He’s been away from the White House for some 17 years, but Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, is in the news and in demand.
After the removal this month of Gen. James Jones from Scowcroft’s former White House post, Foreign Policy published a piece criticizing Jones by contrasting him with Scowcroft, calling the elder Bush’s Washington wise man “the most successful national security advisor in history.” According to the FP essay, Scowcroft was “extraordinary…No one had a better, more nuanced worldview.”
In the same vein, a recent Washington Post column turned to Scowcroft for mid-course grades on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.
But the Post and FP are just the tip of the Scowcroft iceberg. Earlier this year, a Newsweek piece condescendingly warned Republicans to listen to Scowcroft “and the other reasonable adults who back most of the Obama policy.” Late last year, Time praised Scowcroft as a key part of America’s “moderate national-security consensus,” charting “a solid and centrist foreign policy.” The New York Times has fondly called Scowcroft the old Republican realist.”
Indeed, a longing for a return to “realism” may be at the heart of the recent flurry of Scowcroft hagiography.
Without question, the younger Bush embraced and carried out a very different foreign policy than Scowcroft and the elder Bush, and the realists did not much care for it. It was too unpredictable for the realists’ taste, too black and white, and it let loose too many uncertainties, especially in and around Iraq.
For several years now, they have been critiquing, sometimes obliquely, sometimes overtly, the post-9/11 doctrine of the younger Bush.
Take James Baker, the elder Bush’s secretary of state. As he puts it, with a bit of a smirk, “When I left in ‘93, the question that always came up [was] ‘Why didn’t you guys take care of Saddam in 1991?’ Those questions are not asked of me anymore.”
What the realists forget to tell us, in their version of history, is that the foreign policy of realism had its problems, too, in Iraq and elsewhere.
After all, it was the realists who decided to cut Afghanistan loose after the Soviets withdrew. It was the realists who gave President Bill Clinton the time bombs in Somalia and Bosnia. It was the realists who made all those short-sighted deals with Middle East dictators, whose subjects hate us for propping up their rulers. And it was the realists who thought leaving Saddam Hussein in power was better than the alternative. But they didn’t consider all the ramifications of pulling the reins on Schwarzkopf’s juggernaut.