Regrets? Even Brent Scowcroft Had a Few

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An Air Force officer who rose to lieutenant general, Mr. Scowcroft served as Henry Kissinger’s deputy national security adviser in President Richard M. Nixon’s White House and as national security adviser to President Gerald R. Ford. But it was his four years at Mr. Bush’s side from 1989 to 1993 that put him at the center of world-shaking events like the gulf war, the reunification of Germany, the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Despite his later argument against war in 2003, Mr. Scowcroft was more willing to use force while in office. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, he thought his colleagues on the National Security Council were too passive.

“The first N.S.C. meeting after the attack was one that indicated, ‘Well, it’s too bad, but gee — that’s a long way away — how would we get forces there? You know, it’s just kind of too bad, too hard to contemplate,’” he recalled. “There was sort of a fait accompli atmosphere in that first meeting.”

He raised the matter with Mr. Bush on Air Force One. “On the aircraft, I told him I was very disturbed at the tone of the N.S.C. meeting — a sort of throw-up-your-hands tone,” he said.

With Mr. Scowcroft’s prodding, American forces soon headed to the region. By the end of that year, he said in hindsight, war was inevitable, even though Congress had not yet voted, Secretary of State James A. Baker III was still exploring a diplomatic resolution and Gen. Colin L. Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was wary.

“By the time we got 500,000 troops out there, we needed a conflict,” Mr. Scowcroft said. “We couldn’t stand a diplomatic solution. Now, I didn’t articulate that, except to the president. Jim Baker and Colin Powell didn’t agree. But there was no doubt in my mind that by late December — middle of December — we were committed.”

Mr. Scowcroft, however, was no fan of General Schwarzkopf. Expanding on an episode reported in Rick Atkinson’s 1993 book “Crusade,” Mr. Scowcroft said he and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney tried to fire the general because of “these blind rages that he would get in, terrorizing subordinates and so on.”