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.
Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Growing up in segregated Washington DC inspired John A. Burroughs to a life-long commitment to equal opportunity. He went on to serve as Ambassador to Malawi and Uganda, and to head up equal employment efforts at the Department of the Navy. Burroughs worked alongside big names such as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Admiral Elmo Zumwalt — and Malawi’s tough but decidedly odd dictator, Hastings Banda. He also served as a special envoy to Sudan before that nation was partitioned into two countries. Burroughs majored in political science at the University of Iowa, which he attended on a football scholarship. After graduating in 1959, Burroughs was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and had a brief season with them before heading back home to Washington and a career in government. In addition to distinguished service as a U.S. ambassador and at the Department of the Navy, Burroughs was the State Department’s first African-American passport examiner. He also served as our Special Envoy to Sudan. Late in his career, Ambassador Burroughs served as Diplomat in Residence at Lincoln University. After retirement, Burroughs continued speaking on college campuses, serving on boards and other committees of the United Negro College Fund, the International Fellows Program, and the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship program.
The famously contrasting bureaucratic cultures of the State Department and USAID made a sharp impression on Donald Bliss, USAID’s executive secretary during the Ford Administration. Bliss recalls needing to submit 14 copies of a fairly simple memorandum from USAID’s Administrator Daniel Parker to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Bliss, a Harvard Law grad and Peace Corps volunteer, had a distinguished career in both the public and private sectors. After USAID, Bliss was General Counsel at the Department of Transportation and partner at a prestigious law firm. He was appointed by President George W. Bush as permanent U.S. representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2006, where he held the rank of ambassador. This interview was conducted by ADST’s Oral History founder Charles Stuart “Stu” Kennedy in November 2013.
American Foreign Service Officer Todd Greentree served in El Salvador from 1981-82, a time when violence from local “death squads” was at its peak. He also served in Afghanistan from 2008-2012, the height of what was then termed the Global War on Terror. Greentree’s oral history describes first-hand the dangers of living as a diplomat in conflict zones, and discusses the impact of conflict on his everyday life while working abroad. His work included encounters with Oliver North in Central America and close collaboration with the U.S. military’s “Stryker Brigade” in Afghanistan. Greentree was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in May of 2014.
Arlene Render’s career took her from a segregated neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, to three ambassadorships and a lifetime of diplomatic accomplishment, particularly in Africa. Her experiences included cleaning up after a messy espionage affaire in Ghana and helping ensure that safe evacuation of American citizens from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Ambassador Render attended West Virginia State College on a full scholarship from 1960-1964 and received her M.A. in Public Health from the University of Michigan in 1967. In 1970, Render joined the Foreign Service Reserve Officers Program, one of a small handful of “minority” officers in her A-100 entering class. She went on to serve as as the Ambassador to The Gambia, Zambia, and the Ivory Coast, Director of Central African Affairs and Director of Southern African Affairs. In 2004, Ambassador Render became a Diplomat in Residence in the State of Georgia working with schools, universities, and organizations to discuss U.S. foreign policy issues and answering questions about careers in the Foreign Service. She served in posts promoting public health, development, and peacekeeping in Iran, Jamaica, and throughout Central/Southern Africa.