Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

James Schlesinger, who served three presidents, dies at 85

James Schlesinger, left, served as secretary of defense under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and became the nation’s first secretary of energy under President Jimmy Carter.

New York Times (2004)

James Schlesinger, left, served as secretary of defense under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and became the nation’s first secretary of energy under President Jimmy Carter.

James R. Schlesinger, a tough Cold War strategist who was secretary of defense under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford and became the nation's first secretary of energy under President Jimmy Carter, died Thursday in Baltimore. He was 85.

Schlesinger died at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center of complications of pneumonia, his daughter Ann Schlesinger said.

A brilliant, often abrasive Harvard-educated economist, Schlesinger went to Washington in 1969 as an obscure White House budget official. In the next decade he became chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, CIA director, a cabinet officer for three presidents (two of whom fired him), a thorn to congressional leaders and one of the nation's most controversial public officials.

His tenure at the Pentagon was brief, 1973 to 1975, but it was a time of turmoil and transition. Soviet nuclear power was rising menacingly. The war in Vietnam was in its final throes, and U.S. military prestige and morale was low. Congress was wielding an ax on a $90 billion defense budget. And the Watergate scandal was enveloping the White House.

Schlesinger, a Republican with impressive national security and nuclear power credentials, took a hard line, demanding increased budgets for defense and insisting America's security depended on nuclear and conventional arsenals at least as effective as the Soviet Union's.

With Europe as a potential flash point for war, he urged stronger NATO forces to counter Soviet allies in the Warsaw Pact. His nuclear strategy envisioned retaliatory strikes on Soviet military targets to limit the chances of what he called "uncontrolled escalation" and mutual "assured destruction."

He also dealt with a series of crises, including the 1973 Middle East war; an invasion of Cyprus by Turkish forces; and the Mayaguez episode, in which Cambodian forces seized an unarmed U.S. freighter, prompting rescue and retaliation operations that saved 39 freighter crewmen but cost the lives of 41 U.S. servicemen.

In August 1974, with the Watergate scandal boiling over, Schlesinger worried that Nixon might be unstable and instructed the military not to react to White House orders, particularly on nuclear arms, unless cleared by him or Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. He also drew up plans to deploy troops in Washington in the event of problems with a peaceful succession. As Nixon resigned, Ford took over and, for stability, retained the cabinet, including Schlesinger.

While often criticized by political foes and in the media, Schlesinger was viewed by many historians as an able defense secretary who modernized weapons systems and maintained America's military stature against rising Soviet competition.

In his 1976 presidential campaign, Carter consulted Schlesinger and was impressed. Taking the White House in 1977, Carter named him his energy adviser and, after the Energy Department was created in a merger of 50 agencies, appointed him its first secretary. The only Republican in the Carter cabinet, he was in charge of 20,000 employees and a $10 billion budget.

Schlesinger is survived by four sons, four daughters and 11 grandchildren.

James Schlesinger, who served three presidents, dies at 85 03/27/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, New York Times.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Clearwater man hospitalized after diving from boat into shallow waters

    Public Safety

    A 49-year-old man was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries Sunday after he jumped off a pontoon boat into shallow waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

  2. Restaurant review: Features Gastropub in Riverview is fine as movie theater fare, but unimpressive otherwise

    Food & Dining

    By Laura Reiley

    Times Food Critic

    Movies aren't exactly dying. Despite all the sturm und drang of predictions that Netflix and streaming videos would kill the cinema, global box office receipts hit $38.6 billion in 2016, a 1 percent gain over the previous year. But that doesn't mean going to the …

  3. JFK's last birthday: Gifts, champagne and wandering hands on the presidential yacht

    Nation

    It has been 100 years since John F. Kennedy's birth on May 29, 1917, at his parents' home in Brookline, Mass., just outside Boston. Over the course of his life, Kennedy enjoyed lavish birthday celebrations, the most famous being a Democratic fundraising bash at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, when a sequined …

    President John F. Kennedy aboard the Sequoia in 1963 opening birthday presents. [Robert Knudsen | John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum]
  4. 1 in 4 Florida adults aren't registered to vote, according to non-partisan group

    Legislature

    TALLAHASSEE — Five million people in Florida who are eligible to vote aren't registered, according to a nationwide non-partisan group that helps improve the accuracy of state voter rolls.

    Voters line up in front of the Coliseum Ballroom in St. Petersburg on Nov. 8. A non-partisan group estimates that more than a quarter of Florida's adult-age population isn't registered to vote. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  5. Rays morning after: A lot that went into a marathon win

    Blogs

    Rays manager Kevin Cash had a simple strategy when Fox Sports Sun's Alex Corddry asked him how the team would move on from Sunday's marathon win and get ready to face the Rangers tonight in Texas:

    Kevin Kiermaier of the Rays celebrates as teammate Michael Martinez slides safely into home plate to score a run against the Minnesota Twins during the 14th inning.