Zbigniew Brzezinski has written a memoir. The white hat is known as "I." The black hat is Cyrus Vance: "Vance seemed to be the quintessential product of his own background: as a member of both the legal profession and the once-dominant WASP elite, he operated according to their values and rules, but those were of declining relevance. . . . All in all, in temperament and in training, Vance was a representative of an elite that was no longer dominant either in the world or in America. (President) Carter certainly never was part of that America, and it certainly was not easy for me to relate to it either."

Some redeeming qualities are conceded to the bete noire. Vance is "really a very pleasant person to deal with . . . even though I am often frustrated by what the State Department stands for. . . . There is no doubt he is a very good person . . . really a very decent person . . . what is quite impressive is how well briefed he is on most of the issues."

Not only that, Vance "giggl(ed) uncontrollably" with Brzezinski. However, he did have irritating personal qualities. Vance "had a way of very pleasantly blinking his eyelashes. . . . I was struck by how often the habit manifested itself in Cy's dealings with the President."

Washington didn't measure up either. Brzezinski's "impressions of Washington social life were less than ecstatic. . . . Hypocrisy seems to be the dominant style in personal relationships around here." Attend, Washington, those are the words of a master.

Brzezinski hates all these people. It's probably because he sees himself as the "object of envy and resentment, and also of much criticism"--"backstabbing," too. Well, tough guys know how to hurt a fellow and the mighty must be felled.

Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's "elevator shoes" are noted along with Brzezinski's detection of "the country boy's (the president of the United States) awe for the elegance of the Parisian intellect (Giscard's)," and "the loving way (Mondale) would comb his hair in front of the mirror." George Ball seems to be a liar--"apparently he falsely told Vance"--and Harold Brown, Brzezinski's "closest partner," "annoyed me" when he was "attempting to score points with the President."

Even after a "substantive briefing" and stressing of something important to Candidate Carter, Brzezinski had to give "him a memo to that effect." It was the same with Ed Muskie: "the President approved an instruction . . . that he should read his talking points to Gromyko and actually hand over a so- called nonpaper to him. I felt that this would be a desirable precaution, given that Muskie had previously not engaged in international negotiations and that it was important the he convey accurately to Gromyko, both in substance and in tone, the message we wanted."

What is this ludicrous garbage? This is the story of how the president's national security adviser ("I was his only peer") tried to cut the throat of everyone who stood in the path of his power and strategic principle.

Any success Brzezinski credits to himself. All failures of policy, will, judgment and patriotism are specifically assigned to others. "It bothered me--and after the SCC meeting I confided these feelings to some of my NSC staffers--that the one to speak up for American honor was a naturalized American. I wondered what this indicated about the current American elite and whether we were not seeing here symptoms of a deeper national problem." Right!

Though buried in this mire are some foreign affairs views that deserve examination, they are not what make this book worth reading now. Its utility is in the explicit description of the brutal and damaging bureaucratic infighting that impeded articulation of a rational foreign policy under Jimmy Carter. And it could provide chilling insights into how the game is played today between the national security adviser, the secretary of state and the political triumvirate in the White House, since articulation of foreign policy hasn't improved with the Reagan administration.

Brzezinski has given us, all unaware, a national tragedy. When Carter awarded the Medal of Freedom to Brzezinski, he said: "He has never tried to take credit for success, nor has he ever tried to blame me as president or anyone else for a failure. . . . It's so easy for someone who works within the inner circles of the White House . . . when something goes wrong very quietly, very subtly to say I recommended one thing, the president or the secretary of state or the secretary of defense did something else. Zbigniew Brzezinski has never done that. I am deeply indebted to him, and I think the nation shares the debt."

Brzezinski has waited until now to do all those things the president said he didn't do. On that basis, the nation doesn't owe him a thing.