The Foreign Service Journal - October 2015
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Bush 41 and the

Collapse of the USSR

Like many fellow Americans I was

startled to hear that former President

George H.W. Bush had again been

rushed to a hospital follow-

ing a recent fall. Reports

indicate that he is recover-

ing and that he remains

robust despite his 91 years.

Nonetheless, the event

reminds us how quickly time

is passing. The curtain on

what was arguably the 20th

century’s most far-reaching

foreign policy moment—the

collapse of the USSR—along with the

incumbent U.S. president whose deft

leadership steered safe passage through

a potentially cataclysmic period of

uncertainty, may soon close.

Other than the


’s December

2011 issue dedicated to the collapse of

the Soviet Union ( When the USSR Fell: The Foreign Service on the Front Lines ),

there has been no focused work on the

truly extraordinary role that on-the-

ground diplomacy played.

As a former AFSA president, Tex

Harris, describes it, our primary job is

to “execute and make real presidential

visions.” From 1989 until Christmas Day

1991, President Bush had a vision as he

watched events unfold in the Kremlin

and across the USSR. His vision was

a peaceful USSR transition from “Evil

Empire” to newly democratic Russia—

a vision that his Foreign Service team

helped make real.

It would be a shame, indeed a dis-

service to our institution and to the

honor of President Bush, if we fail to

capture this history. I respectfully issue

a challenge to the new AFSA Governing

Board: Please move ahead with plans

to compile all the stories of service and

sacrifice, along with the interview with

President Bush, found in the Decem- ber 2011 FSJ issue into an AFSA book.

(Full disclosure, my essay about the role

of information management special-

ists at Embassy Moscow was

submitted for the collection.

The project, as I understand

it, has been on the back

burner since it was approved

in 2012.)

AFSA would have the

honor of presenting the first

book to former President

Bush—before the curtain


Timothy C. Lawson

Senior FSO, retired

Hua Hin, Thailand

Where Was Everyone?

The State Department, on its website, describes Foreign Affairs Day this way:

“Each year on the first Friday of May, the

Department of State observes Foreign

Affairs Day, the annual homecoming

for our Foreign Service and Civil Service

retirees. This day also commemorates

the members of the Foreign Service

who made the ultimate sacrifice and

lost their lives serving the United States

overseas. Both a solemn occasion and a

celebration, Foreign Affairs Day recog-

nizes employees of foreign affairs agen-

cies and their dedication and

service as they address foreign

policy and development chal-

lenges around the world.”

This past May 1, large

numbers of retirees returned

to the department to partici-

pate in a morning program

of remarks and seminars

to discuss key foreign

policy issues. Alongside

the seminar program, AFSA hosted its

annual memorial ceremony honoring

colleagues who were killed overseas in

the line of duty or under heroic circum-

stances. Presiding with elegance and

dignity, the Director General presented

the Director General’s Foreign Service

Cup and Civil Service Cup. At the lun-

cheon an inspiring speech in praise of

the past, present and future of the For-

eign Service was given by the featured


All in all it was a lovely affair, notable

also for the presence of a number of

our most distinguished colleagues,

FSOs whose names and reputations are


Yet I have been brooding ever since.

Where was our seventh floor leader-

ship? Of the nine principal officers of the

State Department—one Secretary, two

Deputy Secretaries and six under secre-

taries—only one was present, the under

secretary for management. None of the

other principals attended.

Would the leadership of any other

organization—in the public or private

sector—hold such an affair and not

show up? Can you imagine the lineup

of senior officials at, say, the Depart-

ment of Defense or Google or General

Motors? Surely this is not what is taught

at management schools and leadership


Some will reply that their absence

was understandable: they were

spread around the world

doing the nation’s busi-

ness. Well, yes. But who was

minding the store? Who was

on the bridge? Who was at

the controls? Every organiza-

tion needs top-level strategic

leadership and management

to be present.

There is a real distinction

between strategic leadership