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Harvey Sicherman, R.I.P.

Harvey Sicherman, R.I.P.

I wanted to ensure that these pages marked the passing of Harvey Sicherman on Christmas Day. Harvey was a great man, a mensch of the highest order. Before leaving for Philadelphia in the early 1990s to take over the reins of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Harvey cut quite the larger-than-life figure in Washington foreign policy circles. First, there was the matter of Harvey’s physical appearance, which was a source of sheer delight to all his friends — as well as to anyone who just happened to be lucky enough to come across the man on the street. Tall, about 6’2. Broad shouldered with an athlete’s build. Bowler hat. Saddle shoes. Three-piece suit (chained, antique time-piece attached to vest pocket, naturally). Walking stick. Big cigar. Vintage car. Pure class all the way. He couldn’t help but make you smile just walking into the room.  

Then there was Harvey the national security analyst and public servant. Brilliant. Tough. Wise. Independent. A master of both the written and spoken word. No one could turn a phrase with greater ease, or cut to the quick of a momentous issue with sharper analytical precision. Speech writer extraordinaire and senior advisor to three secretaries of state, Haig, Shultz, and Baker. U.S. foreign policy never had a more constructive critic. Harvey intimately understood the way the process works from the inside, with all its structural and bureaucratic constraints and defects. That knowledge, experience, and realism imbued all of Harvey’s policy advice, which was invariably incisive, usually useful, and always offered in a spirit of great friendship and deep love of country.

In the first hours after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Harvey penned what I’m certain was one of the great strategy memos ever written at the start of a major foreign policy crisis. At the time, Harvey was working on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff. In just a few paragraphs, he captured why Saddam had acted, what was at stake for the United States, and how America needed to respond, both strategically and tactically, to protect its vital interests. Written for the influential director of Policy Planning, Dennis Ross, Harvey’s memo promptly found its way into Secretary Baker’s hands and without a doubt had a formative role in shaping the determined response that eventually resulted in America’s astounding victory in the first Gulf War.

Finally, and no doubt most importantly, there was Harvey Sicherman the human being. Kind. Decent. Generous. And funny. Boy, was he funny. An unforgettable racconteur and jokester. An Orthodox Jew who took his faith seriously, but always took life with a smile — and, not infrequently, with a shared shot of Dewar’s that he’d pour from the flask that he occasionally carried in his briefcase. While my relationship with Harvey was limited to a professional friendship, I knew from others that he was a truly dedicated family man as well.

Harvey is gone much too early, only in his mid-60s. Always the picture of health, he apparently fell ill very recently. I deeply regret that I did not get a chance to say goodbye and to tell him how much he meant to me, personally. I fear that I will not see his likes again. I mourn his passing and express my deepest sympathies to his family and friends. R.I.P.