Scoop Jackson's protégés shaping Bush's foreign policy
Seattle Times Washington bureau
WASHINGTON — As legacies go, few elected officials from the state cast a longer shadow than the late Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, who served 31 years in the Senate and launched two unsuccessful presidential campaigns.
But exactly how the popular Democratic senator from Everett is remembered depends on which part of his career you focus on: his passion for conservation or his reputation as one of the most strident Cold Warriors of either political party.
These days, it's mostly the latter, to the chagrin of some of Jackson's more liberal supporters.
But it's easy to understand why Jackson's hawkish views are suddenly in vogue: Many of the young aides who were drawn to work for Jackson in the 1970s because of his unwavering opposition to the Soviet Union now help shape the Bush administration's foreign policy.
At one time, these Jackson Democrats advocated building more nuclear weapons in an effort to hobble world communism. Many have since joined the Republican Party and rally around new foreign-policy buzzwords: "regime change."
"There is no question in my mind that the people who supported Iraq are supporting Henry Jackson's instincts," said Jackson biographer Robert Kaufman, a political scientist at the University of Vermont.
Peter Jackson, the senator's son, said some admirers of his father's position on foreign policy forget Jackson's efforts to preserve wilderness and enact environmental policies.
And tying the senator's vision too closely with the war in Iraq makes his son uneasy.
"It doesn't make me feel comfortable if it (the Iraq war) is being cast as the natural extension of that legacy," Peter Jackson said.
The list of former Jackson staff members reads like a who's who of foreign-policy experts.
• Richard Perle is an adviser to the Defense Department and considered a major influence on Bush administration foreign policy.
• Doug Feith is undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon.
• Elliott Abrams, special assistant to the president focusing on Middle East affairs, worked as special counsel to Jackson.
Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense and one of Bush's Iraq policy experts, never served directly under Jackson. But they had a long relationship that began when Wolfowitz, then a 29-year-old graduate student, helped Jackson prepare charts when the senator wanted to persuade fellow lawmakers to fund an antiballistic-missile program in 1969.
Elected to Senate in '52
Born in Everett in 1912, Jackson was elected county prosecutor before winning a seat in the House of Representatives in 1940.
A visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp after World War II cemented his lifelong advocacy of Israel and other Jewish causes. In 1949, he argued for the development of the H-bomb.
He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1952, and supported the troop buildup in Vietnam. In 1978, he fought President Carter's decision to forgo deployment of the neutron weapon, which could kill people while causing little damage to buildings and other structures.
By the 1970s, Jackson was one of the last Democratic Party standard-bearers of a get-tough approach to the Soviet Union.
When President Ford announced he would not invite dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn to the White House in 1975 for fear of angering the Soviet Union, Jackson and a group of other senators asked Solzhenitsyn to speak at an office in the Capitol.
Such positions often placed Jackson at odds with members of his own party.
After the war in Vietnam, many prominent Democrats said the country's troubles abroad were caused by American belligerence and paranoia. Throughout the 1970s, Republicans wanted to control the Soviet Union through détente.
But Jackson opposed détente, never wavering from his belief that communism was inherently evil and needed to be confronted by American power. He attracted a group of like-minded people to work for him.
"I wanted to work for Scoop Jackson. He was the last Democrat who embodied the high tradition of internationalism," said Charles Horner, a former aide who is now a scholar at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.
"Bush is the embodiment of that tradition," Horner added.
Jackson ran for president in 1972 and 1976 but didn't make it past the primaries.
Many former Jackson staff members became disillusioned with the Democratic Party during the Carter administration and later supported President Reagan. As a group, they were known as the "neoconservatives," or neocons.
When Reagan presented Jackson's widow, Helen, with a posthumous Medal of Freedom in 1984, he said: "I am deeply proud — as he would have been — to have Jackson Democrats serve in my administration. I am proud some of them have found a home here."
Twenty years later, many of those Jackson Democrats are credited with helping devise Bush's war on terrorism and invasion of Iraq.
"The Rumsfeld Defense Department is as close to Jackson as any publicly identifiable group," biographer Kaufman said. He remembers a Henry M. Jackson Foundation dinner in Washington, D.C., three years ago attended by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Perle, Abrams and Wolfowitz.
Perle and Jeanne Kirkpatrick, former U.N. ambassador under Reagan, serve on the board of the Seattle-based Jackson Foundation, which provides grants to nonprofits and educational institutes.
Former House Speaker Tom Foley, who also worked for Jackson, and longtime civic leader Jim Ellis are also board members, as are Peter Jackson and his mother.
The official biography on the foundation's Web site notes Sen. Jackson was "an expert on nuclear weapons and strategic issues." But it devotes more attention to his conservation legislation and efforts to preserve wilderness areas including the North Cascades Park, Olympic National Park and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
Peter Jackson said Kaufman's biography, "Henry M. Jackson — A Life in Politics" (University of Washington Press, 2000), gave short shrift to his father's environmental record and emphasized his foreign policy almost exclusively.
When reading early drafts of Kaufman's book, Peter Jackson said, he bristled at Kaufman's repeated use of the phrase "evil empire" to describe the senator's attitude toward the Soviet Union. The words belonged to Reagan, not to his father, Peter Jackson said.
But Peter Jackson said he supported the war to oust Saddam Hussein and often defends Perle to those in liberal circles who consider him "the Prince of Darkness" — a warmonger and profiteer.
Scoop Jackson's greatest legacy, said his son, may be his steady convictions and his belief that, in foreign policy, the best politics is no politics.
Trying to guess what Jackson would say today is useless, he said. But he added: "My father would never grandstand or question someone's patriotism. Since he died, the debate has become shriller."
After thinking about his father's legacy for a few days, Jackson, a former speechwriter for Gov. Gary Locke, e-mailed a final thought:
"Intellectually, neocons are children of a common father, but what can the father do after a lowly few race off and elope with Republicans? Most Dads would sigh, lament their kids' poor taste, but love them anyway."
Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124 or email@example.com
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