Quietly, with extraordinary grace, deftness and skill, Brent Scowcroft, who died Thursday night at the age of 95, established himself as the standard against which all others in his field are measured.
Gerald Ford once told me that the smartest thing he ever did as president was to take the national security adviser post away from Henry Kissinger, who at the time held both it and the job of Secretary of State, and give it to Scowcroft, who had been Kissinger’s deputy. Kissinger got the limelight but among those who study how the government works or seek to serve effectively within it, it is Scowcroft who has produced the enduring and superior legacy.
By the second time Scowcroft became national security adviser, under his close friend George H.W. Bush, he had served on the Tower Commission which investigated Ronald Reagan’s dysfunctional National Security Council and came up with the critical recommendations about how to fix it. His experience from having served once before in the job, from having examined the role of the NSC in depth once it had been broken down, from having seen what had worked and what had not under Kissinger and Nixon, Ford and then Reagan, and his relationship with Bush and Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker, provided the kind of preparation for the role that no one has had before or since. Under Bush, Scowcroft would be so successful in the twin roles of adviser to the president and “honest broker” among the members of the NSC and their teams, that the “Scowcroft model” has been the template for every national security adviser who followed him.