From the August 6, 2008 New York Sun
August 6, 2008
by R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.
STONE HARBOR, N.J. — With some good reading I am lolling along the Jersey shore. The sun is high in the clear blue sky and there is a cool breeze. All of a sudden a hurricane just hit. From my office comes word that Peter Rodman died over the weekend, unexpectedly from the blitzkrieg of a rare leukemia.
Of all the writers I have dealt with in 40 years of editing the American Spectator, Peter is at the top of the chop in terms of intellect, character, and literary skill. He served as a foreign policy adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.
In the present Bush administration he served as an assistant secretary of defense and was on the Department of Defense's Defense Policy Board. Through all these presidencies he was a major figure in the defense of American freedom, first against Communism, now against Islamic terrorism.
His mentor and life-long colleague has been Henry Kissinger. If friends such as I are grieving Peter's death, Henry must be devastated. An aspect of Henry Kissinger worthy of mentioning is that he has a deep capacity for friendship. Months after Henry's friend Bill Buckley passed away Henry still feels the loss.
With the loss of Peter, Henry's younger colleague for so many years, his grieving will last a long time. Peter worked with Henry in the Nixon White House and beyond. He helped with policy formation, and he helped Henry with his elegant memoirs.
It was during his literary service to Henry that I first encountered Peter. The story is worth telling, for not only does it illuminate Peter's splendid character but it also illuminates the weird mythopoesis engendering some of the Kissinger legend.
Sometime in 1980, a young aide to Henry — that would be Peter — sent the editor in chief of the American Spectator — that would be me — a memo outlining errors in what was then one of the most popular anti-Vietnam War books, "Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia," by William Shawcross. I recognized the memo as the makings of a trenchant book essay. Without knowing Peter, I asked him to recast his memo. Boy was I in for travail.
Peter was brilliant — a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard College with subsequent degrees from Oxford and from Harvard Law School — and stupendously well informed, but he suffered an affliction almost unknown among Washington policy elites, particularly rising Washington policy elites. He was personally modest and loyal. He had done his research as an aide to his superior and he did not think he deserved credit.
It took me weeks of cajoling, of scheming, of notifying him of his "duty" in the war of ideas. That last line might have worked. We finally ran the essay in our March 1981 issue, followed in July by Mr. Shawcross's response and Peter's reply to that.
Precisely why he capitulated and rewrote the piece for us, I do not recall, but it was the beginning of a long friendship not only with me but also eventually a friendship with Mr. Shawcross. The second e-mail I got today about Peter's passing was from William in London: "It is so sad and shocking about Peter. I am terribly sorry."
One of the repellent aspects of policy disputes in Washington is that more often than involving facts and ideas they involve the bruised egos of egomaniacs. In dealing with Peter one dealt with a gentleman, not a policy prima donna.
Mr. Shawcross and Rodman tussled over the consequences of American policy in Cambodia honorably in the public arena. There was nothing cheap or devious about their exchange, which Mr. Shawcross later published in full in his paperback.
Over the years Peter continued to argue that a strong American foreign policy would benefit the entire Western world. By the time of the Iraq War, Mr. Shawcross had come to Rodman's position. They became friends and allies. On June 7, 2007, they coauthored a piece in the New York Times defending the Iraq War and the role the allies played in maintaining peace in the world. At the time of Peter's death they had another piece in mind.
Henry Kissinger, of course, had nothing to do with the Rodman/Shawcross debate, and this brings me to the mythmaking element in Henry's life. A year or so after I published Peter's essay I was approached by a foreign policy titan at a Council on Foreign Relations gathering. With befitting hauteur he murmured to me that he had admired my independence of mind until I allowed Mr. Kissinger to manipulate me into publishing Rodman on Mr. Shawcross. Nothing could have been more preposterous. If anyone had manipulated anyone it was I who was the manipulator. Yet, if by chance, Henry's diabolical powers are so great that they could inspire me to publish Rodman, I thank him.
Peter has been one of the finest people I have known in public life. His loss is a terrible reminder of life's transience. Yet the survival of his two accomplished children and his marvelous wife, Veronique, reminds us that a good man's life's work is not extinguished at his death. I pray for Peter and I pray for his family.
Mr. Tyrrell is the founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor of The New York Sun, and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute.
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is a former adjunct fellow.
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