U.S. Foreign Policy Leaders We Lost in 2015

December 30, 2015 Topic: Foreign Policy Region: United States Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: 2015In MemoriamForeign PolicyDefenseSecurity

U.S. Foreign Policy Leaders We Lost in 2015

Here are ten Americans who died this year who through their vision, service, intellect or courage helped shape U.S. foreign policy.

Robert E. White (b. 1926) was a career Foreign Service officer and staunch defender of human rights in Latin America. He served widely in the region, including a stint as U.S. ambassador to Panama, before being named as the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador in 1980. That December, four churchwomen, two of whom had been White’s guests at the U.S. embassy the night before, were kidnapped, raped, and murdered. He quickly (and correctly) concluded that they had been killed by government death squads. But his insistence on that point and his broader reputation as a human-rights crusader put him at odds with the Reagan administration, which took office in January 1981 looking to do more to aid the El Salvadoran government in its fight against leftist rebels. White was recalled to Washington by Secretary of State Al Haig a week after Inauguration Day. When he then gave congressional testimony criticizing the El Salvadoran government, he was forced out of the U.S. Foreign Service. White subsequently became president of the Center for International Policy, a research and advocacy group that promotes transparency and accountability in U.S. foreign policy.

John C. Whitehead (b. 1922) was deputy secretary of state from 1985 to 1989. Whitehead was once called the “chairman of the establishment,” and it’s easy to see why. A graduate of Haverford College and Harvard Business School, as well as a veteran of D-Day and Iwo Jima, he joined Goldman Sachs in 1947, eventually rising to become chairman. He retired from that position in 1984, with plans to write a book. But several months later, then-Secretary of State George Shultz persuaded him to join the State Department. Whitehead focused particularly on relations with Eastern Europe, and his penchant for speaking bluntly rather than diplomatically occasionally got him in trouble with the White House. After leaving the State Department, he served on the boards of numerous organizations, including as chairman of the United Nations Association of the USA and chairman of the Brookings Institution. After 9/11, he chaired the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which has led the rebuilding of lower Manhattan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Other Americans who had an impact on foreign policy and who died in 2015 include: Emma Didlake, the oldest known World War II veteran; Robert Herzstein, a historian who helped uncover UN General Secretary Kurt Waldheim’s ties to Nazi war crimes; Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, the long-time president of the University of Notre Dame whose extensive activities included being the Vatican’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1956 to 1970; George “Meadowlark” Lemon, a Harlem Globetrotter who epitomized American “soft power” by entertaining millions of people around the world; Henry Rowan, a former president of the RAND Corporation who resigned a RAND copy of the Pentagon papers was leaked; Tibor Rubin, a Hungarian-born survivor of the Mauthausen concentration camp whose Medal of Honor was delayed fifty-five years because of ant-Semitism; Marlene Sanders, one of the first women to report on the Vietnam war from the ground; and Howard J. Wiarda, a leading scholar of comparative politics in Latin America.

James M. Lindsay is a senior vice president, director of studies and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair at the Council on Foreign Relations. This article first appeared on the Water’s Edge.

Image: Flickr/USCapitol.