By Bill Trott
(Reuters) – Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser during the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and drove a normalization of relations with China, has died. He was 89.
Brzezinski’s daughter Mika, a host on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, said her father died peacefully on Friday. She did not give the cause of death.
“He was known to his friends as Zbig, to his grandchildren as Chief and to his wife as the enduring love of her life. I just knew him as the most inspiring, loving and devoted father any girl could ever have,” she said on Instagram.
Brzezinski, the hawkish son of a Polish diplomat, was national security adviser for all four years of the 1977-81 Carter presidency. The period saw tumultuous international events, including the Iranian revolution, the taking of 52 Americans as hostages in Tehran and a failed rescue mission, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Brzezinski was plucked by Carter from the academic world and saw many of the Soviet Union’s foreign policy moves as evidence it could not be trusted.
That placed him at odds with two of Carter’s closest advisers: Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who pushed for a Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT-2) with Moscow, and Defense Secretary Harold Brown, who urged a U.S.-Soviet accord to curb conventional forces in Europe.
When Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, Brzezinski strongly backed arming Afghan rebels.
His hardline stance led Pravda, the Soviet Communist Party newspaper, to denounce him as a “foe of detente.”
Carter said Brzezinski was brilliant, dedicated and loyal.
“Rosalynn (Carter’s wife) and I are saddened,” he said in a statement. “He was an important part of our lives for more than four decades and was a superb public servant.”
Former President Barack Obama called Brzezinski “an accomplished public servant, a powerful intellect, and a passionate advocate for American leadership.
“His influence spanned several decades, and I was one of several Presidents who benefited from his wisdom and counsel. You always knew where Zbig stood, and his ideas and advocacy helped shape decades of American national security policy.”
In a joint statement, former President George H. W. Bush and his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, hailed Brzezinski as “a great American … a good man and a good friend.”
While he was skeptical of Soviet motives and objectives, Brzezinski nurtured a diplomatic friendship between the United States and China, which culminated in a trip to Beijing in June 1978 that led to re-establishment of diplomatic ties.
Brzezinski’s view of the Soviet Union may have been colored by his childhood experiences. Born in Warsaw, Poland, on March 28, 1928, he was taken as a youngster to Canada where his father served as a diplomat. When the communists took over Poland at the end of World War Two, the family remained in the West.
Brzezinski received a doctorate from Harvard University in 1953 and became an American citizen in 1958.
He voiced support for U.S. policy in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, and served on the policy planning staff of President Lyndon Johnson’s State Department.
Along with David Rockefeller, chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank, Brzezinski helped to found the Trilateral Commission, a private group that promoted closer ties between North America, Western Europe and Japan.
Carter had known Brzezinski before his election and asked him to leave Columbia University, where the effects of Soviet communism had been the focus of much of his work.
Having regular access to Carter gave Brzezinski vast influence, leading to reports that he and Vance were rivals for the president’s ear. The rivalry lasted until Vance resigned after the aborted mission to rescue American hostages in Iran in April 1980.
Before the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, Vance had resisted Brzezinski’s proposal that Washington back a military crackdown against Iran’s radical Islamic forces.
Once the embassy was taken by followers of Islamic leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Vance sought Carter’s backing for an attempt to come to terms with Khomeini. Brzezinski characteristically favored military action to free the 52 American hostages and punish Iran.
Carter eventually accepted Brzezinski’s proposal for the ill-fated mission, in which eight servicemen died.
Brzezinski also took part in negotiations toward the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979, which was seen by many as the major achievement of Carter’s presidency.
Despite his lifelong antipathy to Soviet communism, he joined Defense Secretary Brown in spearheading an unsuccessful drive to win Senate approval for the 1979 SALT-2 arms control accord.
Although it never cleared the Senate as a result of the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, SALT-2 remained in unofficially effect beyond its original five-year lifespan.
After the Carter years, Brzezinski became a consultant on international affairs and a senior adviser at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. He also taught foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University.
He wrote frequent opinion articles for newspapers and published several books. These included “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power” in 2012.
Then Vice President George H.W. Bush, trying to build an image as a tough foreign policy realist, considered it a coup to secure Brzezinski’s support in his 1988 presidential campaign.
Brzezinski was at times critical of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He was sharply critical of Bush’s “war on terror” and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After Donald Trump’s election in November, he observed that the world was watching U.S. political developments “with some stupefaction.”
Brzezinski had endorsed Barack Obama in 2007, saying the Democratic presidential candidate recognized the challenge of bringing “a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America’s role in the world.”
Brzezinski had three children with his wife Emilie.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Andrew Bolton and Tom Brown)