Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as the National Security Adviser during Jimmy Carter’s entire presidency and was a respected voice on United States foreign policy, has died. He was 89.
Brzezinkski’s daughter, Mika, a co-host on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, announced her father’s death Friday evening in an Instagram post, writing “My father passed away peacefully tonight. 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 his (sic) as the most inspiring, loving, and devoted father any girl could ever have.” He is survived by his wife and three children.
In his later years, he Brzezinski served as the Professor of American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. To Learn more about his life and his influential career, here are five fast facts you need to know about Zbigniew Brzezinski.
1. He Was A Harvard Professor Before His Career In Politics
Though remembered mainly for his political career, Brzezinski actually started out as a professor at Harvard University, where he taught during the 1950s. He intended to become a diplomat in Canada, but his chances were fell through when he was ruled ineligible for a scholarship on a technicality. As a political scientist at Harvard, he was vocal in his opposition of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s decisions, particularly his policy of rollback, and his belief that it would cause Europe to side with Soviet Union over the United States.
Upon learning that he was not granted tenure at Harvard, Brzezinski packed up and moved to New York City in 1959, where he briefly taught at another prestigious college, Columbia University. During his time at Columbia, he wrote Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict, which detailed the state of Eastern Europe from the beginning of the Cold War. He ultimately left the profession behind come the 1960s, when he became a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and an advisor to Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy, who would go on to win the Presidency in 1961.
2. He Was President Carter’s National Security Advisor
Zbigniew Brzezinski was selected for the position of National Security Advisor (NSA) in 1977. President Jimmy Carter said that he wanted an assertive figure at his side to provide him with advice in difficult situations, and Brzezinski, who had already advised Kennedy in 1960, fit the bill. He reportedly wrote segments of Carter’s inaugural address, in an attempt to send a positive message to Soviet dissidents.
Brzezinski also took up the role of Presidential emissary during his time in the White House, as was shown in 1978 when he traveled to Beijing to discuss relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). From 1977 to the end of Carter’s presidential term, Brzezinski became a prominent figure in the media, a fixture in press conferences and various television shows. Carter presented Brzezinski with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981.
In the years that followed, he remained active and at the forefront of foreign policy. In 1985, he served as a member of the President’s Chemical Warfare Commission. In 1987 and 1988, he worked on the U.S. National Security Council-Defense Department Commission, and in the two years after that, he served on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. All of which was under President Ronald Reagan, whose administration, while supported, was seen as “too black-and-white” in Brzezinski’s eyes.
Subsequent presidents George H. Bush and Bill Clinton were subject to even more scrutiny from Brzezinski, who openly opposed U.S. involvement in the Gulf War and Clinton’s reluctance to intervene against Serbian forces in the Bosnian War.
3. He Married Emilie Benes In 1961
Emilie Benes first met Brzezinski when she was 25 years old in 1961. They were married later that year, and remained together until his death. And though Benes had familial ties to politics herself, as she was a relative of Czechoslovakia’s former president Edvard Beneš, she instead pursued a career in the arts.
She earned a fine arts degree at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and after her marriage to Brzezinski, became a professional sculptor. Her work is mostly wood-based, which includes what is said to be her defining piece, the 1993 sculpture “Lintel,” which was constructed from cherry trees and then cast in bronze. Emilie has displayed her work in various cities around the world, including New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and the Florence Biennale, in Italy.
Their youngest child, Mika, posting a photo of the couple on Twitter, where she wrote: “We are remembering my father tonight with the love of his life who inspired him and shared in his wonderful life over six decades.” Read the original message above.
4. He Had Three Children
The Brzezinskis had three children during their marriage, all of whom have gone into politics in some particular facet. Their oldest child, Ian Brzezinski, has served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy under President George W. Bush. He held this position from 2001 to 2005. Their middle child, Mark Brzezinski, is a lawyer who has served as an advisor for President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama, as well as a tenure as the United States Ambassador to Sweden from 2011 to 2015.
Their youngest child, and only daughter, Mika Brzezinski, is a television journalist, political commentator, and co-host for MSNBC. She is also the host of the morning program Morning Joe, alongside television personality Joe Scarborough. In his later years, Brzezinski would frequently appear on the show as a guest.
5. He Published Several Books
Amidst his political duties, Brzezinski continued to publish books and various collections of essays that spoke to international relations. He released twelve major books over the course of his career, with the first being in 1956 and the last arriving in 2012. Among the topics he addressed were geostrategy in the United States in The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997), and the financial collapse of 2008, which he wrote about in Strategic Vision (2008).
He also appeared as himself in various documentary films including the 1997 film Eternal Memory: Voices from the Great Terror, the 1998 CNN series Cold War produced by Jeremy Isaacs, and the 2009 documentary Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace. You can watch the preview for the latter below.
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