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When Ambassadors Were Rock Stars

It is difficult in this day and age to imagine any ambassador being on the cover of a major magazine touted for his or her accomplishments. With the notable exception of a few Secretaries of State or a Richard Holbrooke, the vast majority of ambassadors never enjoy time in the limelight. But go back a few decades and ambassadors were regularly featured on Time magazine. Perhaps it is a reflection of the critical — and often  dramatic — foreign policy  issues  which captured the nation’s attention — the Cold War, the arms race, the incipient rumblings of Vietnam. Or perhaps it was because Time‘s publisher, Henry Luce, was himself focused on foreign policy. His wife, Clare Boothe Luce, became the first woman to be appointed ambassador. Here you’ll find the most notable covers and brief bios of the people featured.

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George F. Kennan

A Princeton graduate,  Kennan considered leaving the Foreign Service many times but was eventually appointed Deputy Chief of Mission at Embassy Moscow in 1946. There he wrote his lengthy (5,500 words) and now famous “Long Telegram” to the State Department explaining that Soviet foreign policy was expansionist and advocated a policy of “containment.” By 1949, he began criticizing what he considered to be the overly militaristic containment policy. He quit the Foreign Service in 1950 and, except for tenures as Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1951 and Yugoslavia 1961-1963, he spent the rest of his life in academia. He died in 2005 at the age of 101.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith studied agriculture economics which lead to him working for the Department of Agriculture during the New Deal. During World War II he worked as the deputy head of the Office of Price Administration, which he considered to be his major life achievement, but was forced out for “communistic tendencies.” He then became the Director of the Office of Economic Security Policy at the State Department. However, the policies he pursued directly conflicted with the policy of containment. During President Kennedy’s administration, Galbraith served as the Ambassador to India and helped India establish one of the first computer science departments at the Indian Institute of Technology. His work in academia later led to the PBS and BBC 1977 series, The Age of Uncertainty.

Edwin O. Reischauer  

Reischauer spent forty years teaching at Harvard University where he specialized in East Asian culture and history. In 1939 he published the McCune-Reischauer system for Romanization of the Korean language and later helped increase interest in East Asian studies while at Harvard. He eventually served as the Ambassador to Japan from 1961-1966. While ambassador he was able to avoid widespread controversy from the Japanese public and worked out a plan to keep U.S. military bases in Okinawa as well as allow nuclear weapons to be deployed there.


Joseph P. Kennedy

Kennedy was a highly successful businessman during the 1920’s and even continued to make money during the Great Depression. Kennedy did a lot to support Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaign for president in 1932 and was rewarded with the appointment of the Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  His experience with the stock market made him well equipped to help clean up the industry. In 1938 Roosevelt appointed Kennedy as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, where he served until 1940. Kennedy sought a meeting with Adolf Hitler multiple times during his time as ambassador so that he could create a better understanding between the U.S. and Germany. Kennedy also strongly opposed giving military and financial aid to the United Kingdom. He resigned from his position in November of 1940. His son John later became President of the United States.



Perla Mesta

Mesta was an active member of the National Woman’s Party and a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. She was also an early backer of Harry Truman. As a reward for her support, Truman appointed Mesta to be Ambassador to Luxembourg from 1949 until 1953. She became nationally famous for her lavish parties which brought together senators, cabinet members, and Congressmen and was often called “the hostess with the mostest.”





Joseph E. Davies

Because of the support Davies provided Woodrow Wilson in 1912, Wilson named Davies the head of the Bureau of Corporations, which would be followed by the Federal Trade Commission. After losing in a special senatorial race, Davies went into private law practice in Washington, D.C.  Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Davies as the Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1936. Davies was tasked with finding out how dangerous Soviet forces would be and what side they would be on if there were to be war. He reported that he felt that communism was not a threat to the United States. Davies left Moscow in 1938 to serve as Ambassador to Belgium.





Daniel Patrick Moynihan

After graduating from Tufts with a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. and serving time in the navy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan served on the staff of New York Governor Averell Harriman and was a member of John F. Kennedy’s delegate pool for the 1960 Democratic National Convention. During JFK’s administration he served as the Assistant Secretary of Labor. During this time Moynihan did considerable research on poverty and welfare and served as Counselor to President Nixon on Urban Affairs. Nixon eventually appointed Moynihan as the U.S. Ambassador to India in 1973 until 1975. He was known for writing the largest check ever to the Indian government for $2,046,700,000. During Gerald R. Ford’s presidency he was appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. While serving as the ambassador to the UN he was rotated into the position of President of the Security Council. Moynihan followed the White House’s stance of anti-communism. He eventually became a U.S. Senator from New York.



Douglas MacArthur II

Douglas MacArthur II was named after his uncle, General Douglas MacArthur. After graduating from Yale in 1932, MacArthur II worked with the French Resistance during World War II and spent two years as a prisoner of war. MacArthur was a four-time ambassador, beginning with  the Eisenhower Administration, first to Japan (1957-1961), where he helped negotiate the United States-Japanese mutual security treaty. He later served as the Ambassador to Belgium (1961-1965) and to Austria until 1969. During Nixon’s presidency MacArthur served as the Ambassador to Iran from 1969 until 1972. While ambassador to Iran MacArthur escaped from a kidnapping attempt. You can also read about the difficulties his cat caused when he was in Vienna.




James A. Baker III

James A. Baker served as the Secretary of State during the Presidency of George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1992. During his time in office bore witness to such events as the collapse of the Soviet Union, the First Gulf War, and renewed Arab-Israeli peace talks. Secretary Baker is remembered as somewhat detached from the workings of the Foreign Service, but a skilled diplomat and negotiator all the same. He also served as Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan.  He is currently active in the Baker Institute at Rice University.