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Charlie Wilson’s Warpath

Congressman Charlie Wilson was a twelve-term United States Democratic Representative from Texas from 1973-1997 who was known by his (in)famous nickname “Good Time Charlie.” A self-proclaimed “ladies’ man,” Wilson embraced his hard-partying image, claiming that his constituents knew they were not electing a “constipated monk.”

Despite his playboy persona, Wilson was known for his passionate anti-Communism. He famously fought to increase U.S. funding and support for the Afghan Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet Union after the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, which was later described in a book and movie, both titled Charlie Wilson’s War.  Congressman Wilson made several trips to neighboring Pakistan on fact-finding missions – sometimes accompanied by one of his attractive “Charlie’s Angels.” Read more

The U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands gets Addicted to Pac-Man

July 2016 saw the explosion of the global phenomenon Pokémon Go, where people walk around town (and often into traffic or ditches) trying to catch various animated creatures that look like they are actually sitting there in front of you. (If you really do believe they are in front of you and not just on your smartphone, please seek medical attention immediately.) While many welcome this as a fun way to get out off the couch and others see it as another Sign of the Approaching Apocalypse, truth be told obsession with video games has been around at least since the 1980s and has even affected high-ranking government officials who ought to know better. Read more

It’s Feng Shui or the Highway: Building the Chinese Embassy in Washington with I. M. Pei

Feng shui seeks to promote prosperity, good health, and general well-being by examining how energy, qi, (pronounced “chee”), flows through a particular room, house, building, or garden. Feng means “wind” and “shui” means water; in Chinese culture, wind and water are associated with good health so that good feng shui means good fortune, and bad feng shui means bad luck.

Micheal Boorstein served as the Director of the Beijing Program Office from 1999-2000 in the State Department’s Foreign Buildings Office and oversaw the construction of China’s embassy in Washington, DC. Boorstein describes his experience with bad feng shui and the renowned architect I.M. Pei in his interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy, which began in September 2005.

 

 

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Martinis, Carpets and Sacks of Gold: A U.S. Diplomat in French Tunisia

Tunisia achieved independence from France after almost 75 years as a protectorate. Life under French rule was pleasant for some, including foreign diplomats. The number of French colonists grew, ultimately occupying one-fifth of the arable land of Tunisia, and the French directed the building of roads, ports and railroads, and the development of mines. But resentment against the European colonizers became apparent soon after the turn of the twentieth century. By 1911, Tunisian nationalist sentiment led to civil disturbances within the universities, building to massive demonstrations and only subsiding with the imposition of martial law.

After World War I, Tunisians seeking self-rule established political parties, and following World War II, the nationalist struggle intensified with violent resistance. France granted independence to Tunisia on March 20, 1956, establishing a constitutional monarchy. The following year, Prime Minister Habib Bourguiba abolished the monarchy, took power, and would dominate the country for the next 31 years.

Joseph Walter Neubert shared some of the lighter aspects of his experience as an Economic Officer in Tunis between 1949-1952, prior to the Tunisia’s independence.  He completed his memoir in 2007. Read more

Hong Kong Returns to China, Part II

As the formal handover of Hong Kong to China approached, many grew concerned about Beijing’s intentions. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens emigrated in the late 1980s and early 1990s for places like the UK and Vancouver while several came to the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong with claims of American citizenship. The event of the formal handover, which took place on June 30-July 1, 1997, was a glitzy affair. The Prince of Wales read a farewell speech on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II; newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, and the departing Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten also attended.

Richard Boucher served as Consul General in Hong Kong from 1996-1999. He describes the crush of Congressional delegations and the fear mongering in the American media, which he found especially frustrating when he learned that no one read his cables. Read more

The Day the Fountain Ran Dry: An Indian Duck Tale

As a Foreign Service Officer serving abroad, it is natural to become close friends with the colleagues with whom you share embassy offices; in many cases, they get to be like your family away from home. In the same way, any creatures which happen to be resident in diplomatic spaces become like family pets. As with every family, there are those who like animals and those who do not. It follows that if something happens to those creatures, there is bound to be trouble. Such was the case with the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, where jobs were nearly lost, ducks were kicked and ambassadors were insulted.

Former Ambassador to India William Clark Jr. (1989-1992) recounts the time when resident ducks were forced to depart the premises of the embassy. He was interviewed by Thomas Stern in January 1994. Read more

What Have I Gotten Myself Into? Tales from Rough First Tours

Life in the Foreign Service certainly has its advantages – working in often exotic locales, meeting fascinating people, being a part of important, sometimes historical, events. But, like other glamorous jobs, it has its drawbacks, not the least of which come with the drudgery of first and sometimes second tours, where most FSOs end up doing thankless consular work or drafting tedious reports.

Theresa A. Loar discusses the challenges of entering the Foreign Service as a first-tour consular officer in Mexico City in 1986 and how, despite feeling that her work was unsatisfying, the tour became unexpectedly dramatic. Loar was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 2001.

Albert Thibault describes his challenging first tour in Conakry, Guinea as a Political/Economic Officer between 1969 and 1971 when the Portuguese invaded Guinea in an attempt to overthrow the Guinea government. He was by interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2005. Read more

Who Let the Dogs Out? – A Pet Evacuation from Kinshasa

Dear Fido,

If you’re reading this, we’ve been evacuated (and you learned how to read!…). But don’t worry ol’ pal! I’ll send for you as soon as I can. I left one of each sock behind, so it’ll be like nothing changed. Food is in the pantry and water’s in the toilet. Call for Lassie if you need anything. See you again real soon, buddy!

In 1991, Ambassador Melissa F. Wells was faced with overseeing the kind of operation not normally covered during training — a full-scale evacuation of diplomatic pets from Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).   Read more

George Shultz: “Your Country is the United States”

George P. Shultz was Secretary of State for President Reagan from 1982 to 1989, the longest such tenure since Dean Rusk in the 1960s. As Secretary, Shultz resolved the pipeline sanctions problem between Western Germany and the Soviet Union, worked to maintain allied unity amid anti-nuclear demonstrations in 1983, persuaded President Reagan to dialogue with Mikhail Gorbachev and negotiated an agreement between Israel and Lebanon in response to the Lebanese civil war. After leaving office in 1989, Shultz worked closely with the Bush administration on foreign policy and was an adviser for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign.

Shultz was a no-nonsense manager and highly-prepared negotiator who did not suffer fools gladly, but was compassionate towards those displaced by political upheaval and appreciative of those who served him and the U.S. well. Thanks to his long tenure as Secretary, Shultz touched the lives of many Foreign Service Officers. Read more

Selwa Roosevelt:  The Lucky Chief of Protocol

Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt is best known for her role as Chief of Protocol of the United States from 1982 to 1989. After graduating from Vassar College in New York, Lucky pursued a career in journalism, covering social events in Washington D.C. She was invited to take the position of Chief of Protocol by Nancy Reagan and Mike Deaver after showcasing her talent as a reporter. As Chief of Protocol, Lucky organized over 1,000 visits of world leaders to the United States and directed the restoration of Blair House, the President’s guest house.

Selwa Roosevelt was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in November of 2003. She talked about growing up in Tennessee as a daughter of Lebanese Druze immigrants and the start of her long career in journalism. She also described her career as Chief of Protocol at the State Department, the challenges of organizing state events with conflicting personalities and cultures, and how being the wife of  career CIA officer Archibald Roosevelt changed her life in ways she never predicted. Read more