Former U.S. Defense secretary James Schlesinger dead at 85

The Associated Press
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James R. Schlesinger, a hawkish and erudite Republican who straddled the partisan divide to serve in cabinet-level posts under three U.S. presidents, has died, a Washington think-tank said Thursday. He was 85.

James Schlesinger speaking at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., in 2004.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where Schlesinger was a trustee, confirmed his death.

The onetime University of Virginia economics professor built an impressive national-security re­sumé as defence secretary for Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and was the nation’s first energy secretary under Democratic president Jimmy Carter. Earlier he was a top White House budget official, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and director of the Central Intelligence Agency — all under Nixon.

In later years, he served on a host of defence and energy-related task forces and advisory committees and continued to push for more sophisticated nuclear weapons systems. He was a longtime member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board and was appointed by president George W. Bush to the Homeland Security Advisory Committee.

Schlesinger was “a remarkable public servant,” said former senator Sam Nunn, a Democrat, who sparred with him as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“He left an astounding mark on American security and energy policy,” CSIS said on its website. “After leaving government, Dr. Schlesin­ger continued to promote a stronger and more prosperous country through his work at many policy institutions, including CSIS.”

The Harvard-educated Schles­inger gained a reputation as a perceptive thinker on nuclear strategy, advocating a retreat from reliance on mutually assured destruction as a means of avoiding nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

“Deterrence is not a substitute for defence,” he said.

Becoming Defense secretary in 1973 at age 44, Schlesinger was well-liked among military leaders, consulting with them frequently and aggressively lobbying Congress for more money for the armed forces.

His pro-interventionist foreign policy also brought him favour with the new-right coalition of the day. He worked to rebuild military morale and revamp nuclear strategy in the turbulent period after the Vietnam War era. He opposed amnesty for draft resisters.

But his bluntness and tenacity in military budget struggles made for often prickly relations with Congress and he clashed frequently with secretary of state Henry Kissinger. President Gerald Ford fired him in 1975 and replaced him with his White House chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld.

But Schlesinger wasn’t gone for long.

He was back in the senior ranks of government about two years later, serving first as Carter’s energy czar and then as the first secretary of the new Energy Department, created amid severe fuel shortages and soaring prices spawned by oil embargoes and tensions with Iran in the 1970s.

Associated Press reporter Matt Daly

contributed to this story.

Organizations: CSIS, Center for Strategic and International Studies, University of Virginia Atomic Energy Commission Central Intelligence Agency Pentagon Defense Policy Board Homeland Security Advisory Committee.Schlesinger Senate Armed Services Committee Harvard Energy Department Associated Press

Geographic location: Soviet Union, Vietnam, Iran

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