Elections

Our Ambassadors Used to be Made of Sterner Stuff

Well-coached former Ukraine envoy Marie Yovanovitch says she finds the president’s tweets “very intimidating.” Now imagine her in the face of a real crisis.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) was busy leading the witness, former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, when she spoke the precise words he was trying to elicit: “Very intimidating.”

Upon hearing that emotional reaction to a presidential tweet, one might wonder just how much the State Department standard for what counts as “intimidating” and “not intimidating” has changed over the decades.

In 1961, Adlai Stevenson, a twice-failed Democrat presidential candidate thought of as a kind of high-minded milquetoast, had been shuttled out of Washington into the relative obscurity of ambassador to the United Nations.

But in October 1962 when the chips were down—all the way down—and the stakes involved a nuclear holocaust for the entire planet, Stevenson was not intimidated. His job was to prove to the entire world that the Soviets were planting nuclear missiles in Cuba.

Think of the thousands of nuclear explosions that were in the back of Adlai’s mind. Compare that to a single tweet in the mind of Ambassador Yovanovitch.

Stevenson was not cowed, and he showed his mettle.

Live on television in front of God, the U.N., and everybody in America with a TV set, Stevenson pressed home his points.

“Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed, and is placing, medium- and intermediate-range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no—don’t wait for the translation—yes or no?” 

His Soviet counterpart, the dour Ambassador Valerian Zorin, scrooched down in his seat and flatly stated: “I am not in an American courtroom, sir. . . . You will have your answer in due course.” 

“I am prepared to wait for an answer until Hell freezes over, if that is your decision,” Stevenson replied. “I am also prepared to present the evidence in this room.”

As laughter broke out at the U.N., Stevenson, still not intimidated, dropped the evidence: high resolution, black-and-white reconnaissance photos of the Soviet missiles. That’s the stuff of a real American diplomat.

Twenty-one years later another American diplomat, deputy U.N. ambassador Charles Lichenstein, was not intimidated at the height of another crisis that could have led to nuclear war: The downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007, where the Soviets shot down an airliner and killed all 269 people on board, including a United States congressman. 

Incensed, the states of New York and New Jersey denied landing rights to Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko for the next General Assembly meeting. 

The feds offered landing rights at McGuire Air Force Base, but the Soviets turned that down and proceeded to question whether the United Nations should be in the United States.

No intimidation there.

Lichenstein, severely perturbed, pointedly declared that if U.N. member nations felt “they are not being treated with the hostly consideration that is their due,” they might think about “removing themselves and this organization from the soil of the United States. We will put no impediment in your way . . . The members of the U.S. mission to the United Nations will be down at the dockside waving you a fond farewell as you sail off into the sunset.”

He then offered his resignation, which President Reagan declined to accept.

Returning to Ambassador Yovanovitch, one finds credulity strained. 

In one response, Madam Ambassador seems to be cowed by a single, “very intimidating” . . . tweet. Yet in another response, she put forth a wildly self-aggrandizing comparison of her service with the men who died in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.

Thus, while one may dismiss the idea that Marie Yovanovitch is a hybrid of the Foreign Service culture of pin-striped cookie pushing and the #MeToo movement, what’s left looks a lot like a well-coached performance. 

While there may be those who may think this only applauds the steadfastness of males in the State Department, one could easily retort with two words: Jeanne Kirkpatrick.