Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser and longtime confidant of former President George H.W. Bush, has died, a spokesman for the 41st president’s foundation said Friday. He was 95.
Scowcroft died Thursday of natural causes, the spokesman, Jim McGrath, said in a statement.
A former Air Force general, he served as national security adviser under both Bush and President Gerald Ford. Regarded as soft-spoken and genteel, Scowcroft was a significant influence in American foreign policy in the last quarter of the 20th century and seen as promoting a “realist” foreign policy that valued overseas alliances.
In his tenure as Bush’s national security adviser, he was a key figure during the Gulf War and was at the forefront of the US responses to the Tiananmen Square crackdown and the reshuffling of Eastern Europe in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“Laura and I are saddened to learn that Brent Scowcroft passed away last night,” President George W. Bush said in a statement. “This patriot had a long career of distinguished service to our country. As a retired Air Force general, he gave sound and thoughtful advice to several presidents. He was an especially important advisor to my father – and an important friend. Laura and I, and my family, send our condolences to Brent’s daughter, Karen, and the Scowcroft family.”
Scowcroft’s involvement in the highest reaches of American foreign policy – he’s the only national security adviser in US history to serve two presidents – began in the Nixon administration at the close of the Vietnam War, but he is best remembered as a top adviser to George H.W. Bush.
Jean Becker, who served as Bush’s chief of staff in the years following his presidency, provided CNN with a never-before-seen excerpt from the 41st president’s diary from February 1991, during Operation Desert Storm.
“It’s tough testing time. The pressure is constant; but oddly enough, with Brent, (Secretary of State James) Baker, (Defense Secretary Dick) Cheney and (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin) Powell at my side on these matters, I still feel content,” Bush wrote. “Scowcroft comes over yesterday. I love the guy dearly. He is the best. This thoughtful, quiet, unselfish man is a source of tremendous strength to me.”
Bush, his boss and friend, would also tease him for easily dozing off during meetings. It happened often enough Bush even coined a term for it – “The Scowcroft Award” – which would be given to an official who could fall fast asleep during major meetings, and became part of Scowcroft’s lore among White House staffers.
The ‘Scowcroft Model’
Born on March 19, 1925, in Ogden, Utah, Scowcroft knew from a young age that he wanted to attend West Point, which he did, and eventually graduated into the Army Air Force, he said in a 1999 interview with the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. An accident prevented him from flying operationally, so he spent time teaching at both West Point and the Air Force Academy, later becoming an adviser to the Joint Staff at the outset of Richard Nixon’s presidency. He eventually became an assistant to then-national security adviser Henry Kissinger, an association that led to him stepping into Kissinger’s job during Ford’s presidency.
By the time Bush selected him to return to the role in 1988, he was regarded as possessing a “generally moderate stance” compared to hawks in the Reagan administration, The New York Times wrote at the time. He would serve as national security adviser for the entirety of Bush’s presidency, and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991.
White House national security advisers, past and present, have sought to emulate what’s become known as the “Scowcroft Model,” a fluid term that essentially points to the efficiency of Scowcroft’s National Security Council during his tenure in the Ford and Bush administrations.
Stephen Hadley, who served as a national security adviser to George W. Bush, described Scowcroft’s approach to the position as “running a fair, transparent, and inclusive process for bringing issues to the President; maintain the confidence of your national security colleagues; keep a low public profile, operating largely off stage; and give your advice privately to the President. This approach best serves the President and enhances the prospects for a sound foreign policy.”
Following the end of George H.W. Bush’s presidency in 1993, Scowcroft founded The Scowcroft Group, an international advisory firm. He continued to occasionally speak out on foreign policy and advise presidents, even as the Republican Party drifted away from its Cold War-era emphasis on overseas alliances such as NATO in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Given his close ties to the elder Bush, Scowcroft raised eyebrows in 2002 when he authored an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal cautioning against the then-impending US-led invasion of Iraq, citing concerns about diverting focus away from the broader war on terror and the potential to escalate tensions in the Middle East.
He would help Barack Obama shape his national security team following his election in 2008 and endorsed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016, saying Clinton would bring “truly unique experience and perspective to the White House.”
Asked by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in 2012 if he was “comfortable” with the current direction of the Republican Party, Scowcroft said he’s been consistent in his views and offered, “I think the party has moved.”
Scowcroft is survived by his daughter, Karen Scowcroft and his granddaughter, Meghan. He was preceded in death by his wife Marian, and sisters Janice Hinckley and Odette Scowcroft Cawley.
This story has been updated with additional background information and reaction.
CNN’s Jamie Gangel, Vivian Salama, Rachel Janfaza and Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.