- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2006

President Richard M. Nixon remains a polarizing figure in death as he was in life, but the international think tank he created just before his passing in 1994 remains a home for bipartisan debate.

The Nixon Center honored former national security adviser Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, at its annual Distinguished Service Award dinner Thursday with a program filled with spirited commentary that is too rarely seen these days.

Speakers mulled not just the changing characteristics of the enemies of freedom but the world in general. With the war in Iraq looming over every syllable, the conflict splintered the experts’ wisdom on the subject.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger delivered a nuanced speech that veered from sobering commentary on global political issues to wry humor. (Of Mr. Lugar, Mr. Kissinger quipped: “When his polls get below 70 percent he gets a little panicky.”)

On more serious ground, the elder statesman noted that while shadowy terrorist groups like Hamas once worked in secret, they now operate “perfectly in the open” without fear of reprisal.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, spoke later, mixing Old West metaphors with straight talk on national security. He even stopped his speech at one point to praise Rep. Jane Harman of California, a senior Democrat who was recently passed over for the chairmanship of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. She blew him a kiss from her seat in response.

It doesn’t get more bipartisan than that.

Gen. Scowcroft, who served in four administrations, seemed awed to be honored by the center.

“Richard Nixon was one of America’s foreign policy greats, no matter how you define the terms,” he said.

The black-tie affair at Georgetown’s Four Seasons Hotel raised more than $600,000 for the District-based center.

Among those toasting the night’s honorees were former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner; Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns; Sen. John W. Warner; Grover Norquist; Robert F. Ellsworth; Carla and Roderick Hills; James Schlesinger; Helmut Sonnenfeldt; David Eisenhower; Fred Ikle; Robert C. McFarlane; and the ambassadors of Russia, Canada, Pakistan, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Uzbekistan.

At a VIP reception before the program, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Mr. Nixon’s daughter and a Nixon Center board member, applauded Gen. Scowcroft and Mr. Lugar for their shrewd opinions and relentless work ethic.

“They’ve been on the forefront for 25 years serving their country,” Mrs. Eisenhower said, adding that Gen. Scowcroft didn’t flinch when his views regarding the Iraq war clashed with the current administration’s approach.

“He’s seen a great deal and tells it like it is,” she said.

Gen. Scowcroft said the just-released Iraq Study Group’s grim findings should help bring people together on what has been a divisive conflict

“We need to work on what we do from here on out,” he said. “It will not be easy.”

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