Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council

By Karl F. Inderfurth; Loch K. Johnson | Go to book overview

20
BRENT SCOWCROFT

David Lauter

The only person to serve as national security adviser in two administrations (Ford and the
first Bush), Brent Scowcroft is noted for his ability to play the role of an honest broker in
presenting the views of the foreign policy bureaucracy to the president. He became par-
ticularly close to President George H.W. Bush, for whom he served as a confidant and
policy coordinator.

It is Aug. 3, Iraqi troops have invaded Kuwait, and President Bush has flown to the Colorado Rockies for a meeting with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and a speech to the Aspen Institute.

As he begins his address, Bush pauses to thank his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft. He looks around and finds him standing at the edge of the stage, half-concealed among a collection of potted palms.

In memory, it seems as if Scowcroft has always been there, half-hidden near some President's side.

There he was, two decades ago, the White House military aide, carrying the briefcase containing codes for nuclear war as Richard M. Nixon strode through history. There he was, telling Gerald R. Ford of the helicopter evacuation of the American Embassy in Saigon at the close of a war that Scowcroft still believes the United States could have won.

And here he is now, the short, slender, balding figure at Bush's side—at the golf course, on the speedboat, in the Oval Office, the ever-present adviser, the confidant. The man who wakes the President up in the middle of the night with news of war.

Over the past year and a half, no other Bush adviser has had more influence on the agenda of American national security policy—from the "go-slow" approach toward changes in the Soviet Union to the drastic scaling back of Ronald Reagan's brainchild, the "Star Wars" space-based Strategic Defense Initiative.

And today, as the United States inches toward war in the Persian Gulf, the path it is following is one that has been laid out by Brent Scowcroft, the man in the background.

For a man who has played a key role in national affairs for nearly 20 years, Scowcroft remains almost unknown. A deeply private man—"I've never been to his house," says one longtime friend. "I don't know anyone who has"—Scowcroft has appeared in countless newspaper photographs and television clips. But he is almost always in the shadows.

In a capital full of officials energetically creating larger-than-life public personas, Scowcroft has cultivated anonymity. His spacious White House office, dominated by a score or more of neatly stacked piles of paper, each with the top sheet turned over to avoid prying eyes, contains not a single personal photograph and only one memento—the three-star flag of an Air Force lieutenant general, the rank with which he left active duty.

Others in Washington seek power by publicity. Scowcroft has cultivated a different route—proximity. His thin, reedy voice, which has the timbre of a clarinet without the lower register, does not carry far. But seldom has it had to travel more than a few feet to reach the President's ear.

Scowcroft's image in Washington's energetic gossip mill is more that of an institution than of a person.

From David Lauter, "The Man Behind the President," Los Angeles Times (October 14, 1990), A1.

David Lauter is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.

-203-

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