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Robert White, RIP

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Getting my Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico, I became deeply exposed to the Latin American left and its American supporters. Mostly this was good, but one of the arguments I was never comfortable with was that any person or any program remotely involved with the U.S. government was automatically corrupted with the legacy of American imperialism. While that legacy is certainly strong enough and continues to cause incredible damage throughout the region, this critique made suspicious not only Peace Corps but those who volunteered to do it, Fulbright scholarships, and it goes without saying, anyone associated with the U.S. Foreign Service. But this critique left no room for those who really were trying to do positive things, even if they might not have supported the revolutionary politics of those on the left.

I thought of this last night when I read this obituary of career Foreign Service officer Robert White, drummed out of government service by Al Haig after he blamed the rape and murder of 3 American nuns and a Catholic laywoman in El Salvador on the U.S. supported military government of that nation. Of course, White was correct.

Serving every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower as a career diplomat rather than a political appointee, Mr. White was distinguished by his dispassionate, boots-on-the-ground analysis and his blunt conclusions.

He once branded Roberto D’Aubuisson, the Salvadoran rightist, a “pathological killer.” And in a face-off that Mr. White had with Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, Mr. Kissinger blinked, revoking a reprimand he had ordered after Mr. White, at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Chile, delivered an unalloyed critique of the host government’s human-rights infractions.

“I was fired by the Nixon White House for opposing politicization of the Peace Corps, reprimanded by Henry Kissinger for speaking out on human rights, and finally, definitely dismissed by Alexander Haig for opposing a military solution in El Salvador,” Mr. White recalled.

Inspired to serve in Latin America by what he called President John F. Kennedy’s “creative response to the revolutionary fervor” sweeping that region, Mr. White lamented that once Kennedy was assassinated, Washington adopted a single-minded goal to thwart Communism, whether in Vietnam or in its half-century embargo of Cuba.

Maybe White was an anti-revolutionary. Still, quite a record of service there.

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