Richard Armitage was the 13th United States Deputy Secretary of State, serving from 2001 to 2005. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and then after the fall of Saigon moved to Washington D.C. to work as a consultant for the United States Department of Defense, which sent him to Tehran and Bangkok.
Throughout the late 70s and early 80s, Armitage worked as an aide and foreign policy advisor to politicians including Senator Bob Dole and President-elect Ronald Reagan. When Reagan was elected, Armitage was appointed to the Department of Defense. In the 1990s, Armitage worked in the private sector before being confirmed as Deputy Secretary of State with the election of George W. Bush in 2001. He left the post in 2005.
Armitage was educated at the United States Naval Academy. He is an avid bodybuilder, and speaks many languages, including Vietnamese.
Question: Do you remember your first day in Washington?
Armitage: Yeah I certainly do. I . . . (laughter) . . . I packed up my family . . . and this was after left Iran in 1977. I packed up my family. We were living in California, and I had two daughters at the time. And my wife, two children and I drove across country. We bought a home here, and I started looking for work. Well unfortunately this was at a time when Mr. Carter was busy downsizing government, and this shows you how naïve and young I was at that time. I was knocking on doors just figuring, well, I deserved to be looked at. And I was starving to death; but all of a sudden I was introduced to Bob Dole, and lickety-split he asked me to be his Administrative Assistant. So half of life is just showing up. And as Napoleon reminds us, he’d rather have lucky generals than smart ones. I was certainly lucky.
Question: How has Washington changed since then?
Armitage: Well it’s . . . I’d have to say a lot has changed. At the time when I came here . . . The founding fathers were brilliant in their initial decisions to have a Senate and a House. Thoughtful upper chamber and a House which is more reflective of the day-to-day life of Americans. But two things have rather dramatically changed the political climate here in Washington. The first had to do with the election of sort of single issue mavens, whether . . . This was a time of the Vietnam War where they were elected just to end the war, or more laterally the pro-choice, or anti-abortion, single issue environmentalist or whatever . . . whatever the issue is.
The second is that many more House members are now being elected to the Senate, and they bring to the Senate, in my view, the House mentality which is much more rambunctious, much less thoughtful, and not conducive to good, thoughtful tension to be introduced between the Executive branch and the Legislative branch. And our system requires a thoughtful tension for both branches to work at optimum . . . in an optimum way.