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The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security

The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security

by Bartholomew Sparrow

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For more than thirty years, Brent Scowcroft has played a central role in American foreign policy. Scowcroft helped manage the American departure from Vietnam, helped plan the historic breakthrough to China, urged the first President Bush to repel the invasion of Kuwait, and worked to shape the West's skillful response to the collapse of the Soviet empire. And


For more than thirty years, Brent Scowcroft has played a central role in American foreign policy. Scowcroft helped manage the American departure from Vietnam, helped plan the historic breakthrough to China, urged the first President Bush to repel the invasion of Kuwait, and worked to shape the West's skillful response to the collapse of the Soviet empire. And when US foreign policy has gone awry, Scowcroft has quietly stepped in to repair the damage. His was one of the few respected voices in Washington to publicly warn the second President Bush against rushing to war in Iraq.

The Strategist offers the first comprehensive examination of Brent Scowcroft's career. Author Bartholomew Sparrow details Scowcroft's fraught relationships with such powerful figures as Henry Kissinger (the controversial mentor Scowcroft ultimately outgrew), Alexander Haig (his one-time rival for Oval Office influence), and Condoleezza Rice (whose career Scowcroft helped launch—and with whom he publicly broke over Iraq).

Through compelling narrative, in-depth research, and shrewd analysis, The Strategist brings color and focus to the complex and often secretive nature of US foreign policy—an intellectual battlefield on which personalities, ideas, and worldviews clash, dramatically shaping the world in which we live.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Scowcroft, national security adviser to Presidents Ford and G.W. Bush, is a self-effacing mastermind of statecraft in this fulsome biography. University of Texas political scientist Sparrow styles him the perfect mix of realism, internationalism, patriotism, and pragmatism: hawkish on communism's threat yet willing to engage it through détente and arms control; eager to attack Saddam in 1991 but not in 2002, when his public opposition to the looming Iraq War enraged the Bush Administration. Sparrow's authorized biography credits Scowcroft with a chess-master's knack for strategic improvisation in global crises and Washington political wrangles and with a superlative character: he's "brilliant," "selfless," "modest," and "caring"; an "honest broker" who seeks consensus through a competent "process." (Sparrow does critically examine some Scowcroft initiatives, noting a deficit of vision in his vague "new world order" concept.) Sparrow's exhaustively researched insider's narrative of U. S. foreign and military policy-making is lucid and readable, but 600 pages of Scowcroft's dreary centrism can drag, and one is grateful when colorful figures like Kissinger horn in. Unfortunately, in celebrating Scowcroft's embodiment of America's national security consensus—in dubious adventures from Vietnam to Panama to the Persian Gulf—Sparrow avoids taking a deeper look at the assumptions and worldview underlying that consensus. Photos. Agent: James D. Hornfischer, Hornfischer Literary Mgmt. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
“The National Security Advisor wears two hats. He (or she) is responsible for overseeing the process of designing and implementing US foreign policy. At the same time, that person is a principal counselor to the president. It is difficult to get one much less both of these tasks right; it is even more difficult to keep them in balance. Brent Scowcroft, blessed with a rare mix of wisdom, political skill, and character, not only did just this for two presidents but he did it better than anyone before or since. This book tells that story, and like all good biographies, tells the story not just of the man but of his times.” —Richard N. Haass, president, Council on Foreign Relations

“From the fall of Vietnam and the collapse of the Soviet Empire to the rise of China and the advent of the War on Terror, Brent Scowcroft has been a powerful behind-the-scenes force helping to shape American strategy in a complicated, dangerous world. The insights Bartholomew Sparrow provides through the lens of Scowcroft's amazing career will subtly yet significantly alter our views of US foreign policy. Brent will long remain the model for the ideal national security advisor. Sparrow's book deftly makes clear why this is so.” —Dr. Robert M. Gates, former US secretary of defense and director of Central Intelligence

"…Informative…Just as there are writer's writers, Scowcroft is a foreign policy strategist's foreign policy strategist” –New York Times Sunday Book Review

"Mr. Sparrow's book is a top-notch guide to understanding and appreciating its subject's role in American strategy....[The Strategist] is a very useful and informative account of a man who ranks as one of America's most under appreciated foreign-policy practitioners.” –Wall Street Journal

"For years, [Brent Scowcroft] has served as the capital's most prominent Wise Man, held up by columnists and authors as a font of knowledge and experience on anything concerning America's relations with the world...And yet the real Brent Scowcroft is something more than this thin Wise Man stereotype. A fuller picture emerges from Bartholomew Sparrow's new biography, The Strategist.”-Washington Post

“Sparrow's exhaustively researched insider's narrative of U. S. foreign and military policy-making is lucid and readable…”—Publisher's Weekly

“Bartholomew Sparrow has written a superb biography of Brent Scowcroft, a smart, honorable, and highly capable man who was the National Security Advisor for both Presidents Ford and Bush 41. As this book makes clear, it's a great misfortune that Bush 43 did not employ Scowcroft in that same role, as he saw from the start that invading Iraq would turn the Middle East into a cauldron and seriously damage America's standing around the world.”—John J. Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago

“Although overshadowed by the more flamboyant figures of Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft is considered by many foreign policy professionals as the ideal national security adviser—self-effacing, an honest broker, and highly competent. And now he has a biography that does him justice and brings together his personal life, his multiple roles in the government, and the history he helped to make. Sparrow's fascinating account sheds a great deal of light on the man and his tumultuous times.” —Robert Jervis, Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics, Columbia University

“Few people contributed more to the success of American foreign policy during the latter stages of the Cold War than Brent Scowcroft, who has never received full credit—until now. Bartholomew Sparrow has done a remarkable job balancing narrative and analysis in this thoroughly researched account of Scowcroft's life and career. Essential reading for anyone who wants to know why the Cold War ended the way it did.” —H. W. Brands, Dickson Allen Anderson Centennial Professor of History and professor of government, University of Texas at Austin

“With insight, depth, and feeling, Bartholomew Sparrow captures a great statesman and strategist. Brent Scowcroft was at once brave, tough, thoughtful, and humble, which may be why he was so effective. A must-read for anyone, at any level, who wonders what makes a good leader.” —Evan Thomas, author of Ike's Bluff

Kirkus Reviews
Old-school conservative military adviser Brent Scowcroft (b. 1925) receives a discursive biographical treatment. Academic historian/biographer Sparrow (Government/Univ. of Texas; The Insular Cases and the Emergence of American Empire, 2006, etc.) takes an exhaustive look at this important but hardly dynamic figure in the annals of American political and military history. After a brief stint as a fighter pilot that ended in his near death in a crash, Scowcroft went on to distinguish himself at West Point, and he eventually earned a doctorate at Columbia University. He quickly became highly regarded in his field, so much so that President Richard Nixon appointed him White House military adviser in 1972. As part of a Republican cabinet full of war hawks, Scowcroft served as one of the few voices of reason in the Nixon administration during the last few years of the Vietnam conflict. Virtually burying his subject in peripheral historical facts, Sparrow leads readers through Scowcroft's career as a highly sought military planner through the Nixon and Ford administrations, to Reagan and George H.W. Bush and up to the brink of the Iraq War in 2003. The author paints Scowcroft as a dying breed of Eisenhower conservative not yet averse to compromise, open-minded diplomacy and general pragmatism. When Scowcroft dared to express his doubts about the Iraq invasion of 2003, he was dropped by the new brand of conservatives in the Bush administration, thereby ushering in a new era of fierce partisanship in American politics that Scowcroft would not outlast. Sparrow is unapologetic about his subject's somewhat middle-of-the-road attitude toward his job: He never seemed to make any missteps, but he had few great triumphs, either. The biggest fault with Sparrow's book is a simple case of a lack of sufficient content editing: Had the narrative seen the knife of an attentive editor, it might have transcended mere doorstop status. Dry and factually overwhelming, the book will appeal to hard-core military historians and politicos.

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Meet the Author

Bartholomew Sparrow is a professor in the department of government at the University of Texas at Austin where he teaches American political development. He has received fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University, and the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, and has been awarded the Leonard D. White and the Franklin L. Burdette Pi Sigma Alpha awards from the American Political Science Association. He received his PhD in political science from the University of Chicago.

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