Politics & Policy

Wise Man

Serving with Peter Rodman.

Editor’s note: Peter Rodman, a former National Review senior editor and longtime friend, will be buried in Boston today after a fight with leukemia.

Serving as Peter Rodman’s principal deputy at the Defense Department was a lesson in humility — his own exemplary modesty, of course, as well as the humbling lot of one whose job it was to be the alter ego of one so wise and so talented. It was a lesson in many other things as well.

As a strategic thinker, Peter followed principles, not ideology; he weighed facts, and measured ends and means. He was impatient with Washington theologies, in particular when they resulted in policies that treated our enemies no differently, or even better, than our friends. We differed occasionally and at the margins, typically on how best to balance the risks of an unsustainable stability against those of unpredictable change — but had no difficulty agreeing that the test of a policy was whether it was likely to make things better, not worse.

A brilliant and versatile writer, he excelled, perhaps above all, as the author of short, incisive policy memoranda — most of which, sadly, are classified and beyond the reach of ordinary readers. Within a matter of minutes, and with astounding consistency, Peter could produce a brisk longhand draft, which with the very lightest of (his own) edits, emerged a lapidary masterpiece of modern memo writing. He wrote or contributed to scholarly articles and books as well, but the collected memos of Peter Rodman are an art form in their own right, and belong on the bookshelf with Pepys, Dr. Johnson, and Churchill.

Peter’s decency, through indecently long hours and amid the stress of a Pentagon at war, was legendary. Generous and kind to all who worked with him, he was prized by our staff — civilian and military, senior deputies, directors and country desk officers, and administrative staff — for his willingness to listen as well as instruct.

Cultured but not high-brow, Peter brought a small but powerful stereo to the office so on weekends he could blast the E-Ring with Tosca and Manon, but he reveled too in the Flashman series (perhaps the only literary door I ever opened for him). And he was famed for his love affair with the Red Sox, who repaid him at last. His wit, dry but never arid, has been amply remarked upon.

All his talents Peter put to the service of his nation. He almost practiced law, but was rescued at the last minute by Henry Kissinger. Outside of government, he was a sought-after commentator and writer. But it was his government service in defense of American values and interests, in a series of responsible positions under five presidents, that defined Peter’s professional life.

My association with Peter began when I sought him out as a witness to a hearing I was preparing on China, for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. I knew him for his writings (including his masterful obituaries for National Review) and his tough, pragmatic views of how to deal with China in a post-Cold War world. We quickly became friends, and when he was nominated to serve as assistant secretary of Defense for international security Affairs, he asked me to be his principal deputy. I was privileged, for more than four years, to work at his right hand. He gave me tremendous freedom, as his deputy, on many of the most challenging and sensitive issues we faced. When I was promoted to became an assistant secretary in my own right, (inheriting responsibilities, like Europe, that he had long but good-naturedly coveted) I appreciated his continuing generous counsel.

Peter was immensely proud of his children, Theodora and Nicholas, and faintly bemused at his good fortune in having such charming and talented progeny. He was in love with his wife Veronique. He had a wide and eclectic network of friends (and former adversaries, such as William Shawcross). We shall all miss him.

Esse quam videri.

Peter Flory was principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs from 2001-2005, and assistant secretary of Defense for international security policy from 2005-2006.


The Latest