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The 2000 Presidential Election – The Florida Recount

The presidential election of November 7, 2000 was one of the most memorable – and controversial – in the history of the United States. It pitted Republican candidate George W. Bush, then governor of Texas and son of former president George H. W. Bush (1989–1993), and Democratic candidate Al Gore, then Bill Clinton’s Vice President. Around 2:15 a.m. numerous news sources and television networks called the State of Florida for Bush and declared him the winner. At 2:30 a.m., Gore called Bush and conceded the election.

However, Gore advisors continued to maintain that with a mere 600 vote margin, no clear winner had emerged. At 3:30 a.m., Gore called Bush back and retracted his concession. Ultimately the 2000 presidential election would hinge on the vote in Florida.  The outcome was one of the closest in U.S. presidential history. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

By November 10th election officials calculated that Bush led by around 400 votes out of almost 6 million cast. In such a close contest Florida law demands a full machine recount in all its 67 counties. But such laws and mechanisms were open to interpretation. Numerous lawsuits and hearings ensued. Voters became familiar with butterfly ballots and hanging chads. Read more

An Embassy in Flames: Islamabad, 1979

The November 21, 1979 attack on the American Embassy in Islamabad started as a small group demonstration in front of the embassy, where protesters shouted anti-American slogans and demanded entry into the campus. Police officers were able to stop the protesters and have them leave the area. However, about fifteen minutes later, some six busloads of Pakistani students arrived and laid siege to the American embassy compound for several hours, from midday until nightfall. The students were angry because of suspected U.S. involvement in the coup d’état of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 and execution in April 1979. The final straw came from false reports, made by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, that the United States had launched a terrorist attack on the Grand Mosque, Masjid al-Haram, at Mecca. Read more

Algeria’s Struggle for Independence

The modern-day People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria is now a proud, sovereign state in North Africa that readily influences the region. However, before 1962, Algeria had been a French colony, dating back to the French invasion of Algiers in 1830. Following a brutal conquest that some termed as genocide, France began a policy of “civilizing” their new North African colony. To help assimilate Algeria, the colony was administered as an integral part of France and thus split into three département of the nation. The motto of Algeria would soon be: L’Algerie c’est la France (Algeria is France).

Under this new administration, the French implemented new laws and policies that were aimed at “civilizing” the country. As a part of the département system, Algeria would have representatives in the French National Assembly. Read more

The Long, Incomplete Road for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

The movement to limit or even prohibit the testing of nuclear weapons has been around almost since the dawn of the nuclear age itself. Concern over harming the environment and causing widespread damage to human life led to the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963 and the 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty, which limited underground nuclear tests to 150 megatons. In the 1993, with the fall of the USSR, negotiations were begun in earnest on a comprehensive test ban treaty at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Established in 1979, the CD meets in annual sessions three times a year and serves as a forum for states to discuss the reduction of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.

Not surprisingly with an agreement of this scope and severity, there were many obstacles to overcome. Read more

“The Cold War Was Truly Over” — The 1986 Reykjavik Summit

After the 1985 Geneva Summit, where President Ronald Reagan and leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, met for the first time, the Reykjavik Summit, held on October 11-12, 1986, presented an opportunity to try to reach an agreement between the two sides on arms control. While Gorbachev wanted to ban all ballistic missiles and limit the talks to arms control, Reagan wanted to continue to work on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and sought to include talks on human rights, the emigration of Soviet Jews and dissidents, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Though ultimately a failure, the Reykjavik Summit changed the relationship between the United States and the USSR, and provided a platform for a continuing dialogue between the two countries. It eventually resulted in the 1987 signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), and is often cited as the end of the Cold War. Read more

When Archaeology Meets Diplomacy: The Dig at Herculaneum

When Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79 AD, it famously engulfed the Roman town of Pompeii and, less famously, the richer town of Herculaneum. Both places sat under 50-60 feet of volcanic ash until they were rediscovered in 1748. In contrast to Pompeii, the hot gas and rock flow preserved Herculaneum’s organic-based objects, such as wooden roofs, beds, doors, and food. Until recently, it was believed that almost all of Herculaneum’s inhabitants had been able to evacuate.

However, in the 1980’s, some 300 skeletons were surprisingly discovered along the seashore. This was an incredible archaeological discovery and would lead to greater insight into the lives of the Romans. However, the dig ran into serious financial difficulties. Fortunately, one American diplomat was able to get the National Geographic Society involved. Herculaneum is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Read more

The Sudden Rise of Muammar Qaddafi and a Hostile Libya

On September 1st, 1969, a group of young Libyan military officers overthrew the Libyan royal family and established the Libyan Arab Republic. The mastermind of this coup d’état was a 27-year-old officer named Muammar al-Qaddafi, who following the coup effectively established himself as both the country’s head of state and head of the armed forces.

The relatively peaceful overthrow of the Libyan royal family astonished many in the State Department because it seemingly came out of nowhere. Qaddafi was a relatively unknown military officer at this point of time, as were many of his closest allies within the Libyan military establishment.

Unsure of what was to be expected, diplomats heartily sought to establish positive relations with Libya because they saw it as a critical hub, in which the Air Force retained one of its largest bases in the entire world. However, these interests would quickly clash with Qaddafi’s. Read more

The Charismatic Dalai Lama

Born into a humble farming family on July 6, 1935, Lhamo Dhondup (Tenzin Gyatso), had subtle beginnings before he became the leader of an entire people. After the thirteenth Dalai Lama’s passing, the high lamas searched for his next reincarnation among the Tibetan people. Tibetan Buddhists monks journeyed to a small village and found a boy about the age of two who, after passing numerous trials, was determined to be the next Dalai Lama. He commenced his training in the study of Tibetan culture and philosophy soon after his trials.

The Dalai Lamas are considered to be the protectors of Tibet and the reincarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Living in a time of turmoil for the Tibetan people, Tenzin Gyatso assumed political power in 1950 as Chinese troops invaded Tibet and brought it under its control. In 1959, thousands of Tibetans revolted against Chinese rule, but were quickly suppressed. Some 15,000 were killed. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India with thousands of followers, creating a Tibetan diaspora near Dharamsala, where they have remained for the past half century. Read more

Anwar Sadat and the Camp David Negotiations  

The Camp David Accords, which were negotiated over a period of twelve days in 1978 between Egyptian, Israeli, and American delegations at the Presidential retreat of Camp David, Maryland, marked a historical watershed as Egypt became the first Arab state to recognize Israel. It led to the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979. The negotiation process required constant compromise between the two nations, and there were numerous moments when it appeared that disagreements over parts of the framework would lead to the collapse of the entire process.

The reason it did not collapse can be attributed in no small way to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, whose statesmanship and nearly authoritarian power allowed him to make concessions and negotiate with greater flexibility than his Israeli counterparts. His ability to build a strong rapport with President Jimmy Carter was crucial to the negotiating process, as it allowed the two presidents to speak frankly and approach issues in ways they could not be in a more formal negotiating process. Read more

“A Box Sealed for 70 years” — Opening U.S. Embassy Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

A mountainous country in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan was ceded by China and formally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1876. With the creation of the USSR, it became the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. After the failed August coup in Moscow, Kyrgyzstan declared independence from the Soviet Union on August 31, 1991Askar Akayev, a physicist, was elected President unopposed in October 1991. The U.S. formally recognized Kyrgyzstan, as well as the other former Soviet republics, with the dissolution of the USSR on December 26, 1991.

The United States moved to set up embassies in all the new republics, especially in the “Stans” of Central Asia — Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan — in order to support the development of stability and democracy in the post-Soviet world. Thus, the call went out for Russian-speaking Foreign Service Officers who wanted the challenge of being at the forefront of U.S. diplomacy on a new frontier.  Read more