12. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • NSC Weekly Report #37

1. Opinion

Soon it will be one year since you assumed office, a time long enough for a generalized public impression of your foreign policy to have developed and to have taken hold. While I believe that the various initiatives you have taken have been right, and individually correct, I feel that we are confronting a growing domestic problem involving public perception of the general character of that policy. To put it simply and quite bluntly, it is seen as “soft.”

That, in turn, could hurt us on such issues as SALT or Panama, and the Republicans are increasingly likely to focus on this issue, hoping to capitalize also on conservative democratic support, charging that our policies have been “soft” substantively while lacking consistency in execution.2

Our critics are likely to cite as examples of “soft” policies our initiatives regarding Cuba, Vietnam, Korea, and SALT, as well as your decision on the B-1. They might also argue that we have retreated on human rights, while generally being tougher on conservative than on communist regimes; that the joint US-Soviet statement on the Middle East is a sign of excessive trust in the Soviet Union; and they might also try to generate opposition to our policy regarding South Africa. They will ask for some examples of “toughness”, and exploit against us such things as the Soviet intelligence activities here or the radiation bombardment directed at the US Embassy, or the current Cuban activity in Africa.

This is why the public pressure on Cuba regarding Africa came none-too-soon.3 But perhaps there is a more generalized problem involved here, worthy of your consideration. For much of the last thirty years our foreign policy could focus simply on East-West issues, with most other policy dilemmas derivative of that central concern. Preoccu [Page 44] pation with the East-West issues, notably with the Soviet threat, permitted Presidents to mobilize public support through an appeal to emotion.

In contrast, we now confront a much more complex world, in which our foreign policy has to be conducted on a variety of levels. This necessarily means greater reliance on reason, but the public is not inclined to support foreign policy through reliance on cerebral processes alone.

The human rights issue initially did provide the needed emotional cement between you as the President and the public in general. In one way or another, the vast majority of Americans strongly identified your foreign policy with that morally appealing concern.

The above considerations lead me to the following two conclusions:

(1) You ought to take, before too long, a decision of some sort either on security or foreign policy matters that has a distinctively “tough” quality to it; for example, European security and the neutron bomb, as well as a speech on defense policy might provide the needed opportunity;

(2) In a subtle, but persistent, fashion you also ought to re-identify yourself quite directly with the human rights issue even if it means some resentment abroad, notably from the Soviets.

The combination of the two—realism plus idealism—will make it easier for you to generate the needed support on such complex matters as Panama or SALT or the Middle East.

[Omitted here are sections relating to foreign policy: Facts and NSC Activities.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Box 41, Weekly Reports [to the President]: 31–41: [10/77–1/78]. Top Secret; Sensitive. A handwritten “C” indicates that Carter saw the memorandum.
  2. Carter wrote in the margin adjacent to this paragraph, “Don’t chicken out.”
  3. Carter wrote in the margin beside this sentence, “It took me 6 months to get it done.”