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.

Kleptocracy and Anti-Communism: When Mobutu Ruled Zaire

m2Born to a modest family, Joseph-Desiré Mobutu prospered in the Force Publique, the army of the Belgian Congo. Mobutu became army chief of staff following a coup against Patrice Lumumba, and after a second coup on November 25, 1965 assumed power as military dictator and president. He changed the Congo’s name to the Republic of Zaire and his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko.

Leader of Zaire’s sole party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution, Mobutu’s anti-communist stance won him Western support and the funds to combat opponents in adjacent countries. He nationalized the economy by pushing foreign investors out, only to let them back in when the economy began to fail. As president of Zaire, Mobutu was famous for corruption and nepotism while the people of Zaire suffered from poverty and human rights abuses. He embezzled an estimated $4-15 billion during his time in office. His three-decade regime came to an end in May 1997 when rebel forces threw him out of the country. continue reading »


The Sudden Rise of Muammar Qaddafi and a Hostile Libya

muammar-gaddafi-in-1973On September 1st, 1969, a group of young Libyan military officers overthrew the Libyan royal family and established the Libyan Arab Republic. The mastermind of this coup d’état was a 27-year-old officer named Muammar al-Qaddafi, who following the coup effectively established himself as both the country’s head of state and head of the armed forces.

The relatively peaceful overthrow of the Libyan royal family astonished many in the State Department because it seemingly came out of nowhere. Qaddafi was a relatively unknown military officer at this point of time, as were many of his closest allies within the Libyan military establishment.

Unsure of what was to be expected, diplomats heartily sought to establish positive relations with Libya because they saw it as a critical hub, in which the Air Force retained one of its largest bases in the entire world. However, these interests would quickly clash with Qaddafi’s. continue reading »


Regarding Henry, Protecting Nancy – On Security Detail with the Kissingers

henry-kissinger-nancy-kissinger-1974Traditionally, Secretaries of State receive a personal protection detail from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). However, Henry Kissinger eschewed the DS detail in favor of the Secret Service protection he had as the National Security Advisor at the White House. His wife Nancy, a brilliant and glamorous New York aristocrat who spent years as a top aide to future Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, on the other hand, was very appreciative of the work and professionalism exhibited by her DSS agents and they were quite fond of her as well.

Bruce Tully, interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in July 2015, was one of the DSS agents assigned to Nancy Kissinger’s personal security detail. He offers a rare insider’s look into their lives, discusses his awkward first meeting with the regal Mrs. Kissinger, what it was like protecting her in the U.S. and abroad, as well as dealing with her sometimes cantankerous husband. (Photo: People Magazine) continue reading »


Get While the Getting’s Good: Departing Communist China

chinese_communismThe decision to close an embassy and order departure of diplomatic personnel is a signal of last resort that bilateral relations are damaged and unlikely to improve soon. This occurred in China when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party fled the capital and retreated to Taiwan on December 8, 1949 in the wake of Mao Zedong’s establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The U.S. chose not to establish relations with the Communist PRC and the new government refused to acknowledge American diplomatic status, so the U.S. Embassy and consulates closed their doors and staffs departed. Some Foreign Service personnel had little trouble leaving their posts and were soon heading home, but others were delayed and subjected to what they termed “games,” to their amusement and dismay. continue reading »


The Charismatic Dalai Lama

dalailama_blogBorn into a humble farming family on July 6, 1935, Lhamo Dhondup (Tenzin Gyatso), had subtle beginnings before he became the leader of an entire people. After the thirteenth Dalai Lama’s passing, the high lamas searched for his next reincarnation among the Tibetan people. Tibetan Buddhists monks journeyed to a small village and found a boy about the age of two who, after passing numerous trials, was determined to be the next Dalai Lama. He commenced his training in the study of Tibetan culture and philosophy soon after his trials.

The Dalai Lamas are considered to be the protectors of Tibet and the reincarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Living in a time of turmoil for the Tibetan people, Tenzin Gyatso assumed political power in 1950 as Chinese troops invaded Tibet and brought it under its control. In 1959, thousands of Tibetans revolted against Chinese rule, but were quickly suppressed. Some 15,000 were killed. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India with thousands of followers, creating a Tibetan diaspora near Dharamsala, where they have remained for the past half century. continue reading »


Igniting Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait – Loans, Land, Oil and Access

06171f7174e1251a5db4891fa439809cIraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990 largely for economic reasons, but the contiguous Gulf countries had long-standing territorial conflicts as well. The decision to attack was based on the need to erase Iraq’s massive debt: Iraq had largely financed its 1980-1988 war with Iran through loans and owed some $37 billion to Gulf creditors by 1990. It argued that Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates should consider the loans as payments to Iraq for protecting the Arabian Peninsula from Iranian expansionism, but they refused to forgive the debt.

At the same time, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein accused Kuwait of over-producing crude oil for export and depressing prices, depriving Iraq of critical oil revenues, and of slant drilling into the Rumayla field on the shared border. After Kuwait refused to cancel the debt, Saddam threatened to reignite a long-standing quarrel over ownership of the strategically important Bubiyan and Warbah Islands, demanding that Kuwait cede control of the islands to Iraq. continue reading »


Anwar Sadat and the Camp David Negotiations  

anwar sadatThe Camp David Accords, which were negotiated over a period of twelve days in 1978 between Egyptian, Israeli, and American delegations at the Presidential retreat of Camp David, Maryland, marked a historical watershed as Egypt became the first Arab state to recognize Israel. It led to the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979. The negotiation process required constant compromise between the two nations, and there were numerous moments when it appeared that disagreements over parts of the framework would lead to the collapse of the entire process.

The reason it did not collapse can be attributed in no small way to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, whose statesmanship and nearly authoritarian power allowed him to make concessions and negotiate with greater flexibility than his Israeli counterparts. His ability to build a strong rapport with President Jimmy Carter was crucial to the negotiating process, as it allowed the two presidents to speak frankly and approach issues in ways they could not be in a more formal negotiating process. continue reading »


The Rise to Power of the Butcher of Uganda

IDI AMINIdi Amin Dada, who came to be known as the “Butcher of Uganda,” rose to officer rank in the Ugandan Army before its independence from British colonial administration in 1962. Associated with the newly-sovereign nation’s President and Prime Minister Milton Obote, he staged a military coup and usurped the role of president on January 25, 1971. Five years later, he named himself president for life.

Idid Amin could be mercurial and tyrannical. His expulsion of all Asians from Uganda in 1972 led to a breakdown of the country’s economy, and he publicly insulted the U.S. and the U.K. In July 1976, he was personally involved in the hijacking of a French airliner to Entebbe. His regime’s economic mismanagement and corruption drove the nation to poverty. Politically, his rule was characterized by human rights abuses, repression and persecution of other ethnic groups, leading to the death of between 100,000 and 500,000 people. In 1979, Amin was driven into exile to Saudi Arabia. where he remained until his death in 2003. continue reading »


Kyrgyzstan After Independence – An Unfulfilled Promise

KY yurtAfter the collapse of the USSR, Kyrgyzstan, despite its isolation and lack of development, was considered to be one of the more promising newly independent states, “the Switzerland of Central Asia” with its mountains, pragmatic president, and relative lack of ethnic tensions or repression. The U.S. and others poured in aid to help establish free markets, promote democracy and human rights, and provide much-needed food and medical aid (cumulative U.S. aid to Kyrgyzstan from 1992-2010 was $1.2 billion; Kyrgyzstan ranks third in such aid per capita among the Soviet successor states).

Some of those projects were less than stellar, such as the contractor who recommended that Kyrgyzstan boost its cheese consumption by eating more fondue. However, perhaps not surprisingly, the dreams of those early days did not pan out, as corruption and authoritarian tendencies took hold.

continue reading »


“A Box Sealed for 70 years” — Opening U.S. Embassy Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz flagA mountainous country in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan was ceded by China and formally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1876. With the creation of the USSR, it became the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. After the failed August coup in Moscow, Kyrgyzstan declared independence from the Soviet Union on August 31, 1991Askar Akayev, a physicist, was elected President unopposed in October 1991. The U.S. formally recognized Kyrgyzstan, as well as the other former Soviet republics, with the dissolution of the USSR on December 26, 1991.

The United States moved to set up embassies in all the new republics, especially in the “Stans” of Central Asia — Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan — in order to support the development of stability and democracy in the post-Soviet world. Thus, the call went out for Russian-speaking Foreign Service Officers who wanted the challenge of being at the forefront of U.S. diplomacy on a new frontier.  continue reading »



Our Sponsors

Chevron-corporation

Are you interested in sponsoring ADST? We are an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving our nation's diplomatic history and providing educational materials to the Department of State and the public. Contact Us for more information.

Would you like to make an individual contribution? Visit our donations page for more information.