Brian Trenor

Brian Trenor – North Carolina State University, History

Brian Trenor is an M.A. candidate in History and Teaching Assistant at NC State University. He also attended NC State as an undergraduate, receiving B.A. degrees in History and Communication. His thesis studies the Carter Administration’s policy toward Poland, with a particular emphasis on the influence of Zbigniew Brzezinski and Radio Free Europe. He has previously presented his research at Columbia University and NC State, and was a Wickersham Scholar with the Triangle Institute for Security Studies.

“The Ultimate Polish Joke”: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Radio Free Europe, and Polish policy in the 1976 Presidential Election

Gerald Ford’s assertion that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” was perhaps the most dramatic moment of the 1976 presidential election, but it also served to push Eastern Europe to the forefront of campaign topics and sharpened the distinctions between the two candidates. The campaign, in part, became a debate about what type of “neighbor” America should be to Eastern Europe and how transnational actors like Radio Free Europe should be used. The Ford Administration had dealt primarily through Moscow rather than Warsaw, Prague, or East Berlin. Its focus was on bilateral initiatives like CSCE, MBFR, and SALT rather than influencing Eastern Europe through RFE and the cultural exchanges. Jimmy Carter’s general campaign increasingly emphasized human rights rhetoric, but more often than not it was vague and unclear. After the second debate and Ford’s gaffe, Carter’s rhetoric on Eastern Europe quickly matured and sharpened. With the crucial aid of his foreign policy advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter outlined a new policy toward Eastern Europe. This outline subsequently formed the basis of Polish policy during the Carter administration. The four-prong policy stressed the encouragement of human rights within Poland according to the Helsinki Final Accords, the strengthening of Radio Free Europe, continued economic ties, and bilateral relations. This paper will analyze the development of Carter’s Polish policy during the 1976 campaign, with a particular emphasis on human rights and Radio Free Europe. This analysis draws primarily upon the official campaign documents as well as new secondary literature to take a new look at a critical moment in Polish policy.