Monday, October 31, 2005

NEW YORKER--what turned Scowcroft against Bush

What turned Brent Scowcroft against the Bush
Issue of 2005-10-31
Posted 2005-10-24

At eight o’clock on the morning of August 2, 1990,
President George H. W. Bush assembled his National
Security Council in the Cabinet Room of the White
House. Thirteen hours earlier, Saddam Hussein had sent
his Army into Kuwait, and the Administration was
searching for a response. Brent Scowcroft, the
President’s national-security adviser, has an unhappy
memory of that first meeting. The tone, he says, was
defeatist: “Much of the conversation in those early
moments concerned the stability of the oil market.
There was an air of resignation about the invasion.”

Shortly before the National Security Council meeting
began, General Colin Powell, who was then the chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told General Norman
Schwarzkopf, “I think we’d go to war over Saudi
Arabia, but I doubt we’d go to war over Kuwait.” For
the moment, at least, Powell’s assessment reflected
the President’s mood. Minutes before the meeting, Bush
had told reporters that he was not contemplating an
armed response. Scowcroft had been listening to the
President as he spoke to the press, and the comment
immediately struck him as unwise. “Right at the
beginning, I believed that it”—the Iraqi invasion of
Kuwait—“was intolerable to the interests of the U.S.,”
he told me recently.

At the time, Scowcroft, a retired Air Force general,
was notably hawkish on the Iraq question, more so than
the Secretary of State, James A. Baker III, and
perhaps even more so than Dick Cheney, who was Bush’s
Secretary of Defense. Scowcroft believed that if
Saddam’s aggression was left unanswered it would
undermine the international rule of law; it would
also, he thought, compromise America’s standing in the
world at a moment—the end of the Cold War—that was
otherwise filled with promise.

Scowcroft is a protégé of Henry Kissinger—he was his
deputy when Kissinger was Richard Nixon’s
national-security adviser. Like Kissinger, he is a
purveyor of a “realist” approach to foreign policy:
the idea that America should be guided by strategic
self-interest, and that moral considerations are
secondary at best. But Bush and Scowcroft also spoke
expansively about the possibilities for America in the
Cold War world, about a New World Order built on
benign but resolute American leadership and
multilateral coöperation. The United States, Bush said
in “A World Transformed,” a book that he later
co-wrote with Scowcroft, had a “disproportionate
responsibility” to use its power “in pursuit of a
common good.” Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was a direct
challenge to Bush’s understanding of America’s role in
the world.

There were initial doubts among some of Bush’s
advisers. Colin Powell, like many military men shaped
by the experience of the Vietnam War, was disinclined
to send American troops into battle, and he cautioned
the National Security Council against imprudent
action. “My first questions had to do with defending
Saudi Arabia, and the importance of having a clear
political understanding first of what we were doing,”
Powell told me recently. “Brent immediately saw that
the invasion had to be reversed. He was a little
further forward on the need to do something.”

Scowcroft argued unyieldingly for intervention, and
his view prevailed. Within days, Bush announced, “This
will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait”—a
burst of fortitude that commentators later attributed
to a comment from Margaret Thatcher (“Don’t go all
wobbly on us, George,” she reportedly told him).
Scowcroft, whose modesty may be pronounced to the
point of ostentation, loyally insists that the
President arrived at his decision alone, but several
of Scowcroft’s former colleagues said that it was
Scowcroft’s firmness, along with Thatcher’s prodding,
that strengthened Bush’s resolve to confront Saddam.
Scowcroft is “not a blowhard,” the senior Bush told me
in a recent e-mail. “He has a great propensity for
friendship. By that I mean someone I can depend on to
tell me what I need to know and not just what I want
to hear, and at the same time he is someone on whom I
know I always can rely and trust implicitly.”

In the six months leading to the war, Scowcroft became
indispensable to Bush, subjecting war planners to
sharp questioning, and debating those opposed to
intervention. It is easy to forget, given the war’s
stunning speed and its low casualty count on the U.S.
side (a hundred and forty-eight American soldiers lost
their lives in the fighting), that there was a great
deal of domestic opposition to Bush’s plan,
particularly among congressional Democrats.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee,
Sam Nunn, of Georgia, led the opposition. He conducted
hearings in which many of the country’s most widely
respected military and foreign-policy experts
prophesied cataclysm: American casualties would be in
the thousands, they said, in a war that was
unnecessary. Sanctions, it was argued, would be
sufficient to drive Saddam out of Kuwait. Some of
Bush’s aides came to refer to Nunn as “Neville.”

Bush did not let domestic opposition, or the views of
Mikhail Gorbachev, who sought a negotiated solution,
stand in the way of what he came to see as a moral
cause of surpassing importance. On December 31, 1990,
he wrote a letter to his five children: “How many
lives might have been saved if appeasement had given
way to force earlier in the late 30s or earliest 40s?”
it read. “How many Jews might have been spared the gas
chambers, or how many Polish patriots might be alive
today? I look at today’s crisis as ‘good’ vs.
‘evil’—yes, it is that clear.” Scowcroft never engaged
in this sort of rhetoric. A line had been crossed, and
Iraq needed to be punished; he did not invoke the
spectre of Hitler to make his point.

The war began on January 16, 1991. An air campaign
that lasted five weeks greatly weakened Iraq’s
military capabilities. On February 24th, General
Schwarzkopf, the commander of American and allied
forces, unleashed a ground attack that quickly turned
into a rout; the Iraqi Army collapsed, and its
soldiers fled Kuwait on foot. The road to Baghdad was
clear, but, on Bush’s instruction, the Americans did
not take it. Although Bush had publicly compared
Saddam to Hitler, the goal was never to liberate Iraq
from his rule. “Our military didn’t want any part of
occupying that big Arab country, and the only way to
get Saddam was to go all the way to Baghdad,” James
Baker told me recently.

Afterward, Bush was criticized for the decision to end
the ground war at its hundredth hour. Even some
officials of the Administration were unhappy at what
they saw as a premature end to the fighting. In “Rise
of the Vulcans,” James Mann recounts that Paul
Wolfowitz and I. Lewis Libby, who were then aides to
Cheney, believed that a coup d’état might have
occurred had the Bush Administration waited to
announce that the war was over.

At the time, though, no one close to Bush expressed
doubts about the ending of the war, much less about
its strategic goal. “For a bunch of years, a lot of
people who should know better have said that we had an
alternative,” Powell told me. “We didn’t. The simple
reason is we were operating under a U.N. mandate that
did not provide for any such thing. We put together a
strong coalition of Gulf states, and Egypt and Syria,
and they signed up for a very specific issue—expelling
Iraq from Kuwait. Nor did President Bush ever consider

A principal reason that the Bush Administration gave
no thought to unseating Saddam was that Brent
Scowcroft gave no thought to it. An American
occupation of Iraq would be politically and militarily
untenable, Scowcroft told Bush. And though the
President had employed the rhetoric of moral necessity
to make the case for war, Scowcroft said, he would not
let his feelings about good and evil dictate the
advice he gave the President.

It would have been no problem for America’s military
to reach Baghdad, he said. The problems would have
arisen when the Army entered the Iraqi capital. “At
the minimum, we’d be an occupier in a hostile land,”
he said. “Our forces would be sniped at by guerrillas,
and, once we were there, how would we get out? What
would be the rationale for leaving? I don’t like the
term ‘exit strategy’—but what do you do with Iraq once
you own it?”

Scowcroft stopped for a moment. We were sitting in the
offices of the Scowcroft Group, a consulting firm he
heads, in downtown Washington. He appeared to be
weighing the consequences of speaking his mind. His
speech is generally calibrated not to give offense,
especially to the senior Bush and the Bush family. He
is eighty and, by most accounts, has been content to
cede visibility to the larger personalities with whom
he has worked. James Baker told me that he and
Scowcroft got along well in part because Scowcroft let
Baker speak for the Administration. I learned from
people who know Scowcroft that he finds it painful to
be seen as critical of his best friend’s son, but in
the course of several interviews prudence several
times gave way to impatience. “This is exactly where
we are now,” he said of Iraq, with no apparent
satisfaction. “We own it. And we can’t let go. We’re
getting sniped at. Now, will we win? I think there’s a
fair chance we’ll win. But look at the cost.”

The first Gulf War was a success, Scowcroft said,
because the President knew better than to set
unachievable goals. “I’m not a pacifist,” he said. “I
believe in the use of force. But there has to be a
good reason for using force. And you have to know when
to stop using force.”

Scowcroft does not believe that the promotion of
American-style democracy abroad is a sufficiently good
reason to use force. “I thought we ought to make it
our duty to help make the world friendlier for the
growth of liberal regimes,” he said. “You encourage
democracy over time, with assistance, and aid, the
traditional way. Not how the neocons do it.”

The neoconservatives—the Republicans who argued most
fervently for the second Gulf war—believe in the
export of democracy, by violence if that is required,
Scowcroft said. “How do the neocons bring democracy to
Iraq? You invade, you threaten and pressure, you
evangelize.” And now, Scowcroft said, America is
suffering from the consequences of that brand of
revolutionary utopianism. “This was said to be part of
the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism,” he said.

Scowcroft was Richard Nixon’s military assistant in
the last years of the Vietnam War, and he says,
“Vietnam was visceral in the American people. That was
a really bitter period, and it turned us against
foreign-policy adventures deeply, and it was not until
the Gulf War that we were able to come out of that.
This is not that deep.” But, he said, “we’re moving in
that direction.”

Like nearly everyone else in Washington, Scowcroft
believed that Saddam maintained stockpiles of chemical
and biological weapons, but he wrote that a strong
inspections program would have kept him at bay. “There
may have come a time when we would have needed to take
Saddam out,” he told me. “But he wasn’t really a
threat. His Army was weak, and the country hadn’t
recovered from sanctions.”

Scowcroft’s colleagues told me that he would have
preferred to deliver his analysis privately to the
White House. But Scowcroft, the apotheosis of a
Washington insider, was by then definitively on the
outside, and there was no one in the White House who
would listen to him. On the face of it, this is
remarkable: Scowcroft’s best friend’s son is the
President; his friend Dick Cheney is the
Vice-President; Condoleezza Rice, who was the
national-security adviser, and is now the Secretary of
State, was once a Scowcroft protégée; and the current
national-security adviser, Stephen Hadley, is another
protégé and a former principal at the Scowcroft Group.

According to friends, Scowcroft was consulted more
frequently by the Clinton White House than he has been
by George W. Bush’s. Clinton’s national-security
adviser, Samuel Berger, told me that he valued
Scowcroft’s opinions: “He knows a great deal, and I
always found it useful to speak to him.” Arnold
Kanter, a former Under-Secretary of State in the first
Bush Administration and now a principal in the
Scowcroft Group, was the one who suggested that
Scowcroft set down his thoughts on Iraq. “If Brent had
an ongoing dialogue and ready access and felt his
views were being heard, he might not have written the
op-ed,” Kanter told me. “I hadn’t heard anyone put
Iraq in the strategic perspective that included the
Middle East peace process and terrorism, and I thought
it was important to hear.”

By publicly critiquing the Administration’s strategic
priorities, Scowcroft knew that he risked offending
the White House, but clearly he was offended by its
posture before the war. “All the neocons were saying,
‘Finish the job,’ ” he said. “In fact, the President
said that. He said it before he launched the war.”
Scowcroft fell silent. I asked him if he was bothered
by those statements. He stayed silent, but he nodded.

Scowcroft suggested that the White House was taking
the wrong advice, and listening to a severely limited
circle. He singled out the Princeton Middle East
scholar Bernard Lewis, who was consulted by
Vice-President Cheney and others after the terror
attacks of September 11, 2001. Lewis, Scowcroft said,
fed a feeling in the White House that the United
States must assert itself. “It’s that idea that we’ve
got to hit somebody hard,” Scowcroft said. “And
Bernard Lewis says, ‘I believe that one of the things
you’ve got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes
with a big stick. They respect power.’ ” Cheney, in
particular, Scowcroft thinks, accepted Lewis’s view of
Middle East politics. “The real anomaly in the
Administration is Cheney,” Scowcroft said. “I consider
Cheney a good friend—I’ve known him for thirty years.
But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore.”

He went on, “I don’t think Dick Cheney is a neocon,
but allied to the core of neocons is that bunch who
thought we made a mistake in the first Gulf War, that
we should have finished the job. There was another
bunch who were traumatized by 9/11, and who thought,
‘The world’s going to hell and we’ve got to show we’re
not going to take this, and we’ve got to respond, and
Afghanistan is O.K., but it’s not sufficient.’ ”
Scowcroft supported the invasion of Afghanistan as a
“direct response” to terrorism.

Colin Powell told me that he was not offended by
Scowcroft’s public doubts. “The concern is cost—what
are we getting ourselves into? That is not an
unprincipled concern.” But the White House—in
particular Rice—saw Scowcroft’s op-ed as a betrayal,
and as a political problem: Scowcroft has a commanding
voice on national-security matters. But there was
another, more personal dimension. “What makes it even
more awkward is the suspicion that he’s speaking not
just for himself” but for the elder Bush as well,
Robert Gates, who was Scowcroft’s deputy at the
National Security Council, said.

The distancing of Brent Scowcroft dates nearly to the
beginning of the second Bush Administration. Scowcroft
was appointed chairman of the President’s Foreign
Intelligence Advisory Board in the first term, but he
was not consulted on plans for Iraq. “He’s not the
only person to be frozen out,” one colleague of
Scowcroft’s from the first Bush Administration told
me—a clear reference to James Baker and a number of
other officials. “The only thing that is unusual is
that Scowcroft was treated like everyone else.” His
appointment to the advisory board was not renewed at
the end of 2004.

A common criticism of the Administration of George W.
Bush is that it ignores ideas that conflict with its
aims. “We always made sure the President was hearing
all the possibilities,” John Sununu, who served as
chief of staff to George H. W. Bush, said. “That’s one
of the differences between the first Bush
Administration and this Bush Administration.” I asked
Colin Powell if he thought, in retrospect, that the
Administration should have paid attention to
Scowcroft’s arguments about Iraq. Powell, who is
widely believed to have been far less influential in
policymaking than either Cheney or the Secretary of
Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, said, pointedly, “I always
listen to him. He’s a very analytic and thoughtful
individual, he’s powerful in argument, and I’ve never
worked with a better friend and colleague.” When, in
an e-mail, I asked George H. W. Bush about Scowcroft’s
most useful qualities as a national-security adviser,
he replied that Scowcroft “was very good about making
sure that we did not simply consider the ‘best case,’
but instead considered what it would mean if things
went our way, and also if they did not.”

One reason that Scowcroft was so effective as
national-security adviser was that the entire Cabinet
knew that hearing from him was akin to hearing from
the President. David Rothkopf, the author of “Running
the World,” a history of the National Security
Council, said that Scowcroft mastered the bureaucracy
while maintaining his position as perhaps the
President’s closest adviser. He was “a true partner of
the President,” Rothkopf said. “They knew each other
extremely well, and were able to communicate at the
level of equals, even if the President’s primacy was
never in doubt.”

Even today, Scowcroft, who lives in Bethesda,
Maryland, spends many weekends at a condominium he
keeps in Kennebunkport, near the Bush family compound.
According to friends of the elder Bush, the
estrangement of his son and his best friend has been
an abiding source of unhappiness, not only for Bush
but for Barbara Bush as well. George Bush, the
forty-first President, has tried several times to
arrange meetings between his son, “Forty-three,” and
his former national-security adviser—to no avail,
according to people with knowledge of these
intertwined relationships. “There have been occasions
when Forty-one has engineered meetings in which
Forty-three and Scowcroft are in the same place at the
same time, but they were social settings that weren’t
conducive to talking about substantive issues,” a
Scowcroft confidant said.

Scowcroft would not talk to me about the father’s
attempts at reconciliation, but he said that he hoped
for a better relationship with the son. “Am I happy at
not being closer to the White House? No. I would
prefer to be closer. I like George Bush personally,
and he is the son of a man I’m just crazy about.”

When I asked Scowcroft if the son was different from
the father, he said, “I don’t want to go there,” but
his dissatisfaction with the son’s agenda could not
have been clearer. When I asked him to name issues on
which he agrees with the younger Bush, he said,
“Afghanistan.” He paused for twelve seconds. Finally,
he said, “I think we’re doing well on Europe,” and
left it at that.

The disintegrating relationship between Scowcroft and
Condoleezza Rice has not escaped the notice of their
colleagues from the first Bush Administration. She was
a political-science professor at Stanford when, in
1989, Scowcroft hired her to serve as a Soviet expert
on the National Security Council. Scowcroft found her
bright—“brighter than I was”—and personable, and he
brought her all the way inside, to the Bush family
circle. When Scowcroft published his Wall Street
Journal article, Rice telephoned him, according to
several people with knowledge of the call. “She said,
‘How could you do this to us?’ ” a Scowcroft friend
recalled. “What bothered Brent more than Condi yelling
at him was the fact that here she is, the
national-security adviser, and she’s not interested in
hearing what a former national-security adviser had to

The two worked closely in the first Bush
Administration, although Rice tended to take a tougher
line than Scowcroft on Soviet issues. Robert Gates,
then Scowcroft’s deputy and Rice’s boss, recalled how
he and Rice would argue with Scowcroft in 1990 and
1991, during the period when Boris Yeltsin, as the
elected leader of the Russian republic, became a rival
to the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. “Condi and I
felt very strongly about reaching beyond Gorbachev,”
he said. “Brent and Baker believed you could only deal
with one President of the Soviet Union at a time.”

Rice’s conversion to the world view of George W. Bush
is still a mystery, however. Privately, many of her
ex-colleagues from the first President Bush’s National
Security Council say that it is rooted in her
Christian faith, which leads her to see the world in
moralistic terms, much as the President does. Although
she was tutored by a national-security adviser,
Scowcroft, who thought it intemperate of Ronald Reagan
to call the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” she now
works comfortably for a President who speaks in terms
of “evildoers” and the “axis of evil.”

Rice’s split with her former National Security Council
colleagues was made evident at a dinner in early
September of 2002, at 1789, a Georgetown restaurant.
Scowcroft, Rice, and several people from the first
Bush Administration were there. The conversation,
turning to the current Administration’s impending
plans for Iraq, became heated. Finally, Rice said,
irritably, “The world is a messy place, and someone
has to clean it up.” The remark stunned the other
guests. Scowcroft, as he later told friends, was
flummoxed by Rice’s “evangelical tone.”

Scowcroft told me that he still has a high regard for
Rice. He did note, however, that her “expertise is in
the former Soviet Union and Europe. Less on the Middle
East.” Rice, through a spokesman, said, “Sure, we’ve
had some differences, and that’s understandable. But
he’s a good friend and is going to stay a good

Yet the two do not see each other much anymore.
According to friends of Scowcroft, Rice has asked him
to call her to set up a dinner, but he has not,
apparently, pursued the invitation. The last time the
two had dinner, nearly two years ago, it ended
unhappily, Scowcroft acknowledged. “We were having
dinner just when Sharon said he was going to pull out
of Gaza,” at the end of 2003. “She said, ‘At least
there’s some good news,’ and I said, ‘That’s terrible
news.’ She said, ‘What do you mean?’ And I said that
for Sharon this is not the first move, this is the
last move. He’s getting out of Gaza because he can’t
sustain eight thousand settlers with half his Army
protecting them. Then, when he’s out, he will have an
Israel that he can control and a Palestinian state
atomized enough that it can’t be a problem.” Scowcroft
added, “We had a terrible fight on that.”

They also argued about Iraq. “She says we’re going to
democratize Iraq, and I said, ‘Condi, you’re not going
to democratize Iraq,’ and she said, ‘You know, you’re
just stuck in the old days,’ and she comes back to
this thing that we’ve tolerated an autocratic Middle
East for fifty years and so on and so forth,” he said.
Then a barely perceptible note of satisfaction entered
his voice, and he said, “But we’ve had fifty years of

For most of the past hundred years, American foreign
policy has oscillated between two opposing impulses:
to make the world more like America, or to deal with
it as it is. Those who object to what they call
“interference” in the affairs of others—today’s
realists—often cite the words of John Quincy Adams,
who in 1821 said that America stands with those who
seek freedom and independence, “but she goes not
abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” By
contrast, Woodrow Wilson, the unbounded moralist,
said, in seeking a declaration of war against Germany
in 1917, that “the world must be made safe for
democracy.” Wilson told Congress, “We are but one of
the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be
satisfied when those rights have been made as secure
as the faith and the freedom of nations can make

At different times, the isolationist impulse, which
would have America withdraw entirely from the affairs
of the world, has been felt strongly in Washington—for
instance, in the America First movement before the
Second World War. Today, few in the Republican Party,
or even among liberal Democrats, believe that America
has no military role to play in any hemisphere other
than its own.

The desire to undermine or overthrow brutal regimes—to
transform them into democracies—is irresistible for
many Americans. The realists argue that these global
Wilsonians have an unacceptably high tolerance for the
kind of instability that the export of democracy can
bring. “The United States . . . must temper its
missionary spirit with a concept of the national
interest and rely on its head as well as its heart in
defining its duty to the world,” Henry Kissinger wrote
in the third volume of his memoirs. By contrast, the
current President, in his second inaugural address,
set for America a breathtakingly large mission. “It is
the policy of the United States to seek and support
the growth of democratic movements and institutions in
every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of
ending tyranny in our world,” Bush said.

For Brent Scowcroft, the rhetoric is not matched by
reality. “I believe that you cannot with one sweep of
the hand or the mind cast off thousands of years of
history,” he says. “This notion that inside every
human being is the burning desire for freedom and
liberty, much less democracy, is probably not the
case. I don’t think anyone knows what burns inside
others. Food, shelter, security, stability. Have you
read Erich Fromm, ‘Escape from Freedom’? I don’t agree
with him, but some people don’t really want to be

Scowcroft is unmoved by the stirrings of democracy
movements in the Middle East. He does not believe, for
instance, that the signs of a democratic awakening in
Lebanon are related to the Iraq war. He sees the
recent evacuation of the Syrian Army from Lebanon not
as a victory for self-government but as a
foreshadowing of civil war. “I think it’s something we
have to worry about—the sectarian emotions that were
there when the Syrians went in aren’t gone.”

Scowcroft and those who share his views believe that
the reality of life in Iraq at the moment is
undermining the neoconservative agenda. Richard Haass,
the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who
served as Colin Powell’s chief policy planner during
the first Bush Administration (and who was Scowcroft’s
Middle East expert on the National Security Council
during the first Gulf War) said that the days of armed
idealism are over. “We’ve seen the ideological
high-water mark,” he said. “I mean wars of choice, and
unilateralism, and by that I mean an emphasis, almost
to the point of exclusion of everything else, on
regime change as opposed to diplomacy aimed at policy

William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard,
has been a determined advocate of the Iraq war and an
equally persistent critic of foreign-policy realism.
“I think it’s a pseudo-springtime for realism,”
Kristol said. “When things go bad, realists look good,
until things look really bad. Have the mistakes of the
last century been ones of too much intervention or not
enough? Was it good that we waited to be attacked on
December 7, 1941? I would say the same about the
Balkans and about terrorism.” When I mentioned
Scowcroft’s assertion that Middle East stability
brought America fifty years of peace, Kristol laughed,
and asked, “Are we really going to go into the
twenty-first century trying to prop up the House of
Saud? Is that the goal of American foreign policy? Is
that reasonable or realistic?” Kristol noted that
fifteen of the nineteen hijackers of September 11,
2001, were citizens of Saudi Arabia, whose government
is autocratic and pro-American; the leader of the
hijacking cell, Mohamed Atta, was an Egyptian, whose
government each year receives roughly two billion
dollars in American aid.

The President’s foreign policy, which the political
scientist John Mearsheimer calls “Wilsonianism with
teeth,” is a rejection of his father’s approach. It is
certainly a rejection of Scowcroft’s sentiment-free
pragmatism. “I’ve been accused of tolerating
autocracies in the Middle East, and there’s some
validity in that,” Scowcroft said. “It’s easy in the
name of stability to be comfortable with the status

The status quo, Scowcroft said, is not necessarily a
good thing, but it might be better than what follows.
“My kind of realism would look at what are the most
likely consequences of pushing out a government. What
will replace it?” What will replace autocratic but
stable governments, neoconservative thinkers say, is
whatever the people of the Middle East decide will
replace them. Robert Kagan, of the Carnegie Endowment
for International Peace, and a Kristol ally, has
written critically of the Bush Administration’s
incomplete adherence to its own anti-tyranny doctrine.
Referring to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Kagan
wrote, “Perhaps there is concern that too much
pressure on Mubarak might produce a victory by the
Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular Egyptian
opposition party, which has been outlawed by the
government. That’s a risk, of course, but if the Bush
Administration isn’t willing to let Islamists, even
radical Islamists, win votes in a fair election, then
Bush officials should stop talking so much about
democracy and go back to supporting the old

Scowcroft believes that the Administration has already
gone too far in Kagan’s direction. “Let’s suppose
Mubarak disappears and we have an election,” he said.
“The good guys are not going to win that election. The
bad guys are going to win that election. The bad guys
are always better organized. Always. The most
ruthless, the tough ones, are the ones who are going
to rise to the top in a chaotic society. That’s my

The Bush Administration does not, as a rule, concede
that democratization in the Middle East could lead to
a series of Islamist states. One day, I mentioned to
Scowcroft an interview I had had with Paul Wolfowitz,
when he was Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy. Wolfowitz was
the leading neoconservative thinker in the senior
ranks of the current Bush Administration. (He is now
the president of the World Bank.) I asked him what he
would think if previously autocratic Arab countries
held free elections and then proceeded to vote
Islamists into power. Wolfowitz answered, “Look, fifty
per cent of the Arab world are women. Most of those
women do not want to live in a theocratic state. The
other fifty per cent are men. I know a lot of them. I
don’t think they want to live in a theocratic state.”

Scowcroft said of Wolfowitz, “He’s got a utopia out
there. We’re going to transform the Middle East, and
then there won’t be war anymore. He can make them
democratic. He is a tough-minded idealist, but where
he is truly an idealist is that he brushes away
questions, says, ‘It won’t happen,’ whereas I would
say, ‘It’s likely to happen and therefore you can’t
take the chance.’ Paul’s idealism sweeps away doubts.”
Wolfowitz, for his part, said to me, “It’s absurdly
unrealistic, demonstrably unrealistic, to ignore how
strong the desire for freedom is.”

Scowcroft said that he is equally concerned about
Wolfowitz’s unwillingness to contemplate bad outcomes
and Kagan’s willingness to embrace them on principle.
“What the realist fears is the consequences of
idealism,” he said. “The reason I part with the
neocons is that I don’t think in any reasonable time
frame the objective of democratizing the Middle East
can be successful. If you can do it, fine, but I don’t
you think you can, and in the process of trying to do
it you can make the Middle East a lot worse.” He
added, “I’m a realist in the sense that I’m a cynic
about human nature.”

Scowcroft’s path to realism began, in a sense, with a
life-threatening accident. It had been his dream, he
said, from the age of twelve, to attend West Point. As
a child in Ogden, Utah, where he was reared in a
Mormon family, he had read a book called “West Point
Today” and, he said, “it just captured me.” He was
still a cadet when the Second World War ended. “I
assumed when I went in that I would fight,” he said.
“I remember when the war ended and we were on cadet
maneuvers in upstate New York, and I was manning a
mortar, thinking, What the hell am I doing here? The
war is over. There aren’t going to be any more wars.”

He graduated from West Point in 1947, in the top
quarter of his class, and joined the Army Air Corps,
because “all my friends were joining.” The accident
that altered the course of his life occurred during a
dogfighting exercise over northern New England: “I had
just taken off, and one of my companions jumped on me
and sort of attacked me right off. So I advanced my
power to go after him, and the engine governor
malfunctioned and the propeller overspun. I didn’t
know it, but it had broken a piston rod and I was
losing my coolant. My power was steadily going down. I
was at about fifteen hundred feet, still strapped in.
This was New Hampshire, forested, and I looked
around—there was a little clearing. The last thing I
remember was looking under my wing at the tips of the
last trees just under me.”

Scowcroft’s back was broken in the crash, and he spent
two years in Army hospitals. When he came out, doctors
told him that he wouldn’t fly again. He was asked by
West Point to teach.

In 1959, he was posted to Belgrade, to serve as the
assistant U.S. Air Force attaché at the embassy there.
In Belgrade, Scowcroft learned something about the
power of nationalism. “I don’t remember ever hearing
people call themselves Yugoslavs,” he said. “They
always called themselves Serbs, Croats, Slovenians.”
Realists, he noted, tend to believe in the abiding
relevance of national feeling, especially when
compared with such abstractions as Communist ideology.

Scowcroft returned from Belgrade to take a teaching
post at the Air Force Academy. The Air Force, which
was separated from the Army in 1947, was trying to
cultivate its own strategic thinkers, and it sent some
of its best young officers to graduate school.
Scowcroft attended Columbia, where he received a Ph.D.
He went on to a series of strategic-planning posts in
the Pentagon. Scowcroft rose steadily in the Air
Force, and, soon after he earned his first general’s
star, he was appointed Nixon’s senior military
assistant. He was put in charge of many quotidian but
indispensable things, including the White House’s
limousines. This was when he came to the attention of
Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was watching one day as H.
R. Haldeman, the White House chief of staff, dressed
down Scowcroft for some minor sin of administration.
“We were flying on Air Force One,” Kissinger told me.
“I saw Scowcroft disagreeing with Haldeman, and
Haldeman very imperiously tried to insist on his point
of view, but Scowcroft disagreed with him, and he was
a terrier who had got hold of someone’s leg and
wouldn’t let it go. In his polite and mild manner, he
insisted on his view, which was correct. It was some
procedural matter, but he was challenging Haldeman at
the height of Haldeman’s power.”

At the time, Kissinger was searching for a deputy
national-security adviser. “I was looking for someone
with character,” he said. “I knew a lot of people with
intelligence. But I needed a strong person as my
deputy, who would be willing to stand up to me if
necessary—not every day—but to stand up for what he
thought was right.” Scowcroft remembered his selection
differently. “I heard he wanted me because I was a
Mormon,” he said. “Mormons were supposed to be loyal
and faithful.”

In the nineteen-seventies, as now, the role of
morality in the conduct of foreign policy was the
subject of considerable debate. During the Nixon and
Ford years, the late Washington senator Henry (Scoop)
Jackson, a Democrat (many of the leading
neoconservatives, such as Wolfowitz, were once
Democrats), and one of the fathers of neoconservatism,
was battling Kissinger, the advocate of détente, over
his approach to the Soviet Union. Jackson, among
others, wanted to punish the Soviet Union for its
Jewish-emigration policy, and for its persecution of
dissidents like Andrei Sakharov; his criticism
intensified when Ford and Kissinger, worried about
antagonizing the Soviets, snubbed Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn. Ronald Reagan took on these causes when
he won the Presidency in 1980, and many dissidents,
including Natan Sharansky, who went on to become an
Israeli politician, were grateful for his condemnation
of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” Kissinger
believed that such confrontations were dangerous to
the smooth management of America’s relationship with
the Soviets.

Scowcroft, who served as President Ford’s
national-security adviser when Kissinger was Secretary
of State, recalled the 1976 primary fight between
Reagan and Ford: “It got so bad in the campaign that
Ford said he wouldn’t use the word ‘détente’ anymore.
The Reagan people excoriated Kissinger—they cast the
Soviet Union into outer darkness. Now, I was not fond
of the Soviet Union, but I didn’t think that calling
the Soviet Union the ‘evil empire’ got anybody

This Reagan-era fight was in some ways a dress
rehearsal for the fight today between neoconservatives
and realists: only the enemy has changed.

In the case of Iraq, Scowcroft was incensed by
Saddam’s violation of an international border; he did
not believe that Saddam’s treatment of his own
citizens merited military intervention. A month into
the war, Bush, in public comments, encouraged Iraq’s
defeated military, and also its civilian population,
to “take matters into [their] own hands” and to rise
up against Saddam. “Here’s where we fell down,” Robert
Gates said recently. “It was our hope that the
magnitude of the defeat would lead the Iraqi generals
to throw Saddam out, but we didn’t anticipate those
uprisings. When the Kurds and the Shiites rose up,
Saddam won back his generals. We speculated that
Saddam ‘warned’ his generals that, without him, they
could not control the uprising, and the country would
disintegrate.” Gates, who went on to serve as director
of the C.I.A. from 1991 to 1993, argued that the
President never intended to provoke a popular
rebellion. “When the President talked about the Iraqis
solving the problem, he was absolutely not urging the
Kurds and the Shiites to do it. He was talking about
the generals taking him out.” In the book that
Scowcroft wrote with the elder Bush, a passage about
the uprising said, “It is true that we hoped Saddam
would be toppled. But we never thought that could be
done by anyone outside the military and never tried to
incite the general population. It is stretching the
point to imagine that a routine speech in Washington
would have gotten to the Iraqi malcontents and have
been the motivation for the subsequent actions of the
Shiites and Kurds.” In Wolfowitz’s view, Scowcroft,
“by overestimating the risk of supporting the
rebellions that the U.S. had encouraged, bequeathed to
George W. Bush a much more complicated situation ten
years later.”

The treatment of dissidents was at the root of
Scowcroft’s most controversial moment as
national-security adviser, during a trip to Beijing
six months after the massacre of Chinese students near
Tiananmen Square. Like much of the world, the Bush
Administration was angered by the Chinese government’s
actions, but it also cautioned prudence. Bush
dispatched Scowcroft to carry a message. “After
Tiananmen, we were the first ones to crack down, we
cracked down hard on anything to do with the
military,” Scowcroft said, referring to a suspension
of weapons sales announced within days of the

Scowcroft communicated Bush’s concerns to the Chinese
leadership: “I knew Deng, and I had a wonderful, frank
discussion with him, and he said, ‘What happened in
Tiananmen Square is none of your business—it’s a
domestic issue, and we do whatever we want,’ and I
said, ‘You’re right. It is none of our business. But
the consequences of what you did in the world and to
our relations are our business. And that’s what I’m
here to talk about.’ ”

The trip attracted more notice when Scowcroft was
filmed at a banquet toasting the Chinese. “We’re
having the dinner, and the standard part of every
formal Chinese dinner is you have a toast at the end,”
he said. “Just before the toast, in comes the camera
crew. So I’ve got a choice. Do I turn my back on them
and walk out and destroy the purpose of the visit, or
do I look like a fool, toasting with the Chinese? And
I chose that. I knew how it would look. Our interests
and the reason I was there were more important than
how it made me look.” In 1992, Bill Clinton made the
Bush Administration’s China policy a campaign issue;
by 1994, Clinton had put trade, not human rights, at
the center of his China policy—a triumph for realism.

In August of 1991, when the Baltic states were about
to break free from Moscow’s control and the Soviet
Union itself seemed close to dissolution, Bush visited
Ukraine. He used the occasion, however, to warn his
Kiev audience about the dangers of “suicidal
nationalism.” He was ridiculed for this speech—it was
labelled the “Chicken Kiev” speech—and it did nothing
to slow the Soviet republics’ momentum toward

Natan Sharansky is now allied with the neoconservative
camp, and he cites the Chicken Kiev speech as a
typical instance of realist policymaking. A book that
he wrote last year, “The Case for Democracy,” came to
national attention when George W. Bush told the
Washington Times, “If you want a glimpse of how I
think about foreign policy, read Natan Sharansky’s
book ‘The Case for Democracy.’ . . . It’s a great

Sharansky argues that the United States would best
serve its own interests by choosing as allies only
countries that grant their citizens broad freedoms,
because only democracies are capable of living
peacefully in the world. In Kiev, “America had missed
a golden opportunity,” Sharansky wrote in a chapter
criticizing the President’s father. George H. W.
Bush’s Administration, he said, “was not the first nor
will it be the last to try to stifle democracy for the
sake of ‘stability.’ Stability is perhaps the most
important word in the diplomat’s dictionary. In its
name, autocrats are embraced, dictators are coddled
and tyrants are courted.”

In September, Sharansky was in Washington at the
invitation of Condoleezza Rice; he gave the closing
speech at a State Department conference on
democratization. “Can you believe it?” he said to me
just before the session. “Rice gave the opening speech
and I give the closing?” Of his complicated relations
with the Bush family, he said, “A few days after my
book comes out, I get a call from the White House.
‘The President wants to see you.’ So I go to the White
House and I see my book on his desk. It is open to
page 210. He is really reading it. And we talk about
democracy. This President is very great on democracy.
At the end of the conversation, I say, ‘Say hello to
your mother and father.’ And he said, ‘My father?’ He
looked very surprised I would say this.” Sharansky
went on, “So I say to the President, ‘I like your
father. He is very good to my wife when I am in
prison.’ And President Bush says, ‘But what about
Chicken Kiev?’ ” Sharansky smiled as he recounted this
story. “The President looked around the room and said,
‘Who is responsible for that Chicken Kiev speech? Find
out who wrote it. Who is responsible?’ Everyone
laughed.” Sharansky paused, and looked at me intently.
He had a broad grin. “I know who wrote Chicken Kiev
speech,” he said. “It was Scowcroft!”

Scowcroft may have had a hand in the speech, but when
I asked George H. W. Bush about it he answered as if
it had been his own idea. “I got hammered on the Kiev
speech by the right wing and some in the press, but in
retrospect I think the Baltic countries understood
that we were being cautious vis-à-vis the Soviet
Union,” Bush said. “And their freedoms were
established without a shot being fired.”

One day, I asked Scowcroft if he placed too much value
on inaction. I had in mind the first Bush
Administration’s record on Bosnia. Toward the end of
Bush’s term, Yugoslavia was beginning to disintegrate.
The Bush team was hesitant to intervene, or even to
lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims, who were
being murdered by Serbs. Lawrence Eagleburger, the
acting Secretary of State, said at the time, “This
tragedy is not something that can be settled from the
outside, and it’s about damn well time that everybody
understood that. Until the Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats
decide to stop killing each other, there is nothing
the outside world can do about it.”

Scowcroft addressed the question with more delicacy
than Eagleburger, but he didn’t disagree: there was
only so much that the United States could do, he said.
“I didn’t think it would break up,” he went on. “I
didn’t think the hatred was so deep; I didn’t want to
stir it up. I would have proposed that we go to the
Yugoslavs and say, ‘It makes no sense for you to break
up. Economically, you’re small as it is, but, if
you’re going to break up, here are the rules. Here are
the rules, and we’re going to insist on those rules.”
The Bush Administration, in an echo of Chicken Kiev,
was hoping, Scowcroft said, for Yugoslavia to stay

Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated the Bosnian peace
accords on behalf of President Clinton, saw the
Administration’s reluctance to take effective action
in Yugoslavia as a failure of realism. “When the Cold
War ended, the Bush people concluded that our
strategic interests were not involved,” Holbrooke
said. “And they turned their back on Yugoslavia just
as it fell to its death. They said they determined
that it had no strategic value, but, as it turns out,
the Balkans still had strategic value and an
overpowering humanitarian case as well.” A good
foreign policy, Holbrooke believes, ought to “marry
idealism and realism, effective American leadership
and, if necessary, the use of force.”

The first Bush Administration did engage in one act of
humanitarian interventionism, in Somalia, when it sent
American troops to help feed starving civilians in
Mogadishu. When I mentioned Somalia to Scowcroft as an
example of idealism over national self-interest, he
demurred, as if it were an accusation: a true realist
does not employ the military for selfless humanitarian
operations. The action in Somalia, Scowcroft said—at
least in his view—was in America’s self-interest.
“About four months before we went in, the President
and I had a meeting with the U.N. Secretary-General,
and he was saying that most of the world believes that
the U.N. has become the instrument of Western powers.
Here’s a chance to set that record straight. Here’s an
underdeveloped state, a Muslim state, a black state,
and here’s a chance to show the world that we are not
acting in our self-interest.” In other words, the
United States acted selflessly out of self-interest.

For Scowcroft, the principle is clear: by pragmatic
standards, a humanitarian intervention without a
strategic rationale is a mistake. And the experience
in Somalia was a reminder that an intervention—even
with the noblest motives—may end in humiliating
failure. In part because of what happened in Somalia,
the Clinton Administration did not intervene in Rwanda
during a genocide in which an estimated eight hundred
thousand people died. “A terrible situation—just
tragic,” Scowcroft said of Rwanda. “But, before you
intervene, you have to ask yourself, ‘If I go in, how
do I get out?’ And you have to ask questions about the
national interest.” Interventions have consequences,
he argues, and Iraq is a case in point. “There are a
lot of places in the world where injustice is taking
place, and we can’t run around and fix all of them.”

Democrats like Holbrooke take issue with Republican
realists. “Support for American values is part of our
national-security interests, and it is realistic to
support humanitarian and human-rights interventions,”
Holbrooke said. Such Democrats differ from the
Bush-style interventionists as well, particularly on
the value of treaties and the importance of
multilateral cooperation, although Holbrooke and Paul
Wolfowitz have sounded very much alike at times;
Wolfowitz, for instance, strongly supported a military
option in Bosnia. “It’s important to realize how much
can go wrong by doing nothing,” he said.

The experience in Iraq seems to have tempered the
Administration’s impatience with coalition-building.
There is more coöperation with America’s traditional
allies and more willingness to work with other
nations—with Europe in countering the nuclear
ambitions of Iran, and with China in countering those
of North Korea. The Administration, though, remains
committed to the export of democracy, and is publicly
optimistic about the future in Iraq. Wolfowitz, a
leading proponent of the Iraq war, recently said,
“Wilson thought you could take a map of Europe and
say, ‘This is the way things are going to be.’ That
was unrealistic, but the world has changed a lot in a
hundred years. The fact is that people can look around
and see the overwhelming success of representative

For Scowcroft, the second Gulf war is a reminder of
the unwelcome consequences of radical intervention,
especially when it is attempted without sufficient
understanding of America’s limitations or of the
history of a region. “I believe in the fallibility of
human nature,” Scowcroft told me. “We continually step
on our best aspirations. We’re humans. Given a chance
to screw up, we will.”


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