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


  • NSC Weekly Report #48

1. Opinion: On the Psychology of Presidential Power

Let me share one general impression. It does not bear on any specific policy matter, but it may nonetheless be pertinent to a number of policy issues: a President must not only be loved and respected; he must also be feared.

We have been remarkably lucky in our first year in not having any major domestic or international crisis. At the same time, we confront a number of lingering problems, the resolution of which at some point will require very firm and decisive action. The Middle East is one of them, the African Horn may be another, SALT looms further down the road. In all of them, at some point it may be necessary to cut the Gordian knot.

In the meantime, I suspect that an impression has developed that the Administration (and you personally) operates very cerebrally, quite unemotionally. In most instances this is an advantage; however, occasionally emotion and even a touch of irrationality can be an asset. Those who wish to take advantage of us ought to fear that, at some point, we might act unpredictably, in anger, and decisively. If they do not feel this way, they will calculate that simply pressing, probing, or delaying will serve their ends. I see this quite clearly in Begin’s2 behavior, and I suspect that Brezhnev is beginning to act similarly.

This is why I think the time may be right for you to pick some controversial subject on which you will deliberately choose to act with a degree of anger and even roughness, designed to have a shock effect. Obviously, the timing and the object ought to be calculated very deliberately; and Congressional support should be mobilized.

The central point is to demonstrate clearly that at some point obstructing the United States means picking a fight with the United States in which the President is prepared, and willing, to hit the opponent squarely on the head and to knock him down decisively. If we [Page 46] do not do this soon to somebody, we will increasingly find Begin, Brezhnev, Vorster, Schmidt, Castro, Qadhafi, and a host of others thumbing their noses at us.

[Omitted here are the following sections relating to foreign policy: Facts and Alerts.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Box 41, Weekly Reports [to the President]: 42–52: [1/78–3/78]. Secret. A handwritten “C” indicates that Carter saw the memorandum.
  2. Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel.