Profile: Zbigniew Brzezinski
Positions that Zbigniew Brzezinski has held:
- National Security Advisor during the administration of President Jimmy Carter
“I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot…. Pol Pot was an abomination. We could never support him, but China could.”
[Blum, 1995; Z Magazine, 1997]
August 18, 2002
“Public support should not be generated by fear-mongering or demagogy, with some of it encouraged by parties with a strategic interest in fostering American-Arab hostility.”
[Washington Post, 8/18/2002]
Zbigniew Brzezinski was a participant or observer in the following events:
In 1977 Zbigniew Brzezinski, as President Carter’s National Security Adviser, forms the Nationalities Working Group (NWG) dedicated to the idea of weakening the Soviet Union by inflaming its ethnic tensions. The Islamic populations are regarded as prime targets. Richard Pipes, the father of Daniel Pipes, takes over the leadership of the NWG in 1981. Pipes predicts that with the right encouragement Soviet Muslims will “explode into genocidal fury” against Moscow. According to Richard Cottam, a former CIA official who advised the Carter administration at the time, after the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1978, Brzezinski favored a “de facto alliance with the forces of Islamic resurgence, and with the Republic of Iran.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 241, 251 - 256]
Paul Warnke, at a 1986 press conference. [Source: Terry Ashe/Time and Life Pictures / Getty Images]President Carter’s nomination of Paul Warnke to head the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) galvanizes opposition from conservatives throughout Washington.
Long Record of Opposing Arms Buildup - Warnke, a trial lawyer who began his political career as general counsel to the secretary of defense under President Johnson and established himself as an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, has a long record of favoring negotiations with the Soviet Union over confrontation. His 1975 article in Foreign Affairs magazine, “Apes on a Treadmill,” ridiculed the conservative idea that the only way to counter the Soviet nuclear threat is to build ever more nuclear weapons, and earned the lasting enmity of those same conservatives. “We can be first off the treadmill,” he wrote. “That’s the only victory the arms race has to offer.” Carter also wants Warnke to head the administration’s negotiating team in the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) with the Soviets. [New York Times, 11/1/2001; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 101]
Conservative, Neoconservative Counterattack Creates Grassroots Element - The Committee on the Present Danger (CPD—see 1976) leads the opposition to Warnke’s nomination. Even before Warnke is officially nominated, neoconservatives Penn Kemble and Joshua Muravchik write and circulate an anonymous memo around Washington accusing Warnke of favoring “unilateral abandonment by the US of every weapons system which is subject to negotiation at SALT.” The memo also cites the conclusions of the Team B analysts (see November 1976) to deride Warnke’s arguments against nuclear superiority. Shortly after the memo, one of the CPD’s associate groups, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM) creates a “grassroots” organization, the Emergency Coalition Against Unilateral Disarmament (ECAUD), that actually functions out of the CDM offices in Washington. ECAUD, though an offshoot of the CDM, has a leadership made up of conservatives, including the American Conservative Union’s James Roberts, the Republican National Committee’s Charles Black, and the Conservative Caucus’s Howard Phillips. The directors of Young Americans for Freedom, the Young Republican National Federation, and the American Security Council (see 1978) are on the steering committee. And the executive director is Morton Blackwell, a hard-right conservative who works with direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “Thus were the views of neoconservatives, hawks, and traditional conservatives given a populist base.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 101-102]
Contentious Confirmation Hearings - Scoblic describes the opposition to Warnke at his Senate confirmation hearings as “vicious.” Eminent Cold War foreign policy expert Paul Nitze (see January 1976) lambasts Warnke, calling his ideas “demonstrably unsound… absolutely asinine… screwball, arbitrary, and fictitious.” Neoconservative Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) gives over his first Senate speech to blasting Warnke; Moynihan’s Senate colleague, neoconservative leader Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s) joins Moynihan in criticizing Warnke’s nomination, as does Barry Goldwater (R-AZ). Another conservative congressman accuses Warnke, falsely, of working with both Communists and terrorists: according to the congressman, Warnke is in collusion with “the World Peace Council, a Moscow-directed movement which advocates the disarmament of the West as well as support for terrorist groups.” Heritage Foundation chief Paul Weyrich uses Viguerie’s mass-mailing machine to send 600,000 letters to voters urging them to tell their senators to vote “no” on Warnke. [New York Times, 11/1/2001; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 103-104]
Warnke Confirmed, but Resistance Established - Warnke is confirmed by a 70-29 vote for the ACDA, and by a much slimmer 58-40 vote to head the US SALT II negotiating team. The New York Times’s Anthony Lewis later writes of “a peculiar, almost venomous intensity in some of the opposition to Paul Warnke; it is as if the opponents have made him a symbol of something they dislike so much that they want to destroy him.… [I]t signals a policy disagreement so fundamental that any imaginable arms limitation agreement with the Soviet Union will face powerful resistance. And it signals the rise of a new militant coalition on national security issues.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 104]
Effective Negotiator - Warnke will resign his position in October 1978. Though he will constantly be under fire from Congressional conservatives, and will frequently battle with administration hawks such as National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, he will earn the respect of both American and Soviet negotiators. In 1979, disarmament scholar Duncan Clarke will write that the Soviets come to regard Warnke as one of the toughest of American negotiators, with one Soviet official saying: “We always wondered why Americans would pay so much for good trial attorneys. Now we know.” Warnke will have a strong influence on the eventual shape of the final SALT II agreement (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979). [New York Times, 11/1/2001; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 104] Upon his death in 2001, fellow negotiator Ralph Earle will say, “Arms control will be forever on the agenda due in large part to Paul and his articulation of the importance of the issues.” [Arms Control Today, 1/1/2002]
Entity Tags: Duncan Clarke, Zbigniew Brzezinski, World Peace Council, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, Charles Black, Barry Goldwater, ’Team B’, Anthony Lewis, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Richard Viguerie, Ralph Earle, Penn Kemble, Paul Weyrich, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., James Roberts, Johnson administration, J. Peter Scoblic, Howard Phillips, Joshua Muravchik, Paul Nitze, Paul Warnke, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Committee on the Present Danger, Emergency Coalition Against Unilateral Disarmament, Morton Blackwell
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
In December 1978, President Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski says, “An arc of crisis stretches along the shores of the Indian Ocean, with fragile social and political structures in a region of vital importance to us threatened with fragmentation. The resulting political chaos could well be filled by elements hostile to our values and sympathetic to our adversaries.” [Time, 1/8/1979] There is widespread discontent and rioting in Iran at the time. State Department official Henry Precht will later recall that Brzezinski had the idea “that Islamic forces could be used against the Soviet Union. The theory was, there was an arc of crisis, and so an arc of Islam could be mobilized to contain the Soviets.” [Scott, 2007, pp. 67] In November 1978, President Carter appointed George Ball head of a special White House Iran task force under Brzezinski. Ball recommends the US should drop support for the Shah of Iran and support the radical Islamist opposition of Ayatollah Khomeini. This idea is based on ideas from British Islamic expert Dr. Bernard Lewis, who advocates the balkanization of the entire Muslim Near East along tribal and religious lines. The chaos would spread in what he also calls an “arc of crisis” and ultimately destabilize the Muslim regions of the Soviet Union. The Shah will later comment in exile, “I did not know it then, perhaps I did not want to know? But it is clear to me now that the Americans wanted me out. Clearly this is what the human rights advocates in the State Department wanted. What was I to make of the Administration’s sudden decision to call former Under Secretary of State George Ball to the White House as an adviser on Iran? Ball was among those Americans who wanted to abandon me and ultimately my country.” [Engdahl, 1992] While there is later debate about US policy towards Iran actually is at this time, it will be noted that the Carter administration had “no clear policy” due to internal divisions and confusion. [Keddie, 2003] The Shah abdicates on January 16, 1979, and Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile to Iran on February 1, 1979, taking over the government. Brzezinski will attempt to create a de facto alliance with Khomeini’s new fundamentalist government, but his efforts will come to a half with the Iranian hostage crisis in November 1979 (see February-November 4, 1979).
After the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is deposed in Iran and Ayatollah Khomeini takes over as Iran’s new leader in February 1979, the US is interested in continuing to work with the Iranian government. At first the US is taken aback by the new fundamentalist Islamic government, and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski contemplates fomenting a military coup to stop Khomeini. But Khomeini is fiercely anti-communist, and Brzezinski soon decides that Iran’s new government can become part of an effective anti-Soviet alliance he calls the “arc of crisis’ (see November 1978-February 1979). The US embassy in Teheran, Iran, remains open, and more US officials come to Iran and begin tentative talks there. [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 236-243] The CIA in particular begins secretly collaborating with Iranian intelligence, providing information about the Soviet Union, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The CIA and Iran both covertly work to destabilize the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan. [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 264-265] In early November 1979, Brzezinski secretly meets with Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, as well as Iran’s foreign minister and defense minister, in Algiers, Algeria. But shortly before the meeting, the US agrees to allow the Shah, dying with cancer, to come to the US for medical treatment. Khomeini is enraged, and on November 4, just three days after the Algeria meeting begins, Khomeini arranges for students to take over the US embassy in Teheran and seize hostages. This realigns political forces in Iran and allows Khomeini to sideline Bazargan and other others meeting in Algeria, rendering the negotiations there moot. Brzezinski’s attempts to create a de facto alliance with Iran collapse. The US hostages will be held for over a year before finally being freed. [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 240-243]
President Carter authorizes covert aid for opponents of the Communist government in Afghanistan. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Adviser, will state in 1998, “According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the mujaheddin began… after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan… But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.… We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.” [Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), 1/15/1998] After Brzezinski’s confession, other US officials who denied US involvement prior to the Soviet invasion will change their story as well. For instance, Charles Cogan, who is head of the CIA covert aid program to Afghanistan at this time, will call Carter’s approval on this day a “very modest beginning to US involvement.” [Cooley, 2002, pp. 10] In fact, even this is not correct because the CIA had been aiding the rebels since at least the year before (see 1978 and 1973-1979). The Soviets invade Afghanistan by the end of 1979 (see December 8, 1979).
Soviet tanks entering Afghanistan in late 1979. [Source: Banded Artists Productions]The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. The Russians were initially invited in by the Afghan government to deal with rising instability and army mutinies, and they start crossing the border on December 8. But on December 26, Russian troops storm the presidential palace, kill the country’s leader, Haizullah Amin, and the invitation turns into an invasion. [Blum, 1995, pp. 342] Later declassified high-level Russian documents will show that the Russian leadership believed that Amin, who took power in a violent coup from another pro-Soviet leader two months before, had secret contacts with the US embassy and was probably a US agent. Further, one document from this month claims that “the right wing Muslim opposition” has “practically established their control in many provinces… using foreign support.” [Cooley, 2002, pp. 8] It has been commonly believed that the invasion was unprovoked, but the Russians will later be proven largely correct. In a 1998 interview, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, will reveal that earlier in the year Carter authorized the CIA to destabilize the government, provoking the Russians to invade (see July 3, 1979). [Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), 1/1998; Mirror, 1/29/2002] Further, CIA covert action in the country actually began in 1978 (see 1978), if not earlier (see 1973-1979). The US and Saudi Arabia will give a huge amount of money (estimates range up to $40 billion total for the war) to support the mujaheddin guerrilla fighters opposing the Russians, and a decade-long war will ensue. [Nation, 2/15/1999]
Front row: Pakistani President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq (left) and President Carter (right). Zbigniew Brzezinski is in the center of the back row. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski writes a memo to President Jimmy Carter about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which has just begun (see December 8, 1979). Brzezinski focuses on fears that success in Afghanistan could give the Soviets access to the Indian Ocean, even though Afghanistan is a landlocked country. He suggests the US should continue aid to the Afghan mujaheddin, which actually began before the war and spurred the Soviets to invade (see 1978 and July 3, 1979). He says, “This means more money as well as arms shipments to the rebels and some technical advice.” He does not give any warning that such aid will strengthen Islamic fundamentalism. He also concludes, “[W]e must both reassure Pakistan and encourage it to help the rebels. This will require a review of our policy toward Pakistan, more guarantees to it, more arms aid, and alas, a decision that our security problem toward Pakistan cannot be dictated by our nonproliferation policy.” Carter apparently accepts Brzezinski’s advice. Author Joe Trento will later comment, “With that, the United States agreed to let a country admittedly in turmoil proceed to develop nuclear weapons.” [Trento, 2005, pp. 167-168] Trento and fellow author David Armstrong will add: “Once [Pakistan] became a partner in the anti-Soviet Afghan campaign and the Carter administration adopted a more lenient view of Pakistan’s nuclear activities, the [procurement] network [run by A. Q. Khan] expanded its operations dramatically. It would soon evolve into a truly global enterprise, obtaining the vast array of sophisticated equipment with which Pakistan would eventually build a bomb.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 99]
China and the US sustain the Khmer Rouge with overt and covert aid in an effort to destabilize Cambodia’s Vietnam-backed government. With US backing, China supplies the Khmer Rouge with direct military aid. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser during the administration of President Carter, will later acknowledge, “I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot…. Pol Pot was an abomination. We could never support him, but China could.” Between 1979 and 1981, the World Food Program, which was strongly under US influence, provides nearly $12 million in food aid Thailand. Much of this aid makes its way to the Khmer Rouge. Two American relief aid workers, Linda Mason and Roger Brown, will later recount, “Thailand, the country that hosted the relief operation, and the US government, which funded the bulk of the relief operation, insisted that the Khmer Rouge be fed.” By the late 1980s, US aid is officially at $5 million. But this is supplemented significantly by secret CIA support to the tune of between $20 and $24 million. In total, perhaps as much as $85 million is ultimately funneled to Pol Pot’s group through various channels. The US and China are also responsible for the Khmer Rouge retaining its seat at the UN General Assembly. During this period, Khmer Rouge fighters attack “Cambodian villages, seed minefields, kill peasants and make off with their rice and cattle… [—] But they never seriously… [threaten] the Phnom Penh government.” [Blum, 1995; Z Magazine, 1997; Covert Action Quarterly, 1998 ]
A State Department report finds that Pakistan is “within 12 to 18 months” of exploding a nuclear device. The assessment is drafted by an official named P. D. Constable of the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, and is sent to the National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 82]
[Source: USIS, American Embassy]Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski publishes a book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, in which he portrays the Eurasian landmass as the key to world power, and Central Asia with its vast oil reserves as the key to domination of Eurasia. He states that for the US to maintain its global primacy, it must prevent any possible adversary from controlling that region. He notes: “The attitude of the American public toward the external projection of American power has been much more ambivalent. The public supported America’s engagement in World War II largely because of the shock effect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.” He predicts that because of popular resistance to US military expansionism, his ambitious Central Asian strategy can not be implemented, “except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat.” [Brzezinski, 1997, pp. 24-25, 210-11] The book also theorizes that the US could be attacked by Afghan terrorists, precipitating a US invasion of Afghanistan, and that the US may eventually seek control of Iran as a key strategic element in the US’s attempt to exert its influence in Central Asia and the Middle East. [Brzezinski, 1997]
In an interview, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Adviser, admits that it was US policy to support radical Islamists to undermine Russia. He admits that US covert action drew Russia into starting the Afghan war in 1979 (see July 3, 1979). Asked if he has regrets about this, he responds, “Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.” Then he is asked if he regrets “having given arms and advice to future terrorists,” and he responds, “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?” The interviewer then says, “Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.” But Brzezinski responds, “Nonsense! It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn’t a global Islam….” [Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), 1/15/1998] Even after 9/11, Brzezinski will maintain that the covert action program remains justified. [Nation, 10/25/2001]
The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC) is founded by Freedom House. Its mission is to promote a “peaceful resolution of the Russo-Chechen war.” Board members include Zbigniew Brzezinski, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Steven J. Solarz, and Max Kampelman. ACPC’s regular members include Richard Perle; Elliott Abrams, Kenneth Adelman, Midge Decter, Frank Gaffney, Bruce Jackson, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, James Woolsey, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, among others. The APC is closely tied to the American Enterprise Institute and the Jamestown Foundation and National Endowment for Democracy and other US democratization initiatives. [Guardian, 9/8/2004; American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, 11/15/2005]
Entity Tags: National Endowment for Democracy, American Enterprise Institute, Jamestown Foundation, Norman Podhoretz, Robert Kagan, James Woolsey, William Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Bruce Jackson, Frank Gaffney, Midge Decter, American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC), Kenneth Adelman, Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Max Kampelman, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Zbigniew Brzezinski, Stephen Solarz
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence
In a Washington Post op-ed piece, Zbigniew Brzezinski reprimands the Bush administration for its reckless foreign policy, saying that “war is too serious a business and too unpredictable in its dynamic consequences—especially in a highly flammable region—to be undertaken because of a personal peeve, demagogically articulated fears or vague factual assertions.” Brzezinski, the National Security Adviser to President Carter, adds that “[i]f it is to be war, it should be conducted in a manner that legitimizes US global hegemony and, at the same time, contributes to a more responsible system of international security.” He then makes several recommendations for improving US foreign policy, including a summary of “a wrong way for America to initiate a war.” [Washington Post, 8/18/2002]
In a speech, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski observes that in 1963, during the Cuban missile crisis between the US and the USSR, Secretary of State Dean Acheson offered to show French President Charles de Gaulle satellite photographs of Soviet missiles in Cuba to support President Kennedy’s request for French support in case the US needed to go to war with the US. De Gaulle replied that he did not need to see the photos, that Kennedy’s word was good enough for him. In April 2004, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, reflecting on Brzezinski’s words and the raft of lies and misinformation that led the US to invade and occupy Iraq, will write, “Who would now ever take an American president at his word, in the way that de Gaulle once did?” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 426]
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser to President Carter, is grim about the ramifications of a US military strike against Iran. “I think of war with Iran as ending America’s present role,” he says. “Iraq may have been a preview of that, but it’s still redeemable if we get out fast. In a war with Iran, we’ll get dragged down for 20 or 30 years. The world will condemn us. We will lose our position in the world.” Brzezinski says that success in Iran is simple: the US just needs to outwait Iran. “The mullahs aren’t the future of Iran, they’re the past,” he says. [Washington Post, 4/12/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 346]
The Wall Street Journal prints an editorial questioning Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s record at Columbia University in New York City. Obama began his attendance at that university in 1981 and graduated with an undergraduate degree in 1983. The Journal does not directly assault Obama’s record of attendance, nor does it challenge the diploma he earned there, but instead accuses Obama of “barely mention[ing] his experience” at Columbia in his two published memoirs, accuses the Obama campaign of “refus[ing] to answer questions about Columbia and New York—which, in this media age, serves only to raise more of them,” and asks: “Why not release his Columbia transcript? Why has his senior essay gone missing?” (There is no senior thesis—see October 21, 2009). After noting that the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) has refused to release McCain’s records from the US Naval Academy, the Journal calls Obama “a case apart” because of his lack of “a long track record in government.” It accuses Obama, in his memoirs, of “play[ing] up certain chapters in his life—perhaps even exaggerating his drug use in adolescence to drive home his theme of youthful alienation—and ignor[ing] others.” Citizens and journalists attempting to “exercise… due diligence” in the days before the presidential election are, the Journal claims, “meeting resistance from Mr. Obama in checking his past.” The Journal claims that one of Obama’s Columbia-era roommates, Sohale Siddiqi, has confirmed Obama’s transformation in New York from a dissolute youth to a serious young man, telling an Associated Press reporter: “We were both very lost. We were both alienated, although he might not put it that way. He arrived disheveled and without a place to stay.” The Journal writes, “For some reason the Obama camp wanted this to stay out of public view,” and claims, “Such caginess is grist for speculation.” It speculates that Obama’s Columbia transcript might “reveal Mr. Obama as a mediocre student who benefited from racial preference,” though, noting that Obama later graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, says he obviously “knows how to get good grades.” The Journal echoes “others” who “speculate about ties to the Black Students Organization, though students active then don’t seem to remember him,” along with tales from “the far reaches of the Web [about] conspiracies about former Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who became the candidate’s ‘guru and controller’ while at Columbia in the early 1980s.” The Journal notes that Brzezinski “laughs, and tells us he doesn’t ‘remember meeting him.’” The Journal concludes that few remember Obama during his two years in New York. “Fox News contacted some 400 of his classmates and found no one who remembered him,” it reports. Obama himself has told biographer David Mendell that during his time at Columbia, “I was just painfully alone and really not focused on anything, except maybe thinking a lot.” The Journal concludes: “Put that way, his time at Columbia sounds unremarkable. Maybe that’s what most pains a young memoirist and an ambitious politician who strains to make his life anything but unremarkable.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/11/2008]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.