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Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

Kissinger and Zhou Enlai

Our web series of over 700 "Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History" captures key historical events -- and humorous aspects of diplomatic life, using our extensive 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 nor the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

Combating the flow of Foreign Fighters affiliated with the Islamic State

The rapid ascent of ISIS in 2013-16 was fueled by a flow of “foreign fighters” from across the Middle East, North Africa and portions of Europe and Asia. Foreign fighters in ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known by other names, notably “Da’esh”) numbered up to 40,000 by some estimates. Interdicting the flow of these fighters was a major diplomatic, military and intelligence challenge for the United States and its partners. Thomas Krajeski was a senior advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015-16 and worked closely with the rest of the U.S. government to counter the movement of these fighters.

Krajeski’s career included appointments by President George W. Bush as ambassador to Yemen, and by President Obama as ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain during the Arab Spring. Krajeski also completed tours in India and the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. Ambassador Krajeski is a recipient of both the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service, and five Superior Honor Awards. He retired from the State Department in 2016. This interview was conducted by ADST’s Charles Stuart “Stu” Kennedy in February 2016.

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“We didn’t know if they were all dead…” The attacks on American embassies during the Six-Day War

During the Six-Day War of June 1967 Israel fought and won a decisive victory against Thomas Gallagher
Syrian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Lebanese forces. As a result of America’s backing of Israel, U.S. government facilities and U.S.-based companies were targeted throughout the Middle East and North Africa. For many embassies and consulates, including the embassy in Jeddah, it was not until after the attacks had ceased that communication capabilities were restored. Until that point it was not known whether or not American diplomats and citizens elsewhere had been harmed or had found safety during the conflict. U.S. diplomat Tom Gallagher was serving as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and recalls what this period was like for American diplomats in Jeddah and throughout the region. Gallagher entered the Foreign Service in 1965, and to this day remains the youngest person to ever lead a U.S. diplomatic mission when he served at the U.S. consul general in Ecuador. After coming out in 1973, Gallagher also became the first openly homosexual foreign service officer in the history of the U.S. Department of State. Gallagher was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart “Stu” Kennedy in October 2012.

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From the 1985 Achille Lauro Hijacking to the 2014 Ebola Crisis: Steven Browning’s Foreign Service Career

Steven Browning was a third-tour Foreign Service Officer in Alexandria, Egypt when he found himself in the midst of the U.S. response to the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro oceanliner. Egyptian commandos rescued the ship from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorists who seized it, but “the Italians were involved, we were involved; everybody wanted a piece of these guys,” Browning recalled. It was a long way from Odessa, Texas, where Browning grew up, and his theology studies at Baylor University. Browning joined the Foreign Service in 1981 and went on to a distinguished career that took him from Egypt to Sri Lanka to the Dominican Republic to Iraq. He served as our Ambassador to Malawi and Uganda. At the end of his career, Browning was enjoying the relative quiet of service as Diplomat-in-Residence at the University of California-Berkeley when he was recalled to Washington to coordinate the State Department’s response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Ambassador Browning was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy in August 2016.

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When a Newly-Elected President Putin Welcomed USAID’s Advice

President Putin once welcomed USAID’s assistance (at least for a time). Carol Peasley served as USAID’s mission director in Moscow from 1999-2003. This tumultuous period witnessed the fall of Boris Yeltsin and the emergence of Vladimir Putin as a tough-minded leader frequently at odds with the United States. But it was not always that way. Peasley recalls how a key Putin aide asked USAID to assemble a broad-ranging team of international experts to advise Putin’s new government. Putin met with the experts for several hours, on topics ranging from privatization to pension reform. They were impressed with the new Russian leader and his technocratic expertise. Peaseley also recalls USAID’s productive relationship with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, owner of the Yukos Oil Company — initially a powerful figure in the Putin government, who fell out with the new president and was later famously jailed for fraud. Peasley’s distinguished USAID career lasted from 1970 to 2003, with stops in Nepal, Costa Rica, Thailand and Malawi. Russia was her last foreign post. She also served in multiple senior positions in Washington. This interview was conducted by Kenneth Brown on January 29, 2015.

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Human Rights and USAID: Remembering the Turbulent 1990s in Indonesia

Political and economic crises abroad have a dramatic impact not only on American personnel at our embassies, but on locally-employed staff as well.  In 1996 opponents of the regime of President Suharto occupied the headquarters of the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party (or PDI). This became a focal point for popular protest, and were dislodged in a bloody raid attributed to Suharto’s forces. The attack led to an escalation of violence between political factions, including instances of assault, rape, and murder. By 1998, in the midst of an economic crisis, Suharto resigned. Gartini Isa, a USAID employee was witness to all these events, which led to the withdrawal of “non-essential” U.S. personnel from Jakarta from May to September 1998. Isa remained at her post, however, and maintained invaluable contacts with opposition figures, imprisoned students and others. Isa’s career USAID spans more than three decades. She was the recipient of USAID’s prestigious John Withers Human Rights Award in 2009.  Isa was interviewed by Carole Peasley in January 2017.

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Thumbs Down on a Nelson Mandela Speech

Nelson Mandela is justifiably revered, but not every act or speech by the Nobel Peace laureate was universally acclaimed.  American diplomat Tom Krajeski, who served as our ambassador to both Yemen and Bahrain, gave Mandela a candid — and negative — assessment of his speech after both addressed a conference in Dubai.  Mandela asked for Krajeski’s opinion, and they shared a laugh when Krajeski gave it.  Krajeski concluded that Mandela was indeed “a remarkable man.”

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Senior Diplomat Marc Grossman Reflects on NATO’s Bombing in the Balkans

Marc Grossman’s distinguished Foreign Service career put him in the center of multiple crises, including NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign in the Balkans.  Grossman supported President Clinton’s decision to use only air power during the NATO intervention.  As Assistant Secretary for European Affairs, he briefed Congress on the conflict almost daily, including after American forces accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May 1999.  Visiting Belgrade in later years, he marvelled at the impact of the bombing campaign — and Serbia’s insistence on showing selected ruins to one of our most senior diplomats.  Grossman’s career with the Department of State spanned almost three decades and included posts in Islamabad, Amman, and Brussels.   In addition to service as Assistant Secretary for European Affairs (1997-2000), Grossman served as Ambassador to Turkey (1994-1997), and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (2001-2005).   Ambassador Grossman was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy in January 2006.

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USAID’s Work with an Unsung Hero of the Fight Against Apartheid in South Africa: Dullah Omar

USAID worked intensively with the new South African government after the fall of apartheid in 1994.  William Stacy Rhodes was at the heart of these efforts, serving as Mission Director from 1998-2002.  He recalls working closely with Dullah Omar, Nelson Mandela’s lawyer in the darkest days of apartheid and the first Minister of Justice in the post-apartheid government.  Rhodes calls Omar an “unsung hero” of the anti-apartheid movement — and credits Omar with ensuring that USAID assistance to the justice sector was both effective in impact and well-accepted by more radical leaders of the ascendant African National Congress.  Rhodes grew up in Tucson and went on to receive his masters degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He served with the Peace Corps in Bolivia before beginning a career with USAID in 1977.  His service also took him to Haiti, Morocco, Nepal and Guatemala.  This interview was conducted by John Pielemeier, and began on December 7, 2016.

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Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Visit to France for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion

In 1994 Avis Bohlen, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, was made Hillary Clinton’s Control Officer when she and President Bill Clinton visited France for the 50 year anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy. As with many such high-level visits, it was a diplomatic success but a strenuous challenge for the Embassy personnel who brought it together. Avis Bohlen’s oral history recalls the Clintons’ visit and other colorful moments from a long and distinguished career. The daughter of Charles “Chip” Bohlen, famed ambassador to the Soviet Union 1953-57, Avis Bohlen was later appointed by President Clinton as ambassador to Bulgaria, She served in Sofia 1996 to 1999. She retired in 2002. This interview was conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy in February 2003.

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Our Man in Banjul: Ambassador Recalls Gambia’s 1994 Coup and the Rise of Yahya Jammeh

Our Ambassador in Banjul, Gambia, was not expecting a coup on the morning of July 22, 1994 — but that is what he got.   With little violence and no casualties, 29-year old Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh and other junior army officers occupied the capital and the presidential compound, ousting long-serving President Sir Dawda Jawara.  Jawara took refuge on a visiting U.S. naval vessel, and Gambia’s days as one of a handful of African democracies had come to an end.  Jammeh’s erratic and increasingly oppressive rule lasted until 2017, when a combination of popular discontent and regional diplomatic and military pressure forced him into exile.  Ambassador Andrew Winter recalls that remarkable day in his oral history.  Winter joined the Foreign Service in 1970 at the age of 24.  In addition to service as U.S. Ambassador to Gambia, he served as Executive Director of the Bureau of African Affairs, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Information Technology, and Minister Counselor for Administrative Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York.  He retired in 2000.   Winter was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy, beginning in 2010.

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