Zbigniew Brzezinski On Oklahoma City

SO much has been written and said about the Oklahoma City tragedy by now that one is tempted to say no more. But at a Monitor breakfast the other morning Zbigniew Brzezinski -- who as the national security adviser to President Carter was, he says, a target of right-wing groups -- provided a thoughtful assessment that's worth repeating in some detail.

Dr. Brzezinski, who has had the benefit of a behind-the-scenes observation of terror groups throughout the world, was asked whether he thought the rhetoric of conservatives had shaped the climate for the Oklahoma bombing.

''No, I don't see how you can even remotely relate the conservative rhetoric to anything like this. Gingrich and Dole talk of fundamental changes in values. But there is an absolute dividing line between what they are saying and those much farther to the right, who really feel that the American government has been taken over by some kind of conspiracy and that a struggle for freedom now is under way which entitles them to commit these acts. We really are talking now about the lunatic fringe. And I think there is an enormous gap between the conservative rhetoric and these lunatic fringe groups.''

At this point Brzezinski was asked to give us his global view of what motivates violence -- in Oklahoma City or anywhere in the world.

''There is a greater propensity in the extreme right toward individual violence than on the extreme left. The extreme left can be very brutal, of course, but it tends to be guided by some sort of an ideology, some sort of a systematic concept as to how to rebuild society -- first undermine it and then rebuild it. On the right I think there is worship of individual acts of self-assertion. Maybe that has something to do with what has happened.''

Here Brzezinski paused and added: ''But, having said that, I don't want to push that argument too far: I think that the extreme right and extreme left are basically alike. They believe that everything in life is a manifestation of total good or total evil -- and that anything they condemn as evil should be destroyed. If you look at Nazism and Stalinism, they are very close together; there are really no fundamental differences. One believed in eliminating people on the basis of race and the other believed in eliminating people on the basis of class.''

Dr. Brzezinski's insights are particularly valuable in looking back at the terrible violence in Oklahoma City. But, we ask ourselves, what lies ahead -- what is the impact on the political terrain?

To begin with, President Clinton comported himself in a manner that has been hailed by all Americans -- Republicans and Democrats alike.

Throughout, Mr. Clinton has been a dignified and comforting presence. At all times he has been presidential. He comes away from this great tragedy with an enhanced public image that will not be temporary; indeed, I think it will carry into the next election.

Additionally, the president rightly pointed out that it is hateful thinking that gives rise to violence like that in Oklahoma City. He denounced ''the purveyors of hatred,'' later making it clear that he didn't mean the Rush Limbaughs or Oliver Norths but those far-out talk-show hosts and other Americans who daily were spewing out anger against this country. A CBS poll showed that most Americans agree that ''loud and angry voices'' have encouraged violence.

Finally, the antiterrorist proposals now being put forward by the president will be particularly welcomed by the Republicans -- legislation that likely will encroach some on individual privacy as it increases surveillance of possible terrorists. These measures will become law in a hurry.

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