Harvey Sicherman: An Appreciation

The death of a patriot leaves a gaping hole among the cadre of foreign-policy analysts, not to mention the hearts of friends and family.

I considered myself fortunate to count Harvey Sicherman (1945–2010), who passed away on Saturday, December 25, among my close personal friends as well as among my most astute professional colleagues. For several years we were neighbors, attending the same Sabbath services; our sons were classmates at one of the local schools. Harvey was a character of the first order—he wore a homburg, saddle oxfords and often carried a cane. But he had a heart of gold, always ready and willing to help a young up-and-coming analyst with an introduction or a job. And he was funny: he could be as wry, witty and gently critical about the administration policy of the day as about the Torah portion of the week—and, depending on which audience he addressed, he had a ready tale to regale his listeners.

Harvey was nothing short of brilliant, as three successive secretaries of State—Alexander Haig, George Shultz and Jim Baker—all recognized. They drew upon his talents accordingly. He served them as both speech writer and analyst—a combination that is less common than people realize—and excelled at both callings. His close friend John Lehman, then secretary of the navy, employed him as a consultant as well—that was when I first met Harvey, when I worked for Fred Iklé, Ronald Reagan’s under secretary of defense for policy and John Lehman’s one-time boss in the Ford administration.

Harvey was an unabashed Republican, but one of the old school. He never personalized policy differences—Democrats and Republicans all felt comfortable around him. And he was no ideologue; he did not even call himself a “realist Republican” because he eschewed labels. He was a patriot; and, though he never described himself in such terms, that appellation best summed him up.

When Harvey left the administration of George H. W. Bush, he took over the presidency of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a small, struggling Philadelphia-based think tank that had once been run by the formidable Robert Strausz-Hupe and where Harvey previously had been associate director for research before joining the Reagan administration. Harvey brought FPRI into the electronic age with its e-notes; he sponsored conferences on military personnel issues and regional affairs that had a direct impact on government policy; he started an innovative history program for high school teachers. He expanded and energized the FPRI board by bringing in a combination of Philadelphia business and professional leaders, leading academics, philanthropists like John Templeton (president of the eponymous foundation), and Washington insiders such as John Lehman, Al Haig and John Hillen, the latter a former State Department director of political military affairs under George W. Bush. He nourished young analysts such as Adam Garfinkle, now editor of the American Interest, and supported older ones such as the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Walter McDougall and the strategist James Kurth. And he continued to sustain and support Orbis, ensuring that the FPRI’s journal remained among the elite of its class.

Harvey was only in his mid-sixties when he suddenly became very ill not long ago; he had to miss the November 2010 FPRI annual dinner. It was the first time he had ever been absent from the event, which he always had emceed, and where his one-liners invariably brought the house down. His passing leaves a gaping hole among the cadre of America’s leading foreign-policy analysts, and an even bigger one in the hearts of his family and his countless friends, colleagues and admirers.