The Corner

In Memoriam Harvey Sicherman

Harvey Sicherman, president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) passed away on Christmas day. He was always the very picture of health, so his passing has left all of us who knew him in shock. He will be missed.

Ours was primarily a professional relationship but a warm one nonetheless. Harvey invited me to become a senior fellow of FPRI several years ago and I was honored when he asked me to become the editor of Orbis, FPRI’s quarterly journal, in 2008. Unfortunately, I only got to see him during my editorial meetings in Philadelphia every few weeks or so, or during periodic FPRI events in Washington, D.C. or Philadelphia. But he always left an impression. 

The first thing one noticed about Harvey was his impressive physical presence. He stood 6’2” and carried himself like an athlete. He dressed impeccably, often carried a walking stick, smoked cigars, and drank single-malt scotches. He was a “character” who looked like he was visiting from a more refined era.

Harvey was a true gentleman of the old school: funny, charming, amiable, and generous, “an unforgettable raconteur and jokester” in the words of another of his colleagues, who could bring down the house with his one-liners. He was a graceful and elegant speaker and writer, skills that served him well as a speech writer and senior adviser to three secretaries of state — Alexander Haig, George Schultz, and James Baker — during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and as the public face of FPRI.

No one surpassed him as a serious student of diplomacy and national security. His analysis of serious issues was always nothing short of brilliant. He held strong views and, relying on sharp analytical precision, advocated them in a very forthright manner. However, as another friend of his noted, he never “personalized” his disagreements with others over foreign policy.

After his stellar service in Washington during the Reagan and Bush administrations, Harvey returned to Philadelphia in the early 1990s to become president of FPRI, an organization then facing a great deal of adversity. Under Harvey’s guidance, the ship was righted and FPRI reestablished its status as an influential source of incisive thinking about national security affairs as well as education about the topic.

Thanks to Harvey’s initiatives, FPRI now sponsors policy-oriented scholarship and conferences on grand strategy, politico-military issues, and regional affairs, as well as an innovative history program for high school teachers. In addition to Orbis, FPRI distributes “e-notes” designed to address policy issues in a timely manner.

It is hard to believe that Harvey is gone from among us. He left us far too soon. It doesn’t ease the mournful burden borne by Harvey’s family and friends to observe that his legacy will long outlive him. He was truly sui generis. R.I.P.

— Mackubin Thomas Owens is professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, RI and editor of Orbis, the quarterly journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is senior national security fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia, editing its journal Orbis from 2008 to 2020. A Marine Corps infantry veteran of the Vietnam War, he was a professor of national-security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College from 1987 to 2015. He is the author of US Civil–Military Relations after 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain.


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