John Gunther Dean and the non-lobby.

John_Dean_Ambassador "Dean's memoir, to be published in May for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Memoir Series by New Academia Publishing under its Vellum imprint, has been read and approved for publication by the State Department with only very minor changes, none affecting Dean's major points. Its underlying theme is that American diplomacy should be pursued in American interests, not those of another country, however friendly. A Jew whose family fled the Holocaust, Dean resented what he saw as an assumption, including by some in Congress, that he would promote Israel's interests in his ambassadorial work.

Dean, a fluent French speaker who began his long diplomatic career opening American missions in newly independent West African nations in the early 1960s, served later in Vietnam (where he described himself as a "loyal dissenter") and was ambassador in Cambodia (where he carried out the American flag as the Khmer Rouge advanced), Denmark, Lebanon, Thailand (where Chas Freeman was his deputy) and India. He takes credit for averting bloodshed in Laos in the 1970s by negotiating a coalition government shared by communist and noncommunist parties.

He was sometimes a disputatious diplomat not afraid to contradict superiors, and he often took–and still holds–contrarian views. He always believed, for example, that the United States should have attempted to negotiate with the Khmer Rouge rather than let the country be overrun by their brutal horror.

As ambassador in India in the 1980s he supported then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's policy of seeking some kind of neutral coalition in Afghanistan that would keep the American- and Pakistani-armed mujahedeen from establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state."  The Nation


I watched Ambassador Dean "fence" with the Joint Chiefs in the "tank" (the JCS conference room) when he was doing Washington meetings before going to India as ambassador.

He wanted them to give him a brigadier general as head of the military mission in Delhi.  He wanted a true South Asia specialist for the job (we have those).  They were willing to give him a general, but not willing to give him a South Asia specialist for the job.  The reason?  It would have been necessary to promote a specialist colonel to brigadier general and the army chief of staff was unwilling to do that.  The general said that he would give Dean a specialist colonel to be the brigadier general's deputy (the implication being that the colonel would do the work and the non-specialist brigadier general would be an acceptable establishment representative).  Dean argued hard against this, sayng as tactfully as he could manage that a boss who does not understand the work is always a problem.  It was smoother than that.  In the end he got tired of begging for common sense and fell silent.  The army chief of staff was quite pleased with himself.  We all know who he was, Cotton Mather with four stars.

John Gunther Dean was one of the best career diplomats we have had.  pl

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27 Responses to John Gunther Dean and the non-lobby.

  1. Recommend that officer/ops for each service make available to the interested public the service records for all Flag Rank officers!
    After all they are all there only with advise and consent of the United States Senate.

  2. david says:

    SST readers might enjoy the following link (click name).
    It is a 2000 interview with Dean as part of an oral history project at the Carter Library.

  3. YT says:

    “Resented what he saw as an assumption, including by some in Congress, that he would promote Israel’s interests in his ambassadorial work.”
    “A fluent French speaker”
    “He takes credit for averting bloodshed”
    “A disputatious diplomat not afraid to contradict superiors”
    Col., sir : Methinks the world could use more men of such calibre. Not just in the U.S. of A, but in other powers as well. Men who are worldlywise who stand up for their beliefs are a rarity indeed. These days nearly everyone’s a mercenary. Or am I gettin’ cynical & older than my physical age?

  4. Will says:

    i used to say that before the internet we all lived in the times of jahala, ditto for the wiki. this is what the muslims say prior to the revelation.
    According to the wiki, Dean was born diensfertig which translates fittingly as “service completed.” He is the anti-bizzaro Doug Feith.
    More from the Wiki (how it made if by the the Israeli Firster gatekeeprs?)
    “Dean and Israel
    Dean claims that he was a target of an Israeli-inspired assassination attempt in 1980 in Lebanon, where he had opened links to the Palestine Liberation Organization[1]. According to him:
    “Weapons financed and given by the United States to Israel were used in an attempt to kill an American diplomat!”
    “Undoubtedly using a proxy, our ally Israel had tried to kill me.”
    Dean’s suspicions that Israeli agents may have also been involved in the mysterious plane crash in 1988 that killed Pakistan’s president, General Mohammed Zia ul Haq, led finally to a decision in Washington to declare him mentally unfit, which forced his resignation from the foreign service after a thirty-year career[2]. Later he was rehabilitated by the State Department, given a distinguished service medal and the insanity charge was confirmed to be a phony by a former head of the department’s medical service.”

  5. YT @ 11:15 a.m.:

    Methinks the world could use more men of such calibre.

    Speaking or needing more men of such calibre, I’m currently reading George Kennan: A Writing Life, by Lee Congdon, and the author conveys the thoughtfulness and wisdom of that man in spades. Although the book focuses mainly on the writing he did after his diplomatic career, as you might expect much of it deals with the lessons he took from his years in the State Department. I highly recommend it.

  6. Mike Martin, Yorktown, VA says:

    WRC, Air Force senior leader bios are available at:
    There is no apparent way to sort them, but if there’s a particular name you’re interested in, it’s easy enough to locate him/her.
    Can’t speak for the other services – they may have something similar.

  7. Twit says:

    YT: “These days nearly everyone’s a mercenary.”
    I think you have a point, but I don’t agree with pitting ‘mercenaries’ against ‘Men who are worldlywise who stand up for their beliefs.’ The problem is that in the US and elsewhere it is increasingly hard to stand up for one’s beliefs and remain in government service (or at least remain ambitiously so).
    In fact, contractors, consultancies, and other mercenaries have become a refuge of at least some of the virtuous, innovative, and free minded people of whom you lament the passing. The good people are still around, and they are still working with government, but although they may have influence (case in point, our dear Colonel), they don’t have authority. This is the problem, which to me is perfectly illustrated by Dean’s run-in with the JCS.

  8. C says:

    “Methinks the world could use more men of such calibre.”
    So, why is it that our colleges and universities are no longer creating men (or women) of such caliber? Shouldn’t such integrity be built into how we educate and train those who go on to serve the nation, whether in government or out of it?

  9. rjj says:

    So, why is it that our colleges and universities are no longer creating men (or women) of such caliber?

    Inadequate foundation and government funding.

  10. YT says:

    Minnesotachuck : Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll be sure to have it ordered. I’ve seen books written by Mr. Kennan along with other articles written ’bout him. Too bad I only came to know ’bout ’em after he left this world.
    Twit : Thanks for replyin’. It is increasin’ true ’bout what you’ve said (I understand how bureaucracies work ‘coz I’ve experience meself). The contarctors & consultancies becomin’ harbors for these free spirits. We could use more of these strong individuals, like the honorable John Boyd. & what’s the recent furor ’bout Secretary Robert Gates? I’ve not been readin’ the news.
    Col., sir : Apologies. Don’t mean to use this post like SMS or Twitter.

  11. Will says:

    That was a Kremlin ploy- the psychiatric diagnosis to remove troublesome dissenters. Apparently Dean was labeled paranoid w/o a rational basis. Of course sometimes a person has a reason to suspect someone is gunning for him!
    Dean thought the Israeli Firster extremists were behind the demise of Pakistani leader Zia al Huq. We all know the price Rabin paid.
    In Irak, how about that helicopter crash of his precedessor that paved the way to power to Saddam H. al Takriti.
    If B.H. Obama & H.R. Clinton were to really get serious about a Palestinian State, wouldn’t their lives be at great risk?
    The same caution goes for George John Mitchell, Jr.

  12. YT @ 4/7, 7:30 AM:
    Since I made that comment yesterday I’ve read considerably further in the book to where the author goes beyond specifics related to Kennan’s diplomatic career and into his personal beliefs, derived mainly from his diaries. While I still recommend the book highly, I have to say that based on the author’s assertions of his skepticism about democracy and authoritarian tendencies I have some misgivings about the man. On the other hand, as far as I know at no point in his career did he do anything or advocate in any way to put these tendencies into effect. My previous view of him was based on the public record of his diplomacy, and a few of his books and articles that I have read. BTW, it is my sense that the book’s author, Lee Congdon, personally sympathizes with Kennan’s outlook, which he describes as an 18th century, Hobbsian conservatism.

  13. meffie says:

    Regarding the dearth of creative thinkers in government, I don’t think people who have not had children in US elite schools in the past 20 years realize the extent of the dumbing down of our education. These schools, at the prep and university levels, are private clubs of conformity. The way to succeed is to follow rules, do homework, join clubs, become a “leader” by being elected captain of a team, and conform, conform, conform. This is not the same system that gave us Kennan and his generation. And it is not a change for the better.

  14. curious says:

    hey anybody watching moldova? Is it Ukrainian job or is it Soro’s/neocon orange revolution? (looks very ukrainian to me)
    whichever it is, european is not reacting. Russia is missing so far. (moldova has little strategic importance. it has no port for naval base. but russia might still wonder about it. specially with georgia and ukraine. we’ll see if they set up base in cuba as retaliation)
    but what is the status of those color revolution?
    # In order to be successful, an orange revolution in Moldova would have to be supported by the US. Their involvement in the “revolutions” in Kiev and Tbilisi is notorious. But the US have other priorities for the moment. Europe would not react in a significant manner
    # The question is – how strong and lasting can an anti-communist movement in Chisinau be as 40-50% of the population has voted for communists? How long can protesters cope with the communist’s state machine?
    # In order to be successful, a revolution, no matter its color, must be domestically and legally motivated and sufficiently supported by the public. External support only comes third
    # There is an obvious difference between the level of individuals’ relations and political relations between Romania and the Republic of Moldova. While political “acceptance” was difficult, at personal level relations cannot be considered cold or difficult
    # A 5% difference has been noted between final results and exit-polls, a percentage that can change the winner or at least might have offered the opposition another margin for negotiation. Unless evidence comes up about “stolen” percentages, the rule of “until proven guilty” applies here

  15. fnord says:

    Sir, thats some of the best memorial words I have read.

  16. Leanderthal says:

    Actually we don’t all know.
    Perhaps I’m the only one who doesn’t know who that Army Chief of Staff was.
    As a Cotton Mather clearly he’s not to be admired, but who was that four star Cotton Mather?

  17. Castellio says:

    I don’t know, just guessing, but if it was Gen. Max Thurman, he’s someone who definitely helped set the tone which led to the current ‘disjunction’ between South America and the US

  18. YT says:

    Minnesotachuck :
    Re : “an 18th century, Hobbsian conservatism”. Not long ago, I sent my pals a copy of the article below —
    “Above all, Kennan was a realist and a cultural pessimist, a combination absent from the cloud-cuckooland that is present day Washington. Oddly for the architect of the cold war, “USA Number One” was not in his vocabulary: In 1999, he concluded that “this whole tendency to see ourselves as the center of political enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the rest of the world strikes me as unthought-through, vainglorious, and undesirable.” The Washington Post’s obituary asserts that he deplored the automobile, computers, commercialism, environmental degradation, and other manifestations of modern life, and that “[h]e loathed popular American culture.”
    Truly an 18th c. soul.
    meffie : “conform, conform, conform.” I thought it’s basically the same everywhere. Who’s IN & who’s NOT. Who’s HIP or otherwise (S***, “hip” is so 80’s. Gettin’ old I guess). Kids probably conform for fear of bein’ ridiculed & left out. With the tragic death of all individuality… So much for nurturin’ boldness & character.

  19. David Habakkuk says:

    Thanks for the reference to Lee Congdon’s book.
    It is risky to comment on a book one has not read, but I am surprised at Congdon’s characterisation of Kennan’s politics as ‘an 18th century, Hobbesian conservatism.’
    A central eighteenth-century presence behind Kennan’s thinking is that of the historian Gibbon. In his 1968 polemic Democracy and the Student Left, he told his readers that for years, Gibbon’s maxim that ‘Under a democratical government the citizens exercise the powers of sovereignty; and those powers will be first abused, and afterwards lost, if they are committed to an unwieldy multitude’, had lain at the heart of his political philosophy.
    Here as elsewhere in Kennan, there is more than a touch of the ‘esoteric writing’ analysed — and practiced — by Leo Strauss. Like Strauss, Kennan was given to explaining himself by cryptic references to classic texts. As with Strauss, moreover, a central reason for this was that Kennan’s thinking reflected interpretations of twentieth European tyrannies which he knew would be uncongenial to a contemporary Western audience. With these tyrannies, he had had very direct contact — having been in Berlin in 1929-31 and 1939-41, as well as in Moscow in 1934-7, 1944-6, and 1952.
    Both these tyrannies, of course, developed out of failed republican experiments — a fact central to understanding both Strauss’s thinking, and that of Kennan. But there are fundamental differences between the two. Among other things, while Strauss started out as a committed believer in absolutism, Kennan’s fundamental sympathies were always with republicanism, of a certain kind.
    Modern republicanism begins with polemics against tyranny developed in Renaissance Italy, on the basis of reflection on Roman experience. Already in Machiavelli there is the idea that the avoidance of tyranny depends upon a balance of social forces. This idea is developed in Montesquieu. For Montesquieu, as Raymond Aron puts it, in Main Currents in Sociological Thought:
    ‘the goal of the political order is to insure the moderation of power by the balance of powers, by the equilibrium of people, nobility and king in the French or the British monarchy, or the equilibrium of the people and privileged, plebs and patriciate, in the Roman republic. These are different examples of the same fundamental conception of a heterogeneous and hierarchical society in which the moderation of political power requires the balance of powers.’
    In the remark Kennan quotes, Gibbon, a follower of Montesquieu, was simply drawing out an implication of this argument — that egalitarianism, by threatening the balance of social powers, can destroy the barriers to tyranny, and open the way to Caesarism. The thought, incidentally, was hardly alien to the authors of The Federalist Papers, also followers of Montesquieu — and also afraid of Caesars.
    The work of Tocqueville, another reference point for Kennan, was largely devoted to demonstrating how democratic society in America had succeeded in generating its own distinctive forms of countervailing power, and so could sustain a republican system, and avoid the kind of collapse into Caesarism that France suffered after 1789 and again after 1848. Much of his analysis was devoted to the cultural preconditions for republican government.
    But Tocqueville was writing about a United States which was still in large measure the society Jefferson had known. What Kennan believed was that the atomizing effects of modern urbanisation, industrialisation — and mass immigration — had destroyed the cultural preconditions of representative government.
    And at that, point, of course, a republican vision is indeed in danger of collapsing into a Hobbesian apologia for absolutism, in that in a society of people judged no longer fit for citizenship, absolute power can be very naturally seen as the only means of keeping anarchy at bay.

  20. acilius says:

    @Leanderthal: “who was that four star Cotton Mather?”
    Sounds to me like an insulting description of General John Wickham.

  21. WILL says:

    from the wiki on US Army chief of Staffs

    29. GEN Edward C. Meyer 22 June 1979 21 June 1983
    30. GEN John A. Wickham, Jr. 23 July 1983 23 June 1987

    from the wiki on John Gunther Dean
    “1985-1988 United States Ambassador to India”
    So considering the time frame, it’s b/n Generals Edward Charles “Shy” Meyer & John Adams Wickham, Jr.

  22. WILL says:

    As to that last post, my astigamtism struck again regarding No. 3’s and 5’s.
    My bad as far as sleuthing.

  23. Babak Makkinejad says:

    David Habakkuk:
    You wrote: “absolute power can be very naturally seen as the only means of keeping anarchy at bay”.
    This was indeed the position of many Doctors of Religion throughout the Islamic History.

  24. euclidcreek says:

    My bad is a very stupid phrase; sounds like a three year old. So goes America.

  25. Spaniel says:

    Mr. Dean was in India between 1985 and 1988. The CSA at the time were GEN John Wickham, Jr (1983-87) and GEN Carl Vuono(1987-91). GEN Meyer was CSA betwen 1979 and 1983, so it wasn’t him if the dates were to be compared against each other.

  26. David Habakkuk says:

    Babak Makkinejad,
    The suppression of the draft riots in New York in 1863 prompted a remarkable poem by Herman Melville — often considered America’s greatest writer — entitled ‘The House-Top’. It concludes as follows:
    ‘Wise Draco comes, deep in the midnight roll
    Of black artillery; he comes, though late;
    In code corroborating Calvin’s creed
    And cynic tyrannies of honest kings;
    He comes, nor parleys; and the town, redeemed,
    Gives thanks devout; nor, being thankful, heeds
    The grimy slur on the Republic’s faith implied,
    Which holds that Man is naturally good,
    And — more — is Nature’s Roman, never to be scourged.’

  27. harper says:

    News coverage of Dean’s upcoming memoir indicates a bombshell, which, I hope, has larger implications. In the excerpts made public, he accuses Mossad of plotting to assassinate him, and also blames Mossad for the murder of Pakistani President Zia, along with the then-US Ambassador to Pakistan. If foreign service senior grades are now openly accusing the Israelis of assassinating American diplomats, this is a very big deal. I consider it even more noteworthy, given Col. Lang’s own account of his experiences with Amb. Dean and his view of him as one of the best. More of this needs to be piled on. Right now, I see the insanity in Israel, from top to bottom, so severe, that it is going to take a Thirty Years War or equivalent to bring them to their senses. A report circulating in Lebanon suggests that the CIA believes Israel will cease to exist in the next 20 years. I don’t know if that report is accurate, but it is food for thought. Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

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