Herbert Meyer, RIP

Very sad news this evening of the passing of Herbert Meyer, one of the genuine heroes of the Cold War for his service in the CIA under President Reagan. It was Meyer who, in a famous memo to Reagan in November 1983 when things were very tense with our intermediate-range missile deployments in Europe, wrote: “if present trends continue, we are going to win the Cold War.” Over eight vivid and tightly argued pages, Herb laid out the reasons that subsequently came to pass over the next decade.

I guess I can tell now something that Herb told me off the record about the famous memo. A number of senior people in the Reagan foreign policy establishment tried to keep the memo from reaching Reagan (Herb cleverly addressed it to his supremo boss, William Casey, knowing Casey would pass it on), and some of them subsequently tried to get Herb fired from the CIA for this heterodox assessment. I won’t say who (not just now anyway), but they are names you would recognize. Typically generous, Herb had nothing but good things to say about their abilities and dedication, but it’s an example of how institutional interests and personal reputations can lead to bad behavior.

Herb was gravely injured in a terrible bicycle accident last fall and never emerged from a deep coma. The last time I saw him was about three years ago, when he was passing through California and we had a delightful and leisurely lunch at an outside balcony restaurant in downtown San Luis Obispo, speculating on the follies of Obama’s Iran deal and many other things. We talked up some ideas for a conference or two we might try to put together some time, but we were both too busy to follow up. No one could match Herb’s synthetic imagination, and ability to communicate the essence of a problem so vividly—but also optimistically, which is one reason he fit in so well with Reagan. Spending time with Herb was the conversational equivalent of sipping on a great bottle of champagne.

I think it worth reposting the first segment of the video interview I did with Herb back in 2014, which I later turned into a full podcast.

His son Tom posted this pic of Herb strolling the streets of Rome, where he liked to spend the month of January each year. He always invited me to drop in on him some January, and I kept threatening to take him up on it.  Now I won’t have the chance. RIP, Herb.

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