The ICAS Lectures


Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Daniel R. Russel

ICAS Annual Liberty Award Dinner

December 17, 2019, 6:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Capitol Hill Club
Washington DC 20003

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

Biographic sketch & Links: Daniel R. Russel

Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Daniel R. Russel

Thank you Dr. Kim, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am truly honored and grateful for this award.

Over the years ICAS has been an asset, not only for the relationship between the United States and Korea, but for all those who care about U.S. interests and policy in East Asia.

It is humbling for me to receive this award, especially before such a distinguished audience. So many friends are here tonight, and I appreciate the warm words that have been said about me. And I also appreciate the forbearance of those who could just as easily have said truly embarrassing things about me.

Ed Feulner is a great patriot who has tirelessly fought for American interests.

Harry Harris - another dear friend - is an outstanding warrior-diplomat who exemplifies the very best of America's military and public service.

Bob Gallucci is a dear friend, a born leader, a successful negotiator, and a man of many, many talents.

And that brings me to the two mentors and extraordinary Ambassadors for whom I have worked and to whom I will always owe a deep debt of gratitude: Tom Pickering and Jim Laney.

Let me start with Tom. Early in 1989, when both of us were brand new to the U.S. Mission to the UN, I was called upstairs to a meeting in the Ambassador's office. It was rather daunting -- I was still quite junior and very much aware of the fact that everyone else outranked me by far.

I don't remember what the issue was, but I vividly remember watching Amb. Pickering, hunched over in his chair, leaning forward, asking questions, his piercing blue eyes boring into us.

Somehow I realized clearly at that moment that he was oblivious to any of our titles or our job descriptions or our academic pedigrees - he was simply a raptor...a tracker...hunting for the best information & ideas.

My epiphany at that moment, and something that guided me through my career, was that ideas are the great leveler - if I had something sound to offer, then I was the equal of anyone in the room as far as Tom was concerned. It also brought home to me that I'd damn well better think before I spoke -- because I never, ever wanted those intense blue eyes glaring down on me for saying something dumb.

The Korean Peninsula was the focus of one of Tom and my most important collaborations at the UN. Tom has just described our work together enable the Republic of Korea to be recognized as a full member of the United Nations.

Working in close partnership with then-South Korean Ambassador Hyun Hong-Choo, Tom was able to reach an understanding with Russia and China that led to the admission of both Koreas in 1991 and, in short order, diplomatic relations between Seoul and Moscow and then Beijing.

Shortly after Korea's admission, Tom and I traveled to Seoul. We had been invited to the Blue House by President Roh, who wanted to say thank you for Tom's role in the successful UN campaign.

We were greeted on the jetway by Amb. Don Gregg with the news that a coup attempt was underway in Moscow against Gorbachev.

I still vividly remember the long drive from the airport to the Blue House in a gigantic armor-plated Ambassador's Cadillac - in those days, the windshields were lined with thick bullet-resistant Plexiglas making it pretty hard to see the road. On top of this, the US Embassy's local-staff operated by extremely hierarchical rules of seniority -- meaning that the absolute oldest driver in the motorpool was accorded the honor of driving for the Ambassador - cataracts and all.

I rode shotgun, and the ride was a scary series of near misses, screeching stops, with me jamming my right foot on an imaginary brake, and the two Ambassadors in the backseat getting bounced around.

But the real adventure came when we pulled up at the front portico of the Blue House.

A phalanx of honor guards met the car and opened the two back doors, and Amb Pickering & Gregg got out and bounded up the steps.

Meanwhile, the guard standing next to my door had planted his hips to prevent me from opening the car door - that's the seat where the Ambassador's bodyguard normally sat, so Blue House security was engaged in some macho gunslinger one-upsmanship.

I'm banging helplessly against the door until Tom, who has raced to the top of the stairs, notices I'm not there, looks around, and then comes back down and rescues me by nudging the guard out of the way and opening my door.

I'm grateful to this day - it may not sound like much, but Tom Pickering hasn't done a lot of backtracking in his life. The point of this story is two-fold:

Number 1: Tom wasn't waiting around for anything or anyone when he had a mission- he was off and running and fully expected you to keep up. Those high expectations brought out the best in everyone who worked for him.

Number 2: As fast as he moved, Tom wouldn't leave you behind if you got stuck or in trouble - you could count on him to defend you, to rescue you. That trait motivated everyone who worked for him to try to never disappoint him, to never fall behind.

. . .

From the U.S. Mission to the UN, I was transferred in 1992 to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul as the political officer handling South and North Korean affairs. Ambassador Laney arrived the following year.

Now U.S. Embassies have pretty rigid hierarchies and lots of unwritten rules. Ambassador Laney created great consternation among my superiors when his secretary summoned me to his office without either the DCM or the Political Counselor.

As it turned out, Jim had heard on the grapevine of my principal accomplishment at the embassy to date - namely that I had scoped out all the nearby "shiktangs" (working class restaurants) and knew the best places for sundubu & kimchi jigge.

My expertise in cheap eats launched me in a series of one-on-one lunches where we talked freely and in depth about Korea policy, about how how the State Department worked, and about life.

I was inspired by Jim's strong moral compass, his empathy, and particularly by his sense of mission - that he had been given temporary stewardship of a precious American interest, and he was going to do everything in his power to protect and enhance it.

After explaining to him the arcane do's-and-don'ts of the Embassy and the U.S. government, I came to realize that sometimes things that "just aren't done" ...need to be done - like an Ambassador buying his own plane ticket to fly back to Washington to tell the National Security Advisor and the Secretary of State that a decision taken by the Principals Committee was a serious mistake and should be rescinded. Which he did, and which they did.

Public service has been my life, and it has been the pathway to tremendous happiness and fulfillment.

I have been guided along that path in my diplomatic career by a series of incredible role models, beginning with my first boss - Mike Mansfield, and continuing through Tom, Jim and so many other mentors and colleagues in this room and beyond.

I could happily speak at length about each of them without being able to adequately thank them for all they have given to me.

Each of them made a profound difference in my life and to my family.

Each of them valued and nurtured America's relationship with our allies.

And each of them contributed significantly to the well-being, the reputation, and the interests of our country, the United States.

All of my mentors believed deeply that public service is a public trust. All took inspiration and a sense of responsibility from our nation's founding principles and founding documents.

These of course include the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence -- with its stirring claim that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights...and among those rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

When that revolutionary claim was made, it marked a fundamental shift in governance from a relationship between sovereign and subject, to a relationship between state and citizen.

It created a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.

It placed limits on the power-holder, and it gave responsibilities to the stake-holder... the citizen.

It established that legitimacy is delegated to leaders by the people, and is replenished or withdrawn through a democratic process.

We owe it to our nation and to its founding principles, to ensure that our democratic processes, and the limits placed on the power-holder, are not stripped away.

William Webster, former Director of both the FBI and the CIA under Democratic and Republic Presidents, recently wrote an op-ed about liberty in which he said the following: "Order protects liberty, and liberty protects order. Today, the integrity of the institutions that protect our civil order is, tragically, under assault from too many people whose job it should be to protect them."

Jim Laney told the story at his ICAS award ceremony about Army Counsel Joseph Welch, who during hearings of the Special Committee on Un- American Activities in 1954, confronted Joe McCarthy, saying "Have you no decency, Senator?"

McCarthy was shown in that instant to be a bully who did not have the best interests of the country at heart. He had sought to undermine the established institutions of government for selfish political advantage.

At a moment of grave danger to the Republic, American citizens - the nation's stakeholders - came down squarely on the side of decency.

We have to ask ourselves if a simple call for decency would have the same therapeutic effect today.

Dr Kim was explicit in strictly forbidding me from giving a policy speech. But I'm going to briefly violate the ICAS Liberty Award's.

We are seeing a push today to monetize America's alliances-treating US Forces overseas like an income-generating property instead of a component of our shared commitment to defense, deterrence, and peace.

This experiment is endangering our bilateral relationship with South Korea, our alliance, and our national security. It's a failure and a mistake.

We've also seen an experiment in appeasing North Korea.

Turning a blind eye to illegal ballistic missile launches and continued nuclear weapons production, ...unilaterally pulling down needed joint defense training exercises, ...ignoring or excusing appalling human rights violations...

These concessions have squandered our leverage, undercut our allies, and ... here we are again... back in the escalatory cycle of threats from Pyongyang.

It's urgent that we learn from these failures and turn back to the first principles that underpin our republic. [OK Dr Kim - I've gotten that out of my system.]

. . .

My experience as a diplomat has convinced me that what has made the American Dream of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" such a powerful force throughout the world, is that it is not exclusively an American dream.

It is a universal dream. It is a human dream of decency, dignity, opportunity, justice... that has been given substance and credibility by the American experience.

What I've learned as a diplomat is that so much of America's influence and strength comes from the desire of others to emulate what they admire in us, and from their trust that we stand for something more than self-interest and advantage.

In his 2nd inaugural address, another former boss and mentor of mine, Barack Obama, said:

"America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe... Our generation's task is to make ... these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, real for [all of us]."

Well, that task is clearly not complete.

So, Dr. Kim, friends at ICAS, thank you for this great honor and in the spirit of the Liberty Award, let us all work as citizens to make these words and values real.

Thank you very much

This page last updated December 21, 2019 jdb