The national security adviser in the Carter Administration, Zbigniew Brzezinski became
an active public advocate for a range of foreign policy initiatives, competing at times (a
la Kissinger) with the secretary of state for the job of spokesman for the United Nations in
its international affairs.
U.S. foreign policy had been dominated so long by Henry A. Kissinger that when President Carter appointed Zbigniew Brzezinski as his assistant for national security affairs last January, it was inevitable that comparisons would be made. And they have been, to the possible disservice of both Kissinger and Brzezinski, who despite their common credentials as foreign-born intellectuals with impressive academic credits, served different Presidents in different times.
Yet the specter of Kissinger, who shuttled across the world stage for eight years on errands of personal diplomacy, was unlikely to vanish quickly and Brzezinski, aware of the savagery of academic, press and political critics, was too smart and cautious, as his tour of duty began, to subject himself to premature analogies. For the most part he stayed in the shadows of the presidency. Furthermore, Carter had set down a commandment that foreign policy would be directed from the Oval Office, albeit with the cooperative assistance of a triumvirate composed of Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, Defense Secretary Harold Brown and Brzezinski, director of the National Security Council (NSC).
Now, after nine months, there are signs that Brzezinski is coming out of the shadows and into the light, confident of his position among the architects and executors of Carter's foreign policy and of the role established by the White House-based NSC staff. He has survived the early months of the Administration without a glove being laid on him by pedagogical combatants who do their verbal brawling in ivy-covered faculty clubs.
During a recent interview, Brzezinski conceded he had been purposely keeping a low profile. "When I first came here, I operated under a cloud of suspicion that I would use this office to undercut either the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense," he said. "I have no intention of so doing and I've said so from the very beginning. But I was sensitive to the fact that if I started running around being the object of numerous interviews and television programs, that this impression would be abetted and people would simply thrive on it…. Moreover, I do think that "in avoiding this", I can be more effective in influencing what is of central importance, namely the direction of things."
Influencing the direction of things, subtly and discreetly, and not in the flashy style of Kissinger, is indeed Brzezinski's raison d'etre as Carter's in-house foreign policy adviser. Notwithstanding his brief spell at the White House, Brzezinski already has revised his notion of what his function should be. Prior to taking over the NSC staff, he said that he would give the President advice only when asked and that he did not visualize himself as a policy maker. He saw his role, he said, as being mainly that of an operational line officer. Possibly, Brzezinski made the remark because he held an innocent view of his forthcoming role, but that seems inconceivable considering his background as a
From Dom Bonafede, "Brzezinski—Stepping Out of His Backstage Role," National Journal (October 14, 1977): 1596–1601.
Dom Bonafede was a reporter for the National Journal in Washington, D.C.