The Honorable Diplomat: Ambassador Richard H. Solomon, PhD.
One week ago our nation lost an honorable Ambassador Christopher Stevens to what the military and intelligence quaintly call, “dynamic action”. He was murdered! By whom and why is for the American people to determine. And not for the officials of our government who have become at best second-rate fiction writers , if not blatant liars.
But more importantly, I would like to tell you about another quiet, distinguished, honorable diplomat like Ambassador Stevens [whom I did not know but admired] by the name of Dr. Richard H. Solomon.
About one week ago, Dr Richard H. Solomon officially resigned from his twenty tenure as the President of the distinguished United States Institute of Peace [USIP]. He had singlehandedly built this unique place where private money and public money could initiate, create, and maintain the multivariate studies and practices for the understanding of peace, conflict and international crises management.
Under Dick’s leadership, USIP was a bastion of an amalgam of theory and practice where one could study and implement the necessary skill sets for transcultural negotiations and crises management. It was not a ‘touchy-feely’ institution where meditation about the normative values of peace and love were taught. But instead, it was a highly disciplined institution where the Rule Of Law was studied and exported to war-torn areas like the Balkans , Iraq , Cambodia and Afghanistan.
[I suggest that if you are more interested to learn more about the USIP , please look up USIP.ORG.]
My blog is not intended to be a paean for the USIP. But it is being written in reaction to the death of an honorable diplomat who died in a most dishonorable way. But I am writing this blog about another honorable diplomat, a longtime colleague and friend. He was one the first China Scholars to write one the most important insightful books on the impending conflicts in China—the question of Chinese political leadership and political stability. The book was called , “Mao and The Cultural Revolution.” How do I know this bit of minutiae?
I had to study “Mao and The Cultural Revolution”, inside and out, in order to pass both my oral and written exams for my PhD in Political Science. My mentor and Dick’s mentor was Professor Lucian Pye, a brilliant man of letters born in China of missionary parents who spend his career training students like me and Dick to think ‘out of the box’ and understand the contradictory forces of peace and war. At the time, 1971-74, that I was attending MIT , the Center For International Studies was funded by the CIA and DARPA[ the same DOD institution that created the internet], I was obliged to read his book in order to understand China and it’s underlying psychological and political ambivalence that arose between China’s past Confucius traditions and it’s recently acquired Maoist revolutionary diktats.
Lucian, along with Dick and others at MIT, had formed the intellectual nexus between psychology, political science, and anthropology and national character studies which, at the time, was considered a highly specious area of academic concern. In time, what Dick and I had studied there would determine the course of political science and the course of our nation’s national security for the next forty years.
At the time that I was studying Dick’s 700 page tome , I was also attending Massachusetts Mental Health Center [Harvard Medical College] obtaining my degree in psychiatry [Harvard wasn’t that good]. So I was astounded to learn from Lucian that Dick was neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist. But he was a self-taught expert in administering and interpreting psychological tests of Chinese refugees fleeing Communist China in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The point was clear to me that there were brilliant minds out there who could understand , interpret and implement the mandates of a foreign cultures and use them in a constructive manner to develop peaceful means for negotiating foreign policy . In short, war was not the perquisite to determining the outcome of a foreign society’s relationship with the United States but in fact the most important determinants of US foreign policy success would lie in understanding in depth both the cultural and psychological determinants of a foreign nation. As simple as this premise may seem in retrospect, this approach was hardly incorporated in our misbegotten wars in Vietnam, Iraq , Afghanistan and elsewhere.
But back to my story of Dick.
At the time I did not know that Dick had worked with Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger on implementing the first and most significant peace accord with Chairman Mao Tse Tung and Premier Chou En Lai –the famous ‘Ping-Pong Exchange’. At the time Dick was at the National Security Council as one of Henry’s China expert. He then left quietly to become Director of the RAND National Security Department .
At RAND, he developed two major projects— The “Plans for Regime Change in the Soviet Union’ written by yours truly, and more importantly,  the famous book called “Chinese Negotiation Behavior” which became the prototype of all the subsequent cross-cultural negotiating books that the USIP underwrote in the subsequent forty years.
In the mid-1980’s Dick became the Director of Policy Planning Staff, again following in the illustrious footsteps of Foreign Service Officers like George Kennan, Paul Nitze, and others. At the Policy Planning Staff, he was able to implement in part or in whole the projects that he had developed at the RAND Corporation. Subsequently, he became our distinguished Ambassador to the Philippines where he negotiated several successful treaties.
But as far as I am concerned, Dick’s greatest untoward accomplishment came when he was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Asia the Pacific under Secretary of State James Baker. Dick without encouragement from anyone above, took it upon himself to risk both his political and professional career on a very highly loaded political issue of trying to disarm the Khmer Rouge and create a lasting peace in war ravaged Cambodia. His plan was to create a permanent peace treaty among the warring factions- Thailand, Cambodia, Khmer Rouge, China, Vietnam and Russia. For over forty years over 1.2 million Cambodians had been slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge under the infamous Pol Pot and the PRC. Dick had wanted, against all odds, to create a peace treaty which would bring in democracy and obviate another genocide. In usual calm, discreet, professional manner, he organized a very effective team of FSO’s and other operatives from other parts of the US government who worked in both Thailand and Cambodia trying tirelessly to implement the tenets of political psychology and transcultural negotiations techniques in order to both disarm the Khmer Rouge without using military force and at the same time bring twenty plus nations to a peace conference in Paris. The rest is history, Dick had created and finalized the now famous Paris Peace Conference on Cambodia in 1991. And both peace and democracy were brought to Cambodia.
To everyone’s surprise, Dick had pulled off a miracle. No one in the history of diplomacy had ever brought peace to a nation where auto-genocide had been committed and over twenty nations were involved in the peace process. For this incredible accomplishment, Dick received the Medal of Honor from the Honorable King of Thailand.
In retrospect , Dick’s Paris Peace Conference Treaty of 1991, was the single most significant accomplishment in the history of diplomacy in the past forty years, beside President Jimmy Carters’ Camp David Israeli-Egyptian Peace Conference of 1979.
But even now, no one really touted his efforts, least of all Richard Solomon. He was and is too modest to do so. Instead, we have been inundated by the nonsensical verbiage of self-aggrandizing political and military fiascos like Iraq , Afghanistan, the Osama bin Laden raids, and Libyan disaster.
All of these past and present travesties could all have been prevented by the Honorable Diplomats who had a basic understanding of what Ambassador Steven’s knew all too well –Arab culture, Arab mores, and most importantly Arab psychology and national character. In the same way Dick had known and studied the different cultures of Cambodia , China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The reason, I am writing this blog about my friend and colleague Richard Solomon, is not because he or others asked me[ nor would Dick ever do so, and quite frankly, I am not sure he would like to know that I am writing this about him] but he like countless of brilliant selfless Americans who served in our Foreign Service, deserve a moment of recognition and gratitude from our country. Unfortunately, many self-aggrandizing political, CIA and military personalities have taken the spotlight away from our silent heroes in the ‘service of protecting our national security’. For these silent heroes, unlike the self-publicizing SEALS, CIA and military officials, there is no song, movie, book or television special that will memorialize their real or imagined exploits. They are not even written about in fiction. They don’t have their own Tom Clancy --like the others do.
Like Ambassador Christopher Stevens who was viciously murdered last week for being an outstanding “Arabist” and Foreign Service Officer, there are thousands like him and Dick who truly deserve our gratitude and recognition. No mythical tales of real or fictitious military exploits will be told of their quiet, discreet endeavors because they were and are the Honorable Diplomats of our country. The greatest gift that our President can make on behalf of these untold heroes is to make the next Sec State a career FSO. So that once in my lifetime , I can finally see a professional diplomat in the position of power and not some political toddy who was bequeathed a favor for favors garnered for the political elite in power . For me, this would be the most appropriate way to honor our Honorable Diplomats, alive or dead, who gave of themselves in the service of our country.