Notes on a Diplomatic Life

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Patricia Sullivan's obituary about my father, former U.S. ambassador Talcott W. Seelye [Metro, June 11], quoted extensively from a 1992 Atlantic Monthly article by neoconservative journalist Robert D. Kaplan attacking the State Department's Middle East experts. The article has been criticized for its bias; Mr. Kaplan didn't care for U.S. diplomats who criticized Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

Ms. Sullivan cites one scurrilous Kaplan mischaracterization after another, including the charge that my father did not serve American interests while posted as ambassador to Syria in the early 1980s. Mr. Kaplan and the man he quotes, Francis Fukuyama, were keen to cast aspersions on my father's patriotism because he fought for a principle that both men took issue with -- America's duty to pursue a balanced and evenhanded Middle East policy that took into consideration Arab as well as Israeli grievances.

It was because of his patriotism that he objected to policies advocated by neocons in the Reagan and Bush administrations -- policies that have led to the tragic and costly mess that the United States faces in the Middle East today.




In the obituary for Talcott W. Seelye, Patricia Sullivan quoted a seemingly negative point I made in print about the ambassador in 1992.

But in a July-August 2003 Atlantic Monthly cover story, "Supremacy by Stealth," I had this to say:

"Trained area experts are . . . indispensable. In 1976 Secretary of State Henry Kissinger entrusted the eminent Arabist and diplomat Talcott Seelye, in Lebanon, to carry out two discreet evacuations of American citizens from that war-torn country with the help of the Palestine Liberation Organization -- which we did not recognize at the time. Seelye . . . may not have wholly agreed with Kissinger's foreign policy -- but that didn't matter. He knew how to get the job done."

I said as much in a footnote on Page 160 in my book "The Arabists" (1993).

Mr. Seelye's area expertise is something we are going to need much more of in the years ahead.


Stockbridge, Mass.

The writer is a national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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