boston, Lewis fixed blame on Brzezinski for persuading Carter to bypass Gerald Ford's Vladivostok agreement on a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. Vance, Lewis wrote, "had wanted to follow the lines of the draft nearly agreed to by President Ford and Leonid Brezhnev."
Anti-Brzezinski activists in the arms control lobby misled Lewis. On March 18, 1977, just before the ill-fated Vance mission to Moscow in company with Paul Warnke, then chief SALT negotiator, Vance and Warnke signed a confidential memorandum for Carter, described by one State Department source as "very private." The memorandum proposed that the United States reopen the negotiations and press for what the Vance-Warnke memorandum called "a more comprehensive agreement."
That is what Carter did, calling for "significant reductions" in long-range missile launchers among other changes. Carter's choice was unsurprising. He had personally always favored this approach.
The anti-Brzezinski cabal concealed this telltale memorandum and Lewis wrote that Carter took "Brzezinski's advice [and] dispatched Mr. Vance with a new comprehensive plan for massive reductions in weapons." The new plan infuriated Moscow and set back SALT II many months, but Brzezinski was not to blame.
As for the Soviet combat brigade in Cuba, the disinformation cadre seeking to undermine Brzezinski's urging" that persuaded Carter to label the brigade "unacceptable."
In fact, it was Vance himself, in a Sept. 5 press conference, who first declared that "the maintenance of the status quo" was unacceptable, presumably meaning that the brigade would have to go. Vance's edict followed alarms from other unlikely hawks, including Sen. Frank Church, who exploited the brigade to harden his image back home in hawkish Idaho where he faces a tough reelection campaign.
But Brzezinski had counseled caution in public utterances about the brigade. One official told us Brzezinski said that while the brigade was intolerable, the United States had only limited leverage and should avoid attacking Fidel Castro. "Zbig said the brigade might turn out to be unacceptable, like the Berlin Wall."
Brzezinski was on vacation during most of the anti-Soviet posturing. He said little about the brigade publicly, not because he was uncertain what the United States was prepared to about it.
The anti-Brzezinski campaign seems to have done little so far to hurt him with Carter. White House insiders told us the first draft of Carter's Philadelphia speech on May 9 was written by State Department Soviet experts. Edmund Muskie had sworn in as Vance's successor only the previous day and had no role in the speech. When it arrived in the Oval Office, Carter rejected it. He asked Brzezinski to prepare a new one, and accepted most of what he got.
Likewise, widely published reports that Muskie intentionally excluded Brzezinski's NSC staffers from his meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in Vienna appear to be false. muskie has told intimates that he wanted to talk directly to Gromyko without his words being filtered or commented on by Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin, who had been quietly summoned to Vienna by Gromyko. Excluding the skilled and wily Dobrynin required similar treatment for NSC staffers.
The anti-Brzezinski lobby will probably get louder before it quiets down. The harm it does is not to Brzezinski, whose only client is the president, but to the perception in the rest of the world of Uncle Sam's dignity, sanity and dependability.