WASHINGTON — Onetime economics professor and longtime nuclear strategist James R. Schlesinger was a political man for all seasons, holding a long string of Cabinet and other high-level posts through three administrations. He was hired — and dismissed — by presidents of both parties.
Schlesinger, who died Thursday at the age of 85, built an impressive national-security resume under Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and served as the nation’s first energy secretary under Democratic President Jimmy Carter during the energy crisis of the late 1970s.
Earlier, he served as a White House budget official, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and director of the Central Intelligence Agency under Nixon; and as defense secretary under both Nixon and Ford.
Both Carter and Ford sent the scrappy, Harvard-educated Schlesinger packing after a few years. But he kept bouncing back. In later years, he served on a succession of defense and nuclear-energy related government advisory boards and panels.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz recalled his friendship with Schlesinger over the last 15 years and said their discussions on nuclear security and other issues always “led to new insight and perspective on issues of national significance. His counsel will be missed.”
Schlesinger was “a remarkable public servant,” said former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga. Nunn sparred often with him as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who is a leading congressional voice on national defense, said Schlesinger “dedicated his life to protecting America’s national security.”
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 defense,” he said.
At the Pentagon, he worked to rebuild military morale and revamp nuclear strategy after the Vietnam War.