Editor’s note: Richard Williamson, President George W. Bush’s special envoy to Sudan from 2007 to 2009 and nonresident senior fellow with Brookings, passed away December 8. Michael O’Hanlon, director of research for the Foreign Policy program at Brookings, reflects on Williamson’s contributions.
I first met Rich Williamson when he led an International Republican Institute mission to the 2009 Afghanistan presidential elections that I was honored to be part of. I will always remember his kind and inspiring words to us as we prepared to venture out on what could have been a dangerous day of election observations, thanking everyone for their brave service even as he also spoke empathetically about the fears and doubts we were probably feeling at the same time.
In ensuing years, as I got to know Rich well through his collaboration with us at Brookings, I always admired his commitment—to hardheaded principles of American national security, to humanitarian principles of taking care of the world’s less fortunate, to the need for cooperation across partisan and international lines. In addition to tracking Afghanistan, we talked of Congo, where I had been a Peace Corps volunteer, of Sudan and other parts of Africa, of defense spending, of Syria and Libya and Egypt.
Rich had that rare ability—and willingness—to think in realist strategic terms while also always endeavoring to uphold U.S. values and promote international human rights. All of these priorities and concerns were constantly present in his dialogue and analysis; they were inseparable in how he viewed the world, and America’s role within it. The Midwestern decency in him combined with a smart and savvy Chicago and New York and Washington streetfighter to make a marvel of a foreign policy thinker and doer. I am forever grateful to have had him as a friend. And I hope our country never forgets how to produce people of such talent, sophistication, and commitment.