Civil Liberties

I Haven't Seen Anything Like This Since We Asked Brent Scowcroft to Trim His Hedges


This story is a year old, but someone just sent it to me, and it made me chuckle. Last year, the city of McLean, Virginia asked for an easement to put a public sidewalk over a local resident's property. Unfortunately for the city, that resident happened to be former national security advisor and hardball Cold War negotiator Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Only in Washington could an overture for a sidewalk produce responses such as: "What commitments are envisaged, how guaranteed, and by whom regarding the preservation of our privacy by replacing new fencing, tall planting and/or brick wall, etc. What alternative proposals are there regarding the foregoing?"

At some point, it dawned on the residents that they were in the middle of the suburban version of a Cold War summit. One homeowners association member wrote to another in an e-mail: "Dr. B is treating this transaction as if he were negotiating a strategic arms treaty."


Brzezinski said he is open to negotiations. If his latest questions are answered—with real blueprints, not the "child-like drawings" he had been sent before—he might consent to a meeting.

"We need things in writing, not over some cup of coffee," he said. "Each time I respond with questions, all I get is a lot of puff."

He chuckled over the neighbors' comparison to the Cold War, saying that there was a difference: "The Soviet Union was a threat to us. These are my neighbors."

In a conciliatory tone, he added, "I want you to understand: This is not a conflict. It may well be a clash of civilizations, but it is not a conflict."