Washington — Zbigniew Brzezinski, controversial to the last, leaves office as White House National Security Adviser with advice to President-elect Reagan on how to deal with the Soviet Union. And with characteristic unconventionality he leaves Washington with a wide-ranging interview that shuns a major press conference but includes selected participants, the New York Times and the Washington Post.
He tells the nation, and Democrats in particular, that they must drop an "escapist approach" to Moscow and accept what he calls "a policy of assertive competition."
Mr. Brzezinski, the spelling of whose very name is abrasive, charges that the Soviets seek to expand power and influence and that America's interest, particularly in the Persian Gulf-Indian Ocean area, must be protected.
Hard-line National Security Adviser Brzezinski stayed in office while former Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance departed. The implication of his interview now is that the popularity of his hard-6ine attitude toward Moscow is shown by the victory of Ronald Reagan at the polls. Democrats, he implies, had better take note of it.
Mr. Brzezinski defends the record of the Carter administration in foreign affairs, citing the normalization of relations with China, the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, the Panama Canal treaties, emphasis on human rights, better relations with African countries, the North American military alliance, and the regional security framework for the Persian Gulf.
He agrees that a lot of problems have been kept for Mr. Reagan. And his global survey indicates a good deal of sympathy for the Reagan support of "linkage" when it comes to dealing with the Soviets -- that they must be made to understand that a vigilant United States is seeing the world as a whole, that an invasion of Afghanistan has an effect on the Strategic Arms Control Treaty and on grain deliveries.
Brzezinski seems to want to show that he has steered a middle course on defense. Contrary to what he implied was the over-idealistic approach of the George McGovern wing of the Democratic Party, he argues that he had supported expansion of US military strength against those who automatically reacted with apprehension over the possibility of reviving the cold war.
On the other hand, he expressed anxiety over some on the Republican side who continued a nostalgic desire for military superiority over the Soviet Union.
As an example of White House problems, he said there was the absence of adequate US response in 1978 when Moscow, through its mercenaries, came down on the side of Ethiopia in its war with Somalia in Ogaden. It was that appearance of US weakness, he argued, that caused SALT II to bog down in the Senate. The fine line in dealing with the Soviets, he implied, is where to stand up to them in their drive to expand by proxy.
Brzezinski thus seems to be warning the nation on the one hand against what he considers "escapism" -- the feeling that the United States does not have to respond to the Expansionism of the Soviets, and, on the other, of "nostalgia" -- the impression that the US can control the Soviets by asserting superiority in arms.
Brzezinski said he had hoped to maintain a low profile as Carter's national security adviser. Instead, he became one of the most conspicuous figures of the administration. What he wants now, he says, is to go back to Columbia University but to continue to play a role in foreign policy discussions.