Choosing a National Security Advisor; Beware of the Chinese Menu; Part 2

Let’s continue our study of Brzezinski and Kissinger. While both had personal politics, neither had political aspiration. Each had a patron, someone within the political structure who circumvented the political and social barriers to the corridors of power. Kissinger’s patron was Nelson Rockefeller; Brzezinski’s was David Rockefeller.

The Rockefellers compensated for a defect of our system. Without them, the choices were lesser men (yes, in those days, men), maybe hacks, who knew how to work the system (suck up, kiss down), but little else. They might be lawyers, not a great asset. Lawyers tend to think like lawyers.  They might be politicians, not so great either. Politicians spend so much of their mental energy trying to understand the electorate, it gets in the way of understanding totally alien cultures and their murderous inclinations.

Brzezinski and Kissinger were both college professors. Brzezinski was a people person. His own “pollster”, he spent years traveling around Eastern Europe, talking to ordinary people, getting their ideas for a better world. In retirement, his NPR interviews displayed a genuinely humble person. In the Forecasting World Events program, when a prediction was requested for a minor European election, he suggested instead a question about tennis. He was a tennis enthusiast.

  • Takeaway #1`: Neither spent their lives seeking this job. Unintentionally, they spent their lives in preparation.

The Carter Administration was humiliated by the Iran hostage crisis. Little known, Brzezinski  responded with the start of rapid deployment forces and  Special Missions Units, later publicized as Delta Force, SEAL 6, etc. The initiative has been of lasting value in projection of American power, yet others typically get the credit.

A harder edged personality, Kissinger was a networker, organizer, and negotiator. Some of the hard edge is softened by the critical self evaluation of his autobiography. Kissinger’s ties were mostly with the elite, but he carried on a personal dialog with the anti-war movement. Inner humanity is best revealed by the need to be understood.

  • Takeaway #2: They had expansive job approaches, going beyond definition.

You can have an advisor who is smaller than the job, or one who is bigger. There is no “just right.” Distinguish between personal presence and depth. Some personal presence is necessary to get the attention of the bureaucracy, but it’s useless if the ideas are NFG. Above all, look out for “power for power’s sake.” The job title tends to attract it.

Both Brzezinski and Kissinger were refugees from Hitler’s Nazism. They shared, like many others of this background, a professional cynicism, a large part of what the international relations people call “realpolitik” and “realism.” I’m not getting academic here. People use these words, and this is where it comes from.

  • Takeaway #3: Their inclinations were forged in the crucible of life.

These persons managed to cut away from the common herd. There aren’t a bunch of copies walking around; these men were originals. What were their secrets?

If each man had been handed the other’s problems, would the same solutions result? That’s where luck comes in.  With Kissinger’s comfort moving among elites, he  juggled,operated and resolved conflicts between the Western Bloc, the Eastern Bloc, and  Third World clients of the same.  Brzezinski, primed by his one-on-one interactions with residents of Eastern Europe,   sensed ripeness for change. In response, he replaced Kissinger’s détente with a policy of peaceful confrontation.

  • Takeaway #4: Lefty Gomez again. They were right for the times.

Replacing détente was not a partisan move.  Cyrus Vance, secretary of state under Carter, preferred the continuation of Détente. Foreign policy is used as a political football, but since World War II, the relationship with the issues of domestic politics has been weak and occasional.  This is changing, with major conflict between the “internationalists”, and the “nationalists.” Is there a compromise?

Next: Retrospective.  To be continued shortly.





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