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When the Sudanese Autocrat Met President Reagan and Lost his Job

In 1969, Colonel Gaafar Muhammad Nimeiry (seen right), who three years earlier had graduated from the United States Army Command College in Fort Leavenworth,  overthrew the government of newly-independent Sudan and became prime minister. Once in office, Nimeiry made full use of his powers, nationalizing banks and industries and brutally eliminating his enemies; he ordered an aerial bombardment in 1970 which killed several thousand opponents.

The following year, he was elected President. In 1972 Nimeiry signed an agreement granting autonomy to the non-Muslim southern region of Sudan, ushering in a period of relative stability to the region. He drafted a new constitution which insured his authority and sought ways to exploit the vast resources of the country, instigating initiatives to develop agriculture and industry, returning banks to private ownership and encouraging foreign investment. He was not able, however, to contain domestic opposition, and Sudan was rocked by several coup attempts. Read more

A Crack in the Iron Curtain: Freeing Sharansky

As General Secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev authorized the release of thousands of Soviet Jews who wanted to leave the USSR. In 1986 only 914 Soviet Jews were allowed to emigrate; by 1990 the number was 186,815.  A group of about 11,000 who had been denied emigration visas were known as refuseniks. Natan Sharansky, a spokesperson for the refuseniks during the mid-1970s, helped draw global attention to their desire to leave and to human rights abuses in the USSR. Arrested on charges of espionage and treason, in 1978 he was sentenced to 13 years of forced labor. His wife Avital led an international campaign to free him.

Under pressure from President Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev released Sharansky on February 11, 1986. Sharanksy moved to Israel, where he founded the Yisrael BaAliyah party and later represented the Likud Party, serving as Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister of Israel.  He continues to be active as the Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Read more

Winning the Peace – USAID and the Demobilization of the Nicaraguan Contras

In the 1980s, one of the focal points of U.S. foreign policy was the rise of leftist militants throughout the globe, particularly in Central America. Under the Reagan Doctrine, the U.S. in 1982 began actively supporting anti-Communist insurgents — the Contras — in Nicaragua in their fight against the Sandinistas. By 1985, public support for the Contras had waned after reports surfaced that the Contras had trafficked in cocaine and used “death squads.”

After Congress prohibited aid to the Contras, the Reagan Administration, under Lt. Col. Oliver North, began funding them illegally, in what would be known as the Iran-Contra Affair. After the Contras and Sandinistas agreed to a cease-fire in March 1988, Congress passed a law that put non-lethal Contra aid under the auspices of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Read more

Combining Forces to Counter Terrorism — The Birth of S/CT

U.S. inter-agency coordination on countering terrorism was limited, for bureaucratic and technical reasons, prior to the mid-1980s. As hijackings and terrorist assaults against U.S. military personnel became more frequent after the Vietnam War, Washington responded in part by creating the position of Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the State Department (S/CT). However, the position was not given funding priority until the Reagan administration.

Ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer discusses how S/CT was created and the bureaucratic wrangling and inter-agency cooperation which followed. He also describes a hijacking that went sadly wrong and his experiences in dealing with his counterparts in Europe and elsewhere.  Read more

Leveling the Playing Field in the Salvadoran Civil War

The Salvadoran Civil War, lasting from 1979-1992, pitted the military-led government of El Salvador against a coalition of five left-wing guerrilla groups known collectively as the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).  Combat was vicious and fought by both the government and guerrilla forces without regard for human rights. More than 75,000 Salvadorans lost their lives and an unknown number of people “disappeared” during the conflict.

At first, the United States supported the right-wing military regime, which — though openly committing war crimes, was seen as a bulwark against communism — before adopting a more nonpartisan approach. Secretary of State Shultz asked Thomas Pickering to take over as Ambassador to El Salvador in 1983 when the conflict was in full swing.  Not long after taking the assignment, Pickering was subject to assassination threats from right-wing Salvadoran politicians and later targeted by North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, who called for Pickering to be removed as ambassador on the grounds of having influenced the outcome of the troubled country’s elections. (Photo: Giovanni Palazzo)

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Managing the End of the Marcos Regime

Intent on actively opposing the rule of Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos, Senator Benigno Aquino returned from exile in the U.S. in August 1983, only to be assassinated upon his arrival in Manila. Public outrage in response to this and to the regime’s corruption led to calls for Marcos’ removal. Corazon Aquino, the widow of Benigno, became a leader of the People Power Revolution and was convinced to run against Marcos in the election of February 1986.

Once election results were released, Marcos claimed victory despite accusations of vote tampering and fraud. At Corazon Aquino’s urging, protestors took to the streets to demand Marcos’ removal. The protestors blocked government troops from dispersing the crowds in the capital and the forces retreated, peacefully ending the three-day revolution. On February 25, 1986, Corazon Aquino was inaugurated as president, a victory officially recognized by the U.S. That same day Marcos fled the country for permanent asylum in Hawaii, ending twenty years of autocratic rule. Read more

Julia Chang Bloch’s Whole-of-Mission Approach in Nepal

In 1990, Nepal’s centuries-long history of monarchical rule and more recent autocratic substitutes were finally brought to an end in what may consider to be one of the most notable non-violent revolutions of the twentieth century. With the death of King Mahendra in 1972, the future of Nepal’s government was uncertain. His son, King Birendra, ascended to the throne and implemented amendments to the ancient panchayat system that allotted virtually unlimited power to the monarchy.

All promises of democratic reform were abandoned by the throne, and the Nepalese people began to call for change. The Nepali Congress, a pro-democratic party formally banned by the monarchy, and the United Left Front, a coalition of socialist and Maoist political parties, agreed to campaign together in order to restore the kind of multiparty democracy Nepal possessed in the 1950s, so long as both parties could hold seats in the new Congress after the revolution was over. Read more

Survivor of Two Concentration Camps, U.S. Ambassador to Three Countries

Robert Gerhard Neumann (1916–1999), seen at right with wife Marlen, served as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. Born in Vienna, Austria, he belonged to political activist groups as a student. While studying in Geneva, he was arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned for almost a year, spending part of that time in Dachau and Buchenwald. After he was released, he left for the United States. When the US entered World War II, Neumann, as a non-citizen, volunteered to be drafted. He initially served as an interpreter in prisoner of war camps in the US before being sent to England. He was commissioned and also transferred to the Office of Special Services, the precursor of the CIA, although he remained in the army. He went to France a few weeks after D-day. Read more

The Strategic Defense Initiative — The Other “Star Wars”

On March 23rd, 1983, President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, signaling a massive paradigm shift in U.S. policy on nuclear policy. Dubbed “Star Wars” after the 1977 movie, SDI represented Reagan’s rejection of Mutual Assured Destruction. MAD had fostered an uneasy peace during the Cold War as neither the U.S. nor the USSR attacked the other knowing that it would in turn be the target of a massive nuclear retaliation annihilating it (and much of the planet). By extension, so the argument went, a weapons system that could deflect most of an opponent’s nuclear barrage would undermine MAD by making that country feel more protected and thus potentially more likely to at least consider launching an offensive attack. Read more

 Taking the Chill off the Cold War: The First Reagan-Gorbachev Summit

The Geneva Summit of 1985 was the first meeting between President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev to talk about the arms race, particularly the Strategic Defense Initiative, and to establish personal relations between the leaders of the world’s superpowers.  Held November 19, 1985 at a chateau owned by the Aga Khan, the first meeting went over schedule by half an hour.  It was a promising start, and Gorbachev accepted Reagan’s invitation to visit the U.S. within the year.

The summit helped transform U.S. relations with the Soviet Union. But as with all such major diplomatic events, a vast amount of preparation took place behind the scenes before the first words were spoken by the heads of state.

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