Thursday, June 08, 2017


"If the template for the job of White House national security adviser had been written in the 1970s, two men, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, would have served as the models. Both were born in central Europe, had distinguished academic credentials, impeccable political connections and wrote extensively about the state of the world. And both were able to practice what they preached in print as the right hand men of the occupant of the Oval office. Brzezinski, who has died at the age of 89, was far from his predecessor’s doppelganger, but his record in office can stand fair comparison. On his watch, under President Jimmy Carter, the US normalised relations with China, severing ties with Taiwan in the process, signed the Salt Two arms treaty with the Soviet Union, brought Egypt and Israel together in the Camp David accords and concluded the Panama Canal treaty, ceding control to Panama. In each decision he was an influential player. On the downside, the US was caught flatfooted by the Khomeini revolution in Iran, allowing the deposed Shah refuge in the US, which eventually led to the Iran hostage crisis, a factor in Mr Carter’s election defeat in 1980. Brzezinski was also instrumental in arming the Afghan mujahideen after the Soviet invasion of 1979, a policy that came back to haunt the US two decades later (to prove his point, flamboyantly, he was photographed in the Khyber Pass pointing a rifle across the border). From their White House vantage point, both men had notoriously poor relations with the state department, respectively headed by William Rogers and Cyrus Vance, whom they viewed as staid and unimaginative. Vance eventually resigned in protest over the abortive hostage rescue mission in 1980, an operation Brzezinski actively supported. But both Kissinger and Brzezinski were known for their world views and doctrines, seeing the globe as a global chess board around which the US and USSR moved pieces. No national security adviser since them has had the temerity to venture so far, preferring roles as the facilitators of policies rather than as their intellectual authors".
Jurek Martin, "Zbigniew Brzezinski, US national security adviser, 1928-2017". The Financial Times. 26 May 2017, in
"Zbigniew Brzezinski had an academic background similar to Kissinger's; conceptually, though the two could hardily have been more different. Kissinger had articulated a consistent view of International affairs: one could read A World Restored (published in 1957) and find in it a generally reliable guide to the policies he would seek to implement a decade and half later. Brzezinski's writings showed no such depth. There was instead, as one critic put it, an 'enduring penchant for fashionable issues and concepts that are adopted or discarded in the light of changing circumstances, unbecoming reliance on the intellectual cliche of the moment".' "
John Lewis Gaddis. Strategies of Containment.Revised edition. (2005). p. 346.
Like his fellow European emigre, academic star and thereafter high administration official, Henry A. Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski was one of a kind in many ways. Both men were of a generation which saw American academia rises to new heights, and both men quickly became scholars for whom mere scholarship was not nearly enough to withstand the siren calls of political power to be found in Washington. Five-years younger than Kissinger, Brzezinski was slower off the mark and perhaps due to his specialization in what was then called 'Soviet studies', less able to switch as quickly to the political realm. Also unlike Kissinger, Brzezinski had a taste, or perhaps what one may characterize as a flair for running after the current day's novelties. From being one of the co-originators of the once famous 'Friedrich-Brzezinski' model of totalitarianism, to his futuristic Between Two Ages, which eventually resulted in the setting-up of the Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller in the early 1970s. As James Earl Carter's foreign policy sponsor and then National Security Adviser, Brzezinski had a very mixed-record. His semi-persistent anti-Soviet rhetoric and policies helped to put the 'detente' policies of the Kissinger era permanently on ice. Given the fact that it is now evident there was no Soviet aim or ambition to either conquer Afghanistan or for that matter Pakistan / Persia, his treating, nay opportuning the Soviets into an Afghanistan morass, is from hindsight questionable. As per contra to his later claims, it is very well imaginable that sans, the Russian Afghanistan intervention, that the dismantling of first the Russia Empire in Eastern and Central Europe and then Sovietskaya Vlast itself, would have occurred regardless. Similarly his pronounced leaning towards the Peoples Republic of China, also appears to be in retrospect questionable, given the fact that the Americans while offering the PRC much, received very little back in turn 1. Of course in that respect, Brzezinski was merely following in the unfortunate footsteps of Henry Kissinger. However, to give credit where credit is due, Brzezinski must be lauded for stepping up the Human Rights campaign against Sovietskaya Vlast. This campaign was important for two reasons in retrospect: i) it allowed the Americans to gain credit worldwide, after the debacle of Vietnam and the cynicism of the Nixon-Kissinger years for re-possessing the mantel of idealism. A weapon, while amorphous in nature, was and is vitally important in terms of 'soft power'. Similarly, Brzezinski must be credited for predicting, in the Hugh Seton-Watson Memorial Lecture (and elsewhere) in 1988 the collapse of the Soviet Empire in Central and Eastern Europe. Wherein, he predicted a (in the words of Timothy Garton-Ash) 'a 1848 in 1988' 2. Aside from this instance, there was not much by the way of glory or triumphs in Brzezinski's years out of power. Like Kissinger, he wrote a memoir, but unlike Kissinger's it was short (one volume only) and not nearly as interesting from either a historical or literary perspective. Again like Kissinger, he was never granted, rightly or wrongly access to the heights of power after he left government. In short, there was something truncated and (dare one say it?) second-rate about Brzezinski. Not so much as a man, but as a historical personality. In that respect for good or ill, he was never able to match Henry Kissinger.
1. See: Raymond Garthoff. Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan. (1985).
2. See: Zbigniew Brzezinski, "America's New Geostrategy". Foreign Affairs. (Spring 1988), p. 686, wherein he states: "In the meantime, Eastern Europe is rapidly emerging as Europe's region of potential explosive instability, with five countries already in a classic prerevolutionary situation. Economic failure and political unrest are becoming the dominant characteristics of life in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia".


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