Saturday, January 31, 2015

Q&A with Daniel Galera

Daniel Galera, photo by Renato Parada
Daniel Galera is the author of the novel Blood-Drenched Beard (originally published in Brazil as Barba Ensopada de Sangue), which won the 2013 Sao Paulo Literature Prize. His three other novels have been published in Brazil. He also works as a translator, and has translated work by Zadie Smith, John Cheever, and David Mitchell into Portuguese. Born in Sao Paulo, he lives in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this novel?

A: In 2008 I went to live in Garopaba, a small fishing village in the south coast of Brazil. As I got used to my new surroundings, soon I felt a desire to create a story set there.

I remembered a tale my father told me when I was a kid, about a murder that took place in Garopaba in the 1970s. I began imagining the victim of that mysterious crime, and that was the embryo for the rest of the novel.

The story ended up being about a grandson´s search for the truth about the death of his grandfather. But the narrative is less about the murder, and more about the existential journey of the introspective protagonist and the interplay between myth and fact in a small community where primitive nature and traditional ways of life coexist with the modern aspects of Brazilian life.

Q: Relationships among fathers and sons play a big role in the book. What intrigues you about that dynamic?

A: I guess I was less intrigued by relationships between father and son than by the idea of a grandson inheriting the mythical status of the grandfather he never knew. In other words, how the connection between members of a family is not only genetic but also narrative. It can be strongly shaped by the stories told about them by other people, even when they are not aware of it.

Q: Why did you decide to have your main character suffer from a rare neurological problem that causes him to forget faces?

A: I read about face-blindness in a book by neurologist Antonio Damásio some years ago and was immediately fascinated by this condition.

I decided then I´d eventually explore it in a character. The opportunity came with this novel.

There were three main reasons for this. The first is related to plot. The book begins almost as a mystery novel, with many clichés of that genre. You have for instance the stranger from the city arriving in a small town to investigate the murder of someone from his family. If this man is unable to remember faces, countless conflicts and interesting situations can arise.

The second has to do with psychology. He won´t be able to easily recognize enemies and threats but also friends, love interests and people he will care about. This relates with the character´s basic solitude and the sort of imperturbability he tries to cultivate.

The third has to do with language and style: a face-blind person learns to pay attention to a lot of details normal people won´t: hands, clothes, anything that can distinguish people apart from their face, and also context, and the environment in which interactions will take place.

This is transferred to the style, to the detailed descriptions of things that would otherwise be unimportant et cetera. So the face-blindness is deeply connected to the story and the way it is told. 

Q: Why did you structure the novel to include footnotes?

A: The footnotes were not part of my initial plans. I had a problem to solve. The book is told in the present tense, from the point of view of the protagonist, in third person. I wanted to avoid flashbacks and alternative points of view at all costs (even though in the end there were a few exceptions).

In some cases I felt I really needed to include some conversations or pieces of information that were not available to the protagonist. I put them into footnotes just to remember them, and try to solve the problem later.

They ended up staying in the final manuscript, as occasional add-ons to what´s going on in the main narrative. There are only a few and I don´t think they are really part of the structure of the novel, but they do add some valuable info for readers eager to connect all the dots.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I´m writing a new novel. Struggling to find the momentum, get in that zone where the work just flows. It´s in very early stages and unfortunately I can´t share anything too specific.

It´s set in contemporary Porto Alegre, the city where I live, but the characters´ back stories probably will go back to the late 1990s. The main character so far is a woman, a young scientist facing a very troubled moment in her life.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I don´t think so. I hope readers will be intrigued enough to read the novel and have their own impressions and conclusions. For foreign readers, I expect the novel will offer a glimpse of Brazil that´s a bit different from the usual.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Jan. 31

Jan. 31, 1905: John O'Hara born.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Q&A with Lincoln Schatz

Lincoln Schatz is the author of The Network: Portrait Conversations, a companion to the video exhibit of the same name, in which he interviewed dozens of people connected with Washington, D.C. He is an artist whose work focuses on multimedia and video projects, and he is based in Chicago.

Q: How did The Network project come about, and how did it become a book?

A: It exists as a video exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. We thought it needed to be codified in an analog format. The book would function as a guide to this complex world.

The video is software-driven [by the topic the subject is discussing]—it’s like a giant bowl of nuts. That makes it more democratic, but also a bit harder to know. The book functioned as a way of condensing and presenting each character.

Q: How do you think people experience the exhibit versus the book?

A: I think the experience of the exhibit is that you swim in it. It’s like a stream of information. You kind of let go of the need of having something fed to you, and you are fed from it.

The experience of the book is quite different. There was a lot of effort put into making each of the people knowable, to cull from a full interview a short essay…

Q: How did you pick the people to include? Are all of them actually based in D.C.?

A: We started with top lists that got us nowhere, and charts of Washington that got us nowhere. We hired a pollster, and it generated really obvious stuff like  Speaker Boehner…We thought the best way would be an organic referral system—get a few key people and ask them. It grew organically out of the network itself.

Some people were great—Nancy Pelosi, Grover Norquist, Martha Raddatz—there was another project we were working on in Washington, and she suggested Peter Chiarelli, and he said, you’ve got to get Marty Dempsey. At the same time, some people made decisions that they were not the right people.

We were keeping in mind to try to keep it balanced between parties. We leaned [right] at first, because we thought the larger challenge would be to get Republicans, but it was not a problem at all.

[One interviewee] was a career person at OMB—it was really interesting to hear from someone deep inside. All of it hopefully is giving people an aperture into Washington who don’t spend time in Washington. It’s not an easy, simple narrative, it’s a very complex narrative.

Q: So they’re mostly D.C.-based but not entirely?

A: A couple of people are not D.C.-based. They’re people who interface with Washington….

Q: Was the title “The Network” chosen because of the process you described with one person leading to another?

A: Yes…there are people who have been there so long they can be based on which administration they were part of. You have all these different ways people are connected that are not obvious to the outside. We’re trying to look at the different ways.

Q: Is there anything more about the project we should know?

A: It’s born out of, how can we look at Washington outside these current prescribed channels? We can dial our media to whatever channel sympathy we have…The attempt was not to change to a specific frequency or political agenda but enter into a world without an agenda, and allow for being surprised. I had a really great conversation with Grover Norquist; it was deeply compelling. I learned more and more.

Q: What changed your perceptions most as a result of working on this project?

A: I had worked in Washington for Senator Kennedy when I was 19. When people asked me what I learned [working on The Network], it is the caliber of people I met, the drive, the intelligence, the commitment to public service, and there’s so much we never hear about…

Q: What are you working on now?

A: While we were working on this project, I was commissioned by the State Department to do a project with the Department of Defense, with foreign service officers and the military. We worked on that; it’s a photo/audio/visual project.

As a byproduct we’re working with the State Department to tell the story around cultural exchanges—I’m going to Laos in March, trying to tell the story of this cultural exchange.

Q: Will that be a book too?

A: It will live on the State Department website. A lot of this is the ability to dig in and understand narratives, and tell them well through mixed media. I really enjoy that.

I’m [also] doing an interview series in Chicago, at the Arts Club of Chicago

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Jan. 30

Jan. 30, 1912: Barbara W. Tuchman born.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Q&A with Stephen Hess

Stephen Hess is the author of the new book The Professor and the President: Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Nixon White House. His many other books include Organizing the Presidency and America's Political Dynasties. He is a Brookings senior fellow emeritus based in Washington, D.C.

Q: Why did you decide to write about Nixon and Moynihan, and how did you select this format, which you describe as a “dramatic narrative,” as your approach?

A: When you’re 80 years old, you figure if you don’t write it now, it’s probably never going to get written! This was really meant to be my tribute to a very dear friend, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and so I decided to write as if you were there in present tense.

The book takes place in 1969-1970. If you’re doing free association, if you heard “Nixon,” you would reply “Watergate.” I wanted to make it clear that this was before Watergate; people didn’t know about Watergate.

It was a very difficult book to write. It’s my 21st, and perhaps the shortest. It’s in the present tense. I’ve got to be very careful not to let Richard Nixon run away with the story. This is Pat Moynihan’s story, but Richard Nixon is a historical figure who very easily could take over.

It’s perhaps my first book where I’m in the book. I want to be very clear about keeping short my personal involvement. The book is not a memoir, but I do figure in several places.

Q: What were some of the greatest differences between the two, both personally and politically?

A: They were the oddest couple in American political history, at lest in the second half of the 20th century. They were totally different. Moynihan was a true extrovert, bubbling with energy. Nixon was a total introvert, which was unusual for someone aspiring to be president of the United States. Everything can take off from those two simple characteristics, extrovert and introvert.

Q: What about politically?

A: One was a Republican and one was a Democrat, which meant generally that one was liberal and one was conservative. It didn’t mean their paths didn’t cross on certain issues.

In the area of Moynihan’s responsibility, domestic policy, it turned out that Nixon didn’t have very strong feelings. It was almost like a blank slate. He was so involved in issues of the world, he had a notion that he could turn domestic affairs over to somebody else. There wasn’t the conflict you’d have expected to find…

Those domestic views turned out to be argued almost from scratch between Moynihan and a conservative, also an Ivy League professor, Arthur Burns…it was a very high-level debate over the soul of the presidency.

Q: What would you say was Moynihan’s biggest impact during his time in the Nixon White House?

A: He did a number of things when he was in the White House. There’s a chapter about the little things—[such as] changing the statistical systems of the United States. It’s almost as if the president could say to Moynihan, Do anything you want, as long as it doesn’t cost too much and it doesn’t embarrass me.

The major thing he tried to do, change the welfare system, was defeated by one vote in the Senate. It didn’t come to pass, though parts of it did.

What he did, perhaps more importantly--he left the White House after two years--was he changed the president’s trajectory on domestic policy. The people who followed Moynihan in the agencies were doing things that were more progressive than you’d expect Nixon to do—environmental protection, a health plan which didn’t get anywhere. There were lots of things going on.

One must always be careful about that—anything that goes through the presidency has all sorts of influences and it’s hard to sort out what was Moynihan’s. But there is a written record.

Q: Moynihan’s area was urban policy. How was “urban policy” defined in 1969, and how much attention was given to it compared with today?

A: Lyndon Johnson had just left office, and urban policy was largely his War on Poverty and the Office of Economic Opportunity. Strangely enough, because Nixon had campaigned strongly against these types of policies in 1968, Nixon actually continued them. The war in Vietnam was going on, and everything domestic was being cut back.

Even OEO, the focal point, was turned over to Donald Rumsfeld, and creatively used for experimental programs. A lot of Nixon’s programs didn’t look that dissimilar from Lyndon Johnson’s….

Q: How much of that do you attribute to Moynihan?

A: I attribute much of it, all of it, to Moynihan. He was the only voice in the White House pushing for that.

There really were two phases of his relationship with Nixon. In the first, they didn’t know each other, and Nixon worried that Moynihan could get up and leave, and that would have been a tremendous story. He was bending over backwards in the beginning, in January and February of 1969, to give Moynihan some of the things he wanted, including things for the District of Columbia.

In the second, how he deals with the Family Assistance Plan, by this point, the relationship between Moynihan and Nixon was surprisingly solid. I have Bill Safire quoted as calling it a love affair. [Nixon] was listening to Moynihan’s expectation that somehow Nixon could have been a great president.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’ve got about three ideas I’m fooling around with. I did a series of books called Newswork, about the media and their relations in government. I somehow hoped I could take those books, the best of these books, as one volume, an anthology. I was hoping they could be brought together in some way, in about 250 pages. The problem there is that the press has changed so radically that I’ve got to worry about, Am I doing a dusty book for history?

I did a book called The Presidential Campaign. The last one was about 1988. I look at that and wonder whether it should be revised.

The third thing is, as you wind down your career, whether I should gather up more material that was left out of The Professor and the President. When I’d been here for 25 years, Brookings put out a little book of essays called Presidents and the Presidency. Maybe I’ll look at that, and put out a little presidency book.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For an earlier Q&A with Stephen Hess, please click here.

Jan. 29

Jan. 29, 1860: Anton Chekhov born.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Q&A with Molly Guptill Manning

Molly Guptill Manning, photo by Martin Bentsen
Molly Guptill Manning is the author of the new book When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II. She also has written The Myth of Ephraim Tutt. She is an attorney for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City.

Q: What impact did the Victory Book Campaign and the Armed Services Editions have on U.S. troops in World War II, and did the efforts have a lasting impact beyond the war?

A: The Victory Book Campaign (VBC) and the Armed Services Editions (ASEs) helped boost the morale of American troops during World War II and transformed millions of men into book lovers. 

As Lt. Col. Raymond Trautman (the chief librarian of the Army during WWII) once explained, the average man entering the Army had an 11th grade education and did not read books before the war (unless required to do so for school). 

During the war, over 140 million books saturated the Army and Navy, and many men—whether out of desperation for something to do or for a distraction from the horrors of war—turned to books. 

Publishers took great pains to send only those titles and authors that they thought the men would truly enjoy. With such a fine assortment of books each month, almost every man could find something appealing to read. 

As one newspaper observed, by the end of the war, the United States had “the best read Army in the world.”

When these troops were discharged from service, they brought home a love of reading. Many men wrote to publishers asking whether they could continue to receive ASEs after the war, for they had grown so fond of receiving a fresh batch of good books each month. 

Although the ASE program ended in 1947, veterans discovered a flourishing paperback trade when they returned home. Costing as little as 25 cents apiece, veterans could afford to continue their reading habit. The ASEs and Victory Books made life-long readers out of the soldiers and sailors they served.

Veterans also returned to the United States with the promise of a free college education (or vocational training) under the GI Bill.  Although many people entered the services without plans to go to college and with a distaste for books, they proved to themselves during the war that they enjoyed an activity as scholarly as reading. 

Over two million veterans took advantage of the GI Bill’s offer of a college education. These veterans proved to be such serious and fine students that they were referred to as “DARs” on some campuses—Damned Average Raisers.

Q: How were the books selected for the Armed Services Editions, and which books were especially popular with the troops?

A: Most books were selected using a three-part process. First, publishers considered the books they were publishing each month and created lists of best-sellers, new and noteworthy fiction, classics that had lasting appeal, popular non-fiction, and any other type of book that young men might enjoy. 

Second, the Council on Books in Wartime had a paid staff of “readers,” who then read the books selected by the publishers and flagged any passages that were offensive, discriminatory, or objectionable on other grounds (the books were supposed to provide an escape, not make people angry). 

Third, the Army and Navy had final say over which titles would be made into ASEs. 

Servicemen wrote countless letters to publishers and officials in the Army and Navy to request certain titles or books by their favorite authors. These letters helped influence what books were ultimately selected.

Every genre of book was printed—comics, books of humor, short stories, modern fiction, westerns, sports stories, histories, mysteries, non-fiction, classics, plays, etc. 

The most popular tended to be wholesome books that reminded readers of their families and homes. Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Rosemary Taylor’s Chicken Every Sunday were two such titles. 

On the other hand, there were also many requests for books with sex scenes, such as Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber and Lillian Smith’s Strange Fruit.

Q: You also describe the book burnings and bannings in Germany and the countries conquered by Germany during the war. How much of the effort behind the VBC and the ASEs was a direct response to that?

A: Beginning in 1933, the Nazis tried to limit thought and ideas by hosting book burnings and publicizing long lists of books that were banned. Knowing what was happening in Germany, American librarians began to discuss how books were under attack. 

Later, as the German Army invaded and occupied nations across Europe, it became clear that the attack on books was intertwined with the war. Whole libraries were burned, thousands of titles were banned in France and other countries, and printing presses fell under the control of the Nazis. The freedoms to read and spread ideas were severely curtailed. 

American librarians decided they could fight this “war of ideas” with books. Instead of eliminating ideas as Germany did, librarians encouraged Americans to read and spread ideas.

Once the United States declared war on Germany and Japan, librarians shifted their focus to ensuring that those in the armed services would have plenty of reading materials for their entertainment, as well as to bolster their minds with ideas. In this way, the VBC grew out of librarians’ desire to protest Germany’s book restrictions.

As for the ASEs, the primary reason these books were printed was because the Army and Navy faced a growing morale problem and they needed small, portable items of entertainment that men could carry anywhere—into battle, on long marches, and everywhere else.  

While hardcover books were the norm on the home front—and books donated to the VBC were primarily hardcovers—servicemen facing combat needed paperbacks. Publishers set out to produce special books, especially for GIs. A wide selection of titles was printed each month, so that each man could find something to read that would help make his life at war more bearable.

Q: How did you research this book, and what surprised you most in the course of your research?

A: I used a variety of sources to research When Books Went to War. Princeton University houses the archives for the Council on Books in Wartime, the organization of publishers that designed and oversaw the production of the ASEs. This was a very helpful starting place. 

I also consulted the Victory Book Campaign records at the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library. To a lesser extent, I consulted the American Library Association’s records in Illinois and individual authors’ papers, such as Betty Smith’s and Katherine Anne Porter’s.

Beyond archives, I read countless books about World War II, as well as ASEs, magazines, and newspaper articles. There are times in my book when I describe how the soldiers viewed the war (or what they had read about certain battles or events), in which case I relied on the newspapers and magazines that were available only to soldiers, such as Yank the Army Weekly, Stars and Stripes, or the “pony-sized” magazines that were printed exclusively for the armed services (such as Time, Newsweek, and The New Yorker).

I think I was most surprised to learn how many books had been destroyed across Europe by V-E Day (over 100 million), and how many books were distributed to the American armed forces during the war (over 140 million).  These numbers are just incredible.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’d love to write another book—history is a passion of mine.  I have a few ideas in mind, and am doing some preliminary research on each one.  I am hoping this will help me decide what to write next.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: When Books Went to War is now a New York Times best seller!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Jan. 28

Jan. 28, 1873: Colette born.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Q&A with Bartholomew Sparrow

Bartholomew Sparrow is the author of the new book The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security. His other books include The Insular Cases and the Emergence of American Empire and Uncertain Guardians. He is a professor of government at the University of Texas, Austin.

Q: Why did you choose to write a biography of Brent Scowcroft?

A: After I finished my book on the Insular Cases (the Insular Cases are series of landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases dating from 1901 to 1922 that made the novel distinction between the “unincorporated” and “incorporated” territories of the United States), I was considering starting a new project on how U.S. foreign policy had evolved from the Cold War through 9/11 and up to the present, given the tremendous changes that had happened over this period around the world.

I also thought about writing a historical analysis of how presidents and their advisers administer national security policy, broadly defined, given the multiple stakeholders with simultaneous interests in presidential decision-making—the State Department, Department of Defense, intelligence community, other government agencies, commercial interests, other interest groups, mobilized members of the public, and potentially others.  

But as someone who had already written several books, I wanted to [address] more than political scientists if my subject was suitable to a larger audience. 

Meanwhile, as someone who had followed current events since childhood and who was aware of Brent Scowcroft’s continued presence in national security politics and policy debates over the years, I wondered about writing a biography.  

Although Scowcroft is a fixture in Washington, he has received only sporadic attention, most recently in the summer of 2002, when he made his famous dissent in The Wall Street Journal. And the more I read about Scowcroft, the more the idea of writing his biography appealed to me.

I had written two short stories for my nieces and nephews and had drafted a book-length simulation game for use in one of my classes, so I was reasonably comfortable with the narrative form and the conversational [tone] I wanted to adopt for a biography.

Writing a biography of Brent Scowcroft would thereby meet my several goals.  It would allow me to write about the broad arc of U.S. foreign policy from the last third of the Cold War up to the 2010s.

It would enable me to analyze the interagency policymaking process and the bureaucratic politics involved in the formation and execution of national security policy. 

And it would possibly appeal to larger national community of policymakers, historians, policy experts, and interested members of the public.

Scowcroft himself also helped me decide. Once I contacted him to investigate the possibility of his biography, contact possible through the help of several generous intermediaries, and traveled to Washington, D.C., he agreed to cooperate. 

I interviewed him in his office and although he was dubious about having a biography written about him, he agreed to give me access to his high school, U.S. Military Academy, and Columbia University transcripts, his extensive Air Force personnel records, and a scrapbook with some personal clippings and photos that his mother had made for him. 

He also—and this was crucial—allowed me to interview him on a regular basis. He also made it possible for me to talk to his friends, colleagues, associates, and family members. Without this cooperation, I could not have written a book anything like The Strategist, and I would have most likely postponed the project indefinitely or decided to drop it altogether.

Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Scowcroft and Henry Kissinger, with whom he worked for many years?

A: The two have been close friends ever since 1971, when Scowcroft first started working with Dr. Kissinger in his capacity as military assistant to President Nixon and Kissinger was serving as national security advisor.  

Scowcroft and Kissinger shared similar views on U.S. foreign policy and international relation, both were familiar with European, Russian, and world history, and both were expert in nuclear strategy.  

Although they began as boss and assistant when Kissinger hired Scowcroft as his new deputy in 1973—the former a famous Harvard University professor and author, the latter a reserved and not-well-known one-star general—their relationship became more balanced as Scowcroft acquired more experience. 

It especially shifted when Kissinger became secretary of state in September 1973 and Scowcroft acquired more responsibility and then in November 1975 when Scowcroft became national security advisor (Kissinger continued as secretary of state). Scowcroft became more willing to question or disagree with Kissinger and to make independent recommendations to the president.

The two worked well together.  Scowcroft’s personality almost perfectly complemented that of Kissinger, the former being steady, poised, and more straightforward, and the latter often mercurial, intemperate, and less straightforward.  

They continued to work together after the Ford administration. Scowcroft helped found Kissinger Associates in 1982, and they worked together for several years until Scowcroft became national security advisor under Bush 41. 

As national security advisor, Scowcroft consulted frequently with his friend, not that he, President Bush, or Secretary of State James Baker took Kissinger’s advice.  

In the two decades since 1993 and the end of the first Bush administration they have kept in touch, speaking frequently by telephone, occasionally serving on the same boards and discussion panels, and seeing each at the same functions and events.

They have their differences. Scowcroft was typically more cautious on the use of force than Kissinger, as with the Mayaguez incident (where Kissinger was more intent on bombing the Cambodian mainland) and the Korean Tree incident (where Kissinger wanted the U.S. to strongly retaliate against North Korea after the killing of two U.S. soldiers on the DMZ by North Korean soldiers). Scowcroft usually preferred more measured, more muted responses to foreign policy crises.

They disagreed on going to war against Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11, an occasion where Kissinger essentially supported the George W. Bush White House. 

They also conflicted over the desirability of publicly advocating total nuclear disarmament, a goal George Shultz, William Perry, Sam Nunn, and Kissinger proposed in a January 2007 Wall Street Journal editorial. 

Scowcroft regarded such a goal as unrealistic, dangerous, and counterproductive, given the availability of nuclear weapons and the false hopes that such an appeal raised (since as a practical matter it would be foolhardy for the United States to eliminate its entire nuclear arsenal). 

Notwithstanding these and other differences, they are very close and view each other with a great deal of mutual affection and respect.

Q: You write, “The defeat [in Vietnam] scarred Scowcroft and his colleagues...” How did the outcome in Vietnam affect Scowcroft's thinking when it came to future foreign policy decisions?

A: The experience of living through and then being involved with the Vietnam War taught Scowcroft several lessons. One was that the White House had to bring Congress along when making U.S. foreign policy—or at least not alienate important members of Congress—if U.S. foreign policy was to be effective. 

As the chair of The President’s Commission on Strategic Forces of 1983 (also known as the Scowcroft Commission), Scowcroft consulted closely with members of the House of Representatives, especially Democratic up-and-comers Les Aspin and Al Gore. To everyone’s surprise, he and his fellow commissioners were able to get the MX deal through Congress.

Later, Scowcroft worked extremely hard and ultimately successfully to persuade more than a third of the Democratic-controlled Senate from overriding Bush’s presidential vetoes on several occasions, which meant persuading members from across the aisle.

But he was able to do this because he often breakfasted with members of Congress and otherwise met with them to exchange views. His own personal credibility also helped immensely.  

The fact that he faced Democratic-controlled Congresses in both the Ford and first Bush administration meant that he often disagreed with congressional leaders, but he tried to keep the avenues of communication open.

The United States’ failure in Vietnam also made Scowcroft realize how important successful relations with the press were. An administration’s foreign policy could not be sustained unless it were presented and explained to the larger policy community and the American public, and close relations between the White House and the press made this possible.  

So when he became national security advisor Scowcroft often spoke to chief correspondents in the national media, usually on background, and often met with small groups of reporters from different publications and media groups to explain the White House’s perspectives. After he left office, he wrote dozens of op-eds and gave numerous interviews.

The Vietnam War and the Mayaguez incident revealed something else: the importance of inter-service cooperation among the Army, Navy, Air Forces, and Marines, in light of the coordination problems during the Vietnam War and then the U.S. military’s response to the Cambodian seizure of the Mayaguez merchant ship in May 1975. 

Scowcroft, along with others, worked with General David Jones to see to the eventual passage of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act for centralizing and clarifying the U.S. armed forces command structure and improving joint service operations.

Perhaps the most important lesson of Vietnam was that the United States had to think through foreign engagements and to consider the larger strategic implications of any policy initiative and the United States’ long-term interests. Scowcroft did not believe U.S. policymakers had ever thoroughly thought through the dimensions and implications of the Vietnam War. 

So when the new Bush administration took office in 1988 and faced the social revolutions in Eastern Europe, the later collapse of the Soviet Union, and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Scowcroft, Bush, Baker and their advisers carefully thought through what their ultimate objectives were and how they wanted to proceed.

Q: You begin the book by describing Scowcroft's op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal in August 2002 arguing against a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Why did you decide to open the book with this incident, and what impact did the op-ed have?

A: One reason was to show Scowcroft’s courage by dissenting in public against the standing president of the United States, someone who he knew well and who happened to be the son of his dear friend, George H.W. Bush. 

At the time, moreover, Scowcroft was serving as the chair of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), appointed by President Bush in early 2001. 

Scowcroft also showed courage by writing “Don’t Attack Saddam” because the op-ed questioned the judgment of several of Bush 43’s top advisers, several of whom were friends and associates of Scowcroft’s dating back to the first Bush administration.  

And he paid a price for the dissent: for more two years following his op-ed, Scowcroft was shunned by those in the administration and fellow Republicans.

Another reason for beginning with this episode was to signal the biography’s timeliness, since the decision to invade Iraq turned out to be the point of departure for an extraordinarily destructive and costly chain of events, the effects of which clearly remain with us to this day.

A third purpose was that Scowcroft’s writing the op-ed evoked a central theme of the book: the importance of the NSC process—that is, the way that diplomacy, intelligence, the military, and other dimensions of policymaking, such as finance and public relations, are harnessed, coordinated, and directed by American presidents and their staffs.  

The fact that Scowcroft felt he had to write the op-ed speaks to the problems in the quality of the White House policy process. Virtually all of the Bush administration’s high-ranking officials—George W. Bush almost certainly included—already knew Scowcroft’s position on an invasion of Iraq, given the paltry evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and had close ties to Al Qaeda.

The op-ed further points to the remarkable longevity of Scowcroft’s career. At the age of 77 he was able to start a national debate about the wisdom of using force against the Iraqi regime and discussion in the press about a possible rift within the Republican Party. 

For a short while, Scowcroft and others who then also spoke out against going to war on Iraq were able to halt the momentum towards precipitous action and deposing Saddam Hussein.

Finally, the fact that Scowcroft wrote the op-ed indicated his deep patriotism—the fact that he was willing to face the ostracism of the White House and many Republicans and neoconservatives given how strongly he felt that war against Iraq ran contrary to the United States’ longer term interests. 

In fact, Scowcroft has been almost continually involved in national security policy since the mid-1970s. He is the writer (or co-author) of over a hundred op-eds in major media outlets on occasions where he felt his voice was needed; he has been a chair, co-chair, or member of over a dozen important commissions; and he has been a confidant and adviser to numerous government officials and even several U.S. presidents over the past few decades. 

In this sense, the op-ed is somewhat misleading: not only did Scowcroft write many, many op-eds (several others in the months after the September 11 attacks, in fact), he usually stayed behind the scenes, proceeding privately and discreetly.

Besides evoking a short-lived debate over the merits of attacking Iraq and making Scowcroft a persona non grata in the Bush White House for a few years and turning other leading Republicans, neoconservatives especially, against him, the op-ed made more Americans aware of Scowcroft. 

Given how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan played out, more people in Washington and around the country became more appreciative of a more restrained and more practical U.S. foreign policy.

Q: You describe the close working relationship between Scowcroft and George H.W. Bush. How did Scowcroft's relationship with the first President Bush differ from his dealings with George W. Bush?

A: George H.W. Bush and Scowcroft are exceptionally close and they share many of the same values.  They admire, respect, and wholly trust each other.

Their friendship dates back to when Bush was chairman of the National Republic Party and Scowcroft was serving as deputy national security advisor under Nixon.

They have many of the same experiences, growing up during the Second World War and both were pilots, Bush with the Navy and Scowcroft with the Army Air Corps. 

They were both pragmatic internationalists who believed…that personal relationships among heads of state and top officials was crucial for the international system, that the United States needed to create strong working relationship with the People’s Republic of China, and that the U.S. interests were best served by policymakers taking a long-term perspective and by working as much as possible with international institutions, such as NATO, the United Nations, the World Bank, and the WTO (formerly GATT). 

Scowcroft sent the senior Bush a copy of his Wall Street Journal op-ed before it came out, for example, so his friend—who shared his doubts about the wisdom of attacking Iraq—would not be surprised by reading the op-ed in that Wednesday’s paper or learn of it second-hand.

Scowcroft liked and got along well with George W. Bush (21 years his junior), but they disagreed on foreign policy, differed temperamentally, and contrasted stylistically. 

Whereas Scowcroft and the senior George Bush were polite, polished, respectful of other foreign leaders, genteel, and cautious as leaders, the younger Bush was often brash, abrupt with others, impatient with international diplomacy, and zealous.  

The younger Bush believed that his father had failed in important ways: leaving Saddam in power; losing the Republican right in the House of Representatives in 1990; and being defeated in his bid for reelection.  

And Scowcroft, as his father’s right-hand man, was partly responsible for his father’s mixed record as president in George W. Bush’s eyes—with Bush 43 saying during his election campaign that he wanted nothing to do with either Scowcroft or James Baker once he was president.  

Although Scowcroft never spoke to me directly of his relationship with George W. Bush, I think it is clear that he regarded the younger Bush as inexperienced on foreign policy, unreflective and incurious, and ideological—and ultimately as teachable. 

So even though Bush 43 rejected Scowcroft’s advice in 2002 and dismissed him as the chair of PFIAB in 2004, the former national security advisor worked extensively with the administration’s foreign policy advisers—Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, and, later, Robert Gates—in Bush’s second term in office.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I continue to be interested in the interplay between the United States and the world, but I am now going back in time, to colonial America and the founding of the United States.  

A colleague and I are researching the significance of the fact that more than half of the European immigrants who arrived in the British North American colonies arrived as unfree workers.  

These were indentured servants, a population that included those unable to pay for their passage over, exiled political prisoners, people who were kidnapped or “spirited” from coastal towns and cities, and about 50,000 convicted felons who chose to be transported to New World rather than be hanged. 

Ship captains would then sell these indentured servants and others into bondage upon arriving on American shores, where they would typically spend four to seven years as forced labor.

Although British, American, and Australian colonial historians are well [aware] of this population, those who write of the politics of the founding essentially ignore class. 

Because almost all of this population and their descendants were illiterate, without appreciable property, and located diffusely, they do not have a large presence in American history and our goal is to uncover the effect this population had on the politics of the founding era (1776-1789) and the early United States.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Scowcroft should be viewed as one of the most influential people in the history of U.S. national security policy and as probably the most trusted “wise men” of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, even though he is known to few outside Washington. 

A study of his career—and the contrast between his example and those of other national security advisors and other officials involved in making national security policy—reveals just how much each individual on the president’s foreign policy team matters. 

His career shows just how important the quality of the interaction and chemistry is among a president’s principal advisors, and just how critical the relationship is between the president and the national security advisor. 

This is a relationship analogous to the relationship the president has with the chief of staff with respect to domestic politics and policy. 

But because decision-making in foreign policy is usually more centralized than that of domestic policy, the president’s relationship to the national security advisor is even more determinative of major decisions with respect to U.S. foreign policy.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This Q&A also appears on