The Privilege of History

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I have a slight trepidation about posting this. But with the passing last night of Zbigniew Brzezinski I wanted to share a brief remembrance.

Back in 2010,TPM had a table at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. And we had as our guests Brzezinksi, Brent Scowcroft and Denis McDonough. McDonough was later Deputy National Security Advisor and President Obama’s Chief of Staff for his second term. But at the time, I believe, he was the Chief of Staff of the NSC.

I was charmed by the idea of sharing at one table so much combined experience of American foreign policy in the second half of the 20th century. Scowcroft (Ford) was National Security Advisor from 1975 to 1977, Brzezinski (Carter) from 1977 to 1981; Scowcroft (Bush) was again National Security Advisor  from 1989 to 1993. As one of Obama’s closest advisors throughout his presidency and his most successful Chief of Staff, McDonough lived and is the custodian of his own share of history. But in April 2010, that was mainly in the future.

I don’t have an revelatory anecdote to share. Brzezinski was about as you would expect if you’ve followed his career: refined and courtly, gracious, latently acerbic. The sharpness of the nose has always captured the character for me.

I had a few interactions with Brzezinski over the years, very momentary, largely related to his critiques of Bush era foreign policy. Scowcroft is a much more avuncular figure. Brzezinski, from my very limited interactions with him, was sharp in every respect.

On this particular night, Brzezinski, Scowcroft and McDonough mainly wanted to talk shop. I think I said three or four things all evening. I mainly wanted to listen. Just to absorb the history.

It is a treat when, over the course of your lifetime, you get to experience up close people who’ve been at the center of history.

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