Former United States Ambassador
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 74, No. 3, Spring 2003
In a letter to Bowdoin senior profiler Lauren Whaley, Larry Pope shares his chronology of career, politics, and life.
The Bowdoin I attended from 1963-1967 was all male and dominated by the fraternity system. It's a better institution today. I wasn't a good student. I saw Professor Bill Geohegan at a recent talk I gave on the campus. He was as kind as ever, but it's an awful thing to be confronted thirty-five years later with a twenty-two year self.
I had passed the examination for entry into the Foreign Service when I was a senior. My conventional opposition to the war in Vietnam probably didn't hurt with the examiners, and I went off to the Peace Corps for two years, first to Gabon, then to Tunisia, while waiting for an appointment.
Over the next thirty-one years I was a diplomat, half in Washington, half overseas, working mostly on the Middle East. It's an honorable profession, and Couve de Murville was quite unfair when he said that "to be a successful diplomat, it's not enough to be a damn fool; good manners are important too".
Betsy and I were married in 1975. She's a journalist and writer (www.elizabethpope.com). We have two daughters, Eleanor, a 2002 graduate of Macalester College, and Lizzie, a first year student at Columbia.
In 1993, President Clinton appointed me Ambassador to Chad. My instructions called for the promotion of fair elections, but the dictator who was in power when I arrived is still in power today. Down on my luck, having annoyed the senior leadership of the State Department with an overly colorful telegram about the shortcomings of our foreign aid bureaucracy which fell into the wrong hands, I took a job as political advisor with General Tony Zinni, the new head of the U.S. Central Command. I told him I would stay for two years, and ended up staying for three. We rarely ran out of things to talk about during long flights to the Persian Gulf. He remains a close friend.
In February of 2000, President Clinton nominated me as Ambassador to Kuwait, but presidents propose, and the Senate disposes. Senators Helms and Lott were furious at Zinni for his outspoken criticism of the Iraq Liberation Act, and they offered me a deal if I would rat him out. Betsy and retired I to Portland instead.
For a while in 2001 I was staff director in Jerusalem for Senator Mitchell's Middle East fact-finding committee, an international effort which produced a sensible report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to which the Bush administration paid lip service. I went back to work at the U.S. Mission to the UN for a few months after September 11. These days most of my consulting with various beltway agencies involves Iraq, but it gets harder and harder to do this sensibly. I think John Quincy Adams was right to warn that America "might become the dictatress of the whole world. She would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit."
I also do some honest work. François de Callières (1645-1717) served Louis XIV as a negotiator at a time when the modern system of resident diplomatic missions was being put in place, and I'm trying to turn the manuscript of some unpublished letters of his into a book. They deserve a wider audience.