Robert Bowie, Presidents’ Aide, Dies at 104


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Robert R. Bowie, a Harvard foreign policy expert who served four postwar administrations as an adviser on the Cold War, national security and conflicts around the globe, died on Nov. 2 in Towson, Md. He was 104.

The cause was respiratory failure, his son William said.

In a career that took him from Princeton and Harvard to cities of Europe devastated by World War II, and from Washington’s halls of power to East-West summit meetings, Mr. Bowie was both a witness to history and a participant in shaping its course under Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter.

A member of what John Kenneth Galbraith called the Eastern foreign policy establishment, Mr. Bowie was deputy to John J. McCloy, high commissioner to Germany (1950-51); director of planning and assistant secretary of state under John Foster Dulles (1953-57); counselor to Secretary of State Dean Rusk (1966-68); and a deputy to Adm. Stansfield Turner, the director of central intelligence (1977-79).

They were not cabinet posts, and Mr. Bowie was not a politician. But he was an incisive and influential analyst, and he joined Washington policy debates and accompanied presidents to summit meetings with other world leaders at a time when visions of nuclear war hung over Geneva conferences and every regional flare-up in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

His counsel was internationalist: long-range economic aid to friends and former foes; strong military alliances in Europe and Asia; flexibility on China; practical steps toward disarmament; and what became a tense but ultimately successful Cold War policy: containment of aggression, using allies and conventional forces to meet less-than-total threats from Moscow, Beijing and other potential adversaries.

He even advocated nuclear-sharing solutions with America’s European allies, a so-called multilateral force, with missile-carrying submarines and warships staffed by international NATO crews. But that proposal fell apart over differences between America and Europe.

Mr. Bowie’s professorial look - the rimless glasses, the billowing white hair - masked what critics and admirers alike called a tough-minded policy analyst, whose advice was valued even when he bluntly disagreed with superiors like the secretary of state.

“Dulles complained once to me that no one would talk back to him,” Mr. Bowie told The New York Times in 1966. “I found that I had no trouble at all, apart from a two-week period when we weren’t speaking because I had been extra aggressive.”

Mr. Bowie’s last government post, as the deputy C.I.A. director responsible for intelligence estimates, turned out to be a searing disappointment for him and for President Carter and Admiral Turner, the agency’s director. The Iranian revolution of 1979, with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi fleeing as a radical Islamic government took over, caught America completely by surprise.

With C.I.A. assurances, Mr. Carter had regarded Iran as a linchpin of stability in the Middle East. The president was publicly angry over what he called an intelligence disaster. Mr. Bowie resigned in a shake-up, but historians now say the failure had more to do with Admiral Turner’s decision to eliminate hundreds of on-the-ground intelligence operatives than with anything Mr. Bowie did or did not do, and that Mr. Carter’s missteps in the 444-day Iranian hostage crisis ruined his re-election chances in 1980.

Robert Richardson Bowie (rhymes with Louie) was born in Baltimore on Aug. 24, 1909, to Clarence and Helen Richardson Bowie. He graduated from Princeton in 1931 and from Harvard Law School in 1934, then joined his father’s law firm in Baltimore. From 1940 to 1942, he was an assistant attorney general in Maryland.

He was in the Army from 1942 to 1946, serving first as a captain at the War Department in Washington and, after the war, as a deputy to Gen. Lucius D. Clay, the American military governor in occupied Germany, where he helped draft plans to eradicate Nazi influences. He mustered out a lieutenant colonel.

In 1944, he married Mary Theodosia Chapman. She died in 2007. Besides his son William, he is survived by another son, Robert Jr., and three grandchildren. Since 1997, Mr. Bowie had lived at the Blakehurst Life Care Community in Towson.

In 1950, after teaching at Harvard for four years, Mr. Bowie joined Mr. McCloy, the high commissioner, in West Germany and for two years helped oversee development of a new civilian government to begin rebuilding war-shattered industries and to promote the European Coal and Steel Community, a forerunner of the European Union.

Mr. Bowie founded Harvard’s Center for International Affairs, now the Weatherhead Center, in 1958 and was its director until 1972. He was a member of the Trilateral Commission, formed in 1973 by citizens of Europe, North America and Japan to foster closer cooperation among industrialized nations. He was Harvard’s Dillon professor of international affairs until retiring in 1980. He wrote several books, including “Shaping the Future: Foreign Policy in an Age of Transition” (1964), “Suez 1956” (1974) and “Waging Peace: How Eisenhower Shaped an Enduring Cold War Strategy” (1998, with Richard H. Immerman).