The Foreign Service Journal, December 2011

D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 1 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 41 viet hand of a sort. But I soon re- alized just how out of my depth I was in comparison with many of my colleagues. This was brought home to me during one of my first meetings with Ambassador Mat- lock in the secure conference room, also known as the “tank.” At that meeting, I was aston- ished to hear the ambassador and Tom Graham calmly discussing the impending dissolution of the USSR, as if it were already a fait accompli. This was in early 1989, when official Washington was predicting nothing of the sort, and was instead in the position of reacting to events as they oc- curred. I didn’t quite know what to think about this, but it soon became obvious to me that the ambassador and Graham were on to something. Other officers were picking up similar signs, as well. Using his own contacts with the Soviet leadership, and drawing on the reporting of his officers, Amb. Matlock was able to put together a coherent vision of the impending Soviet collapse long before it was accepted wisdom. As the head of political-external affairs, I often felt a little at sea when it came to talking about the future of the Soviet Union, but there were occasions when I was able to help. For example, just a couple of months after I had arrived, Amb. Matlock was tasked with finding out what the Soviets intended to do if Solidarity won the Au- gust 1989 elections in Poland and took the country on a more independent course. The ambassador and I did a series of calls on Soviet officials, ending up at the Polish embassy, and I asked Carey Cavanaugh to take sound- ings among his own sources. The tea leaves were rather difficult to read, but at the working level Carey was getting signals that were more definite. So we ended up going with his appraisal that Mikhail Gorbachev would not react in a hostile manner to Solidarity’s coming to power. This evaluation proved to be correct, and presaged the momentous events that occurred later in the year, including the fall of the Berlin Wall and the peaceful overthrow of all the Soviet satel- lite governments in Eastern Europe. Carey was just one middle-grade officer among many at Embassy Moscow, but his superlative reporting was typical of the effort everyone put in during this crucial period. Carey, in particular, was able to get his Soviet contacts to say the most interesting things. For example, his quick analysis of the resignation of Foreign Minis- ter Eduard Shevardnadze on Dec. 20, 1990, and his skillful use of Supreme Soviet contacts were particularly helpful in signaling the impending Soviet crackup. Coup Rumors Interestingly, one of the last tasks of my tour inMoscow was to help organize the Bush-Gorbachev Summit, which took place from July 30 to Aug. 1, 1991. Earlier in the year, as the signs of disarray in the Soviet leadership increased, so had rumors of a possible coup. Yet as bad as the situation was between Gorbachev and the hardliners on the Politburo, preparations for the visit proceeded almost without a hitch. The expe- rience of numerous visits by Secretary of State James Baker over the previous two years served as good prac- tice for the summit, and the embassy operated as a well-oiled machine. All of us knew our tasks almost by rote, and the Soviets could not have been more coop- erative. I had an unexpectedly easy job as the scheduling of- ficer, as nearly everything fell into place — until one of the last events on the schedule, the Kremlin state dinner. All the invitees had arrived and were seated except for one person: newly-elected Russian President Boris Yeltsin. He and Gorbachev were in a running fight for political dominance, and Yeltsin was doing everything he could to attract attention to himself and make Gor- bachev look awkward. Those of us in charge of organizing the affair became increasingly nervous until Yeltsin finally arrived, half an hour late, dressed in an elegant blue suit and bright red tie. He greeted Gorbachev with a knowing smile, a firm handshake and a look that a snake might have given a mouse. Gorbachev was surrounded: on one side by Politburo hardliners, on the other by people like Yeltsin. I won- dered idly how long he would last. It was just a passing thought, however. Following the summit, I packed my bags and set off for Washington. The coup was only a few days away. ■ F OCUS As the signs of disarray in the Soviet leadership increased, so had rumors of a possible coup.