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1997 Distinguished Graduate Award

Dr. David M. Abshire '51

Throughout his forty-six years of national service, institution building, and extraordinary scholarship, David M. Abshire has exemplified outstanding devotion to the principles expressed in the motto of the United States Military Academy: DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY.
Dr. Abshire began a lifetime of public service upon his graduation from West Point in 1951. After infantry branch training, he was assigned to Korea, where serving in combat as a front line infantry platoon leader and company commander, he was cited for valor.
In 1955, he left the Army to enroll in the graduate program at Georgetown University from which he received a Ph.D., with honors, in History in 1959.
He then joined the staff of the House Minority Leader and subsequently became Director for Special Projects at the American Enterprise Institute in 1961. While there, he conceived the idea and, together with Admiral Arleigh Burke, organized the founding of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Since its inception, Dr. Abshire has been the principal architect and institution builder of what has become widely recognized as a world leading public policy institution. Over the years, he has recruited world statesmen and strategists to the Center’s ranks, and has involved a wide range of Members of Congress and corporate leaders in working groups to solve national and international problems.
Throughout his tenure as President, the Center produced incisive studies that have been instrumental in formulating national public policy. An early study was pivotal in the drafting and passage of the Goldwater Nichols Act. In 1992, the Center produced the report of the 58-person Nunn/Domenici Commission on “Strengthening of America.” In March of 1997, the Center published a definitive study of “Professional Military Education,” providing much-needed scholarly rationale supporting the military educational system and, in particular, validating the roles of West Point and the other Service Academies as the linchpins of that system.
As a public policy practitioner, Dr. Abshire has held a series of high-level Presidential appointments.
He served as Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations from 1970 to 1973 and played a pivotal role in maintaining bipartisan Congressional coalitions that sustained the U.S. military effort in Vietnam. He negotiated the compromise to the Cooper-Church Amendment that otherwise would have seriously restricted military operations in Southeast Asia. He also developed the Congressional compromise that ensured the survival of Radio Liberty and Radio-Free Europe under a public board, in the face of an attempt to cut off CIA funding and let the Radios die. These stations thus continued to play a key role in the Cold War battle to open East European and Russian society.
President Ford, in 1974, appointed him as the first chairman of the U.S. Board for International Broadcasting. As President Carter later wrote:
“You have rendered a distinguished service in getting the Board solidly established as sponsor of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and in representing these important institutions to the Congress and the American public . . .”
In 1974, President Gerald Ford also appointed Dr. Abshire to the Congressional Commission on the Organization of the Government for the Conduct of Foreign Policy.
In 1980, Dr. Abshire was asked by President-elect Ronald Reagan to chair the transition of administrations in the CIA, State and Defense Departments. Subsequently, he was asked to serve on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. In 1983, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to NATO. As Ambassador, Dr. Abshire was the point man at NATO for building allied support for the deployment of the U.S. Pershing II missiles in Europe to counter the threat of Soviet nuclear blackmail.
In awarding Ambassador Abshire the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, Secretary Weinberger said:
“Throughout a period of great flux in inter-allied and East-West relations, he was the source of an astonishing flow of imaginative and resourceful ideas geared to the resolution of difficult alliance issues. Ambassador Abshire’s cogent and innovative proposals for enhancing NATO arms cooperation have already transformed that crucial area of alliance activities. Ever mindful of the central importance of parliamentary and public opinion, he worked tirelessly to build an effective and lasting partnership with Congress . . .”
In 1987, Dr. Abshire was personally asked by President Reagan to serve as Special Counselor to the President with Cabinet rank for the purpose of organizing White House and departmental responses to the Iran Contra investigations to ensure that there was no coverup. After much previous criticism, the integrity of his effort earned Dr. Abshire bipartisan credit for restoring the credibility in the Administration at a difficult time for the Presidency.
As a private citizen, he has served as a member of the Board of Directors of Procter & Gamble and the Ogden Corporation, and on the Advisory Board of BP America.
In the realm of scholarship, he has written five books and edited three others on a wide range of domestic and international issues. He has been a strong promoter in his writings and at CSIS of the study of strategy and history.
Dr. Abshire is a Trustee of Baylor School (Chattanooga, Tennessee). He is also co-founder of the Trinity National Leadership Roundtable in Washington, a former Vice-Chairman of Youth for Understanding, and a board member of the Army War College Foundation.
He has been decorated by the chiefs of state of Belgium, Italy, Finland, Korea, and the United States.
Soldier, institution builder, public servant, author, scholar, diplomat, and counselor to Presidents, Dr. Abshire has rendered a lifetime of extraordinary service to his country and to the international community of freedom-loving nations.
Accordingly, the Association of Graduates takes great pride in presenting the 1997 Distinguished Graduate Award to David M. Abshire, Class of 1951.

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