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“How many people can you fit on a 747?”- Operations Sheba and Solomon

The Ethiopian Aliyah, as it is known in Israel, was the migration during the 1980’s of thousands of Ethiopian Jews [known in Amharic as Falashas; some consider the term pejorative] to Israel. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) played a major role in the evacuation of the Ethiopian Jews as they came under increasing threat from […]

Get While the Getting’s Good: Departing Communist China

The 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 […]

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Evacuating Liberia, 1990

Being caught up in violent political upheaval and forced to evacuate is among the risks of diplomatic service, as at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia in 1990 in what the Marines called Operation Sharp Edge. The problems started a decade before when a group led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe staged a military coup in Liberia, toppling the […]

Politics, Pinatubo and the Pentagon: The Closure of Subic Bay

The closure of Naval Base Subic Bay, the U.S. Navy’s massive ship-repair, supply, and rest and recreation facility in the Philippines, was prompted by both political and geological unrest. Once the second largest U.S. overseas military installation in the world, it was acquired by the U.S. in the 1898 Treaty Of Paris and because of its strategic […]

Beijing Spring and the Lead-up to Tiananmen Square

The iconic image of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and brutal government crackdown on the peaceful demonstrators is that of the “Tank Man,” the unarmed citizen who, carrying nothing but shopping bags, peacefully blocked the path of tanks sent by the Chinese government to assert control in the days after the crackdown. While the image may lead […]

Melissa Wells: From Vegas Showgirl to Chief of Mission

Melissa Foelsch Wells, accomplished diplomat and four-time ambassador, was among the pioneers who paved the way for women to work in the Foreign Service. The daughter of a physicist and a renowned Estonian opera singer and film star, Wells grew up travelling around the United States and Mexico before her family settled in Hollywood. She […]

Freeing American Hostages in the First Gulf War

Shortly 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 […]

Oil, Blood and Steel: The Failed Attempt to Create a Democratic Congo

This is the story of how a corrupt multinational oil company, a self-centered dictator,  lingering ethnic tensions, and lack of attention from the West all served to undermine efforts to transform a Marxist-Leninist client state into a democratic African nation. Congo’s struggles have for years been complicated by outside influence from its former colonial ruler, […]