Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

ADST BenSeveral times a month, ADST highlights compelling moments in U.S. diplomatic history, using our substantial collection of oral histories.

Note: These oral histories contain the personal recollections and opinions of the individual(s) interviewed. The views expressed should not be considered official statements of the U.S. government or the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

The Enigmatic Jackie Kennedy

jackie-kennedy-4--zPopular U.S. politicians and their wives often become celebrities to the public, both home and abroad. This can make state visits incredibly thrilling for the public and exciting for the Foreign Service Officers who are involved in making the visit run seamlessly. Jacqueline Kennedy was one of those celebrities who caused a stir wherever she went. Known for her beauty, fashion sense, and command of the French language, she made quite an impression on the places where she visited, both with and without the President, and there was always a big to-do when she came to town.

The following excerpts describe her visits to Pakistan in 1962, where she was both difficult and charming, as well as to Cambodia in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, when the U.S. did not have formal diplomatic relations with that country. continue reading »

The Resignation of Richard M. Nixon

Nixon FarewellRichard M. Nixon’s presidency was a tempestuous mix of stunning foreign policy achievements (his trip to China) and shameful lapses in morality and judgment (the Watergate scandal). After the host of  criminal activities (bugging the offices of political opponents, harassing activist groups, and breaking into the Democratic Party headquarters) came to light, Nixon faced impeachment. On August 9, 1974, Nixon became the first and only President to resign. Later, President Gerald R. Ford granted Nixon a “full, free, and absolute pardon,” though Nixon always maintained his innocence.  continue reading »

The Death of Ambassador Arne Raphel

US Amb. Arnold Raphel attending ceremony to welcome visiting US officials.U.S. relations with Pakistan have often had a disproportionate importance. In the 1980’s, they were again front and center in U.S. foreign policy as Washington ramped up its support for Afghan mujahedeen in their fight against the USSR. On August 17, 1988, matters took a stunning turn when the plane carrying Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphel, and Brigadier General Herbert M. Wassom mysteriously crashed shortly after takeoff, killing everyone aboard.

Zia had been the leader of Pakistan for 11 years, after deposing Ali Bhutto in a coup and ordering his execution. Since then, Zia had steadily accumulated more and more power to the point where he was essentially the sole ruler of Pakistan. With his sudden death, Pakistan ­­risked a massive power vacuum.

To maintain stability, “diplomatic troubleshooter” Robert B. Oakley was appointed to Pakistan. continue reading »

Contempt with a Capital Tea

Pepper-Tea.Oftentimes, high-level diplomatic exchanges are not characterized by the usual diplomatic niceties. Take, for example, a memorable meeting between Indian Foreign Minister Krishna Menon and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. The setting was the 1954 Geneva Conference, which ultimately passed the Geneva Accords, dividing French Indochina into Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Menon was a talented diplomat noted for his brilliance, eloquence, and highly abrasive persona (President Eisenhower referred to him as “menace”). Dulles, on the other hand, was a staunchly anti-Communist diplomat who strongly disagreed with the Geneva Accords.  continue reading »

The Proxy of My Proxy: Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt in North Yemen

Royalist_camp_in_North_Yemen_war_1962Led by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptians funneled money, arms, and eventually ground troops to support revolutionaries in North Yemen who had taken power through an Egyptian-sponsored coup on September 26, 1962. The Saudi Arabian government would not stand for the removal of a monarchy on its southern border by Nasserist forces. As such, the Saudis backed forces loyal to the former king, Imam Ahmad, and the tribal warriors who fought with him.

The civil war between the Egyptian-backed republican government forces and the Saudi-sponsored royalist opposition served as a two-level proxy war, with the Soviet Union funding the Egyptians and the United States funding the Saudis.

Amidst all this, the USAID mission was ransacked by a mob, which carted away a safe filled with confidential materials. continue reading »

Haiti, The Bearer of Scars

Haiti USHaiti is a land of great beauty and of great suffering. The Haitian proverb, bay kou bliye, pote mak sonje (“The giver of the blow forgets, the bearer of the scar remembers”), is fitting for the abuse Haiti has suffered over the centuries at the hands of Spain, France, and the U.S., as well as its own tyrannical leaders. The 1990s were an especially frustrating time for Haitians, as the hope for transformation that came with the U.S. intervention in 1994 soon gave way to well-worn cynicism as the new government proved to be as corrupt and oppressive as the old ones. continue reading »

Freeing American Hostages in the First Gulf War

time cover septemberShortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard forces took hundreds of Americans and people of other nationalities hostage in Iraq and Kuwait. The intent was to use them as bargaining chips and forestall any military action against Iraq in retaliation for its invasion of Kuwait. With hundreds of Americans being held across Iraq and Kuwait, along with many more in hiding, the American embassies in Kuwait and Iraq did all they could to safeguard American lives and provide safe transport out of Iraq and Kuwait.

With Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie out of the country on medical leave, Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson worked under extreme pressure and stress to secure the release and evacuation of the hostages and the maintenance of morale at an embassy that was under constant threat and unimaginable stress.  continue reading »

The Greek Debt Crisis — How Did It Get Here?

no campaignThe ongoing Eurozone crisis has taken on the dimensions of a long, repetitive Greek drama. After years of imposed austerity, Greece voted against accepting the bailout terms proposed by its EU creditors in a referendum in early July 2015, only to see the leftist government under Prime MinisterAlexis Tsipras accept another bailout in exchange for yet another infusion of Euros. In the absence of such a deal, Greece would have had to default on its loans and would have been cut off from future disbursements of Euros. Such a scenario would have precipitated a Greek exit from the Eurozone, or “Grexit,” an outcome which is still a possibility given the fragile state of the Greek economy. continue reading »

A Quiet Coup in the Caribbean: The Takeover of T&T

Imam Abu Bakr surrenders to the Army forces on April 01, 1990 after holding hostages at Trinidad and Tobago Television for six days.

On July 27, 1990, a Muslim organization called Jamaat al Muslimeen instigated a coup against the government of Trinidad & Tobago. Forty-two insurgents stormed Parliament, taking Prime Minister A. N. R. Robinson and most of his cabinet hostage in The Red House, Trinidad’s parliamentary building, for six days.

At the same time, another 72 rebels attacked the offices of Trinidad & Tobago Television. When instructed to order the army to stop firing on The Red House, Robinson instead instructed them to “attack with full force.” At 6:00 pm, Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr appeared on television and announced that the government had been overthrown and that he was negotiating with the army. He called for calm and said that there should be no looting.

Instead, widespread arson and looting took place in the capitol of Port-of-Spain, causing millions in property damage. continue reading »

Crazy Train — A Congolese Victory Tour

train_in_Kindu,_DRCWhat’s a party without prostitutes, undrinkable whiskey, and the best seats in the house, cleared for you at sword-point? Following the successful defeat of a secessionist movement by the breakaway province of Katanga in the newly formed Republic of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), the new prime minister of the region held a kind of reunification tour to demonstrate the new leadership and direction of the province. The trip across the Congo included plenty of revelry, dodgy hygienic situations, and diplomatic pranks. continue reading »

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