Waging Higher Education: The Declassified Story of Richard Immerman
by Joseph Master
In early 2007, while sitting in his 10th floor office in Gladfelter Hall, Richard Immerman received a call that changed everything.
“What do you know about the office of the director of national intelligence?” the voice on the other end of the line asked.
The voice belonged to Tom Fingar, the Deputy Director of National Security for Analysis, who reported to the Director of National Intelligence. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) — the centerpiece of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act passed by Congress in 2004 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and botched National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction — had been developed to help centralize and manage information from the intelligence community. These were uncertain times, when the lines had been so thoroughly blurred between threats foreign and domestic that proper vetting required new methodologies, new blood, new ideas.
The United States of America needed help from academia.
Immerman — the nation’s preeminent Eisenhower scholar and co-author of Waging Peace, the definitive account of Ike’s “New Look” national security policy — heeded the call. By this time, Immerman was already renowned as an historian of post-World War II U.S. foreign relations and intelligence and a pioneer in Grand Strategy scholarship. He was serving as the 40th president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and had just stepped down as chair of Temple’s Department of History. He was also the architect and director of the University’s Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy (CENFAD).
Up to this critical point in the life of a scholar, Immerman’s work had been devoted to creating and disseminating knowledge. Now, it was time to join a collection of clandestine services tasked with finding and keeping secrets.
“I said, ‘there is no way I can do this,” Immerman remembers. “I was a little worried about how it would affect my professional life if, suddenly, I went over to the dark side. So, I went home that night and my wife said ‘how can you not do this?’”
Carolyn Adams, then-dean of the College of Liberal Arts, agreed. It’s one thing to study the architects of force and diplomacy. It’s another thing altogether to be offered a seat at the drafting table — to be a human bridge between the alternate dimensions of scholarship, public and foreign policy.
He couldn’t say “no.”
For 18 months, Immerman worked in Washington as Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analytic Integrity and Standards under the Bush Administration. His role was to ensure that intelligence analysts vetted information using proper methodology while maintaining tradecraft standards. He was also charged with guarding against any politicization of the intelligence community. He stayed at his post until the end of the Bush White House, and he believed passionately, wholeheartedly, in his work.
“They talked about mission,” Immerman says. “I’m an academic, though. You use a word like ‘mission’ and you tend to be real cynical. Like, ‘Do they really believe in this stuff? That what we’re doing is serving a greater purpose?’ I have been so devoted to higher education, but I wouldn’t say it’s that same sort of mission. That’s why I think it’s so important for scholars to become more involved in things like intelligence.”
He came back to Temple in 2009 with a new respect for an intelligence community he’d studied and written about for his entire adult life.
“There’s a lot of stuff that I am not allowed to talk about,” he says.
Not until it’s declassified, at least.
While Immerman — who has an irreverent knack for downplaying his accomplishments (“I had no idea what I was doing,” he says) — is quick to ascribe his service to serendipity, it was ultimately CENFAD, and particularly his vocal stance on the powder keg in the Middle East that perfectly positioned him for his sojourn in Washington.
Take, for instance, this excerpt from the “News from the Director” section of the fall 2003 issue of Strategic Visions, the Center’s bi-annual newsletter:
“In the most fundamental sense, the advising/decision-making angle of Bush policy toward Iraq has intersected dramatically with the intelligence angle. From my vantage point as an academic, this intersection has captivated my imagination and caused me to all but recoil in horror. I'll explain. Much attention has been paid to President Bush's inclusion in his State of the Union Address of those now infamous 16 words claiming that Saddam Hussein covertly sought to purchase uranium ore from Africa for the purpose of reconstituting (or sustaining) his nuclear program. At issue is why the president went public with this claim notwithstanding suspicions about its validity, suspicions that were expressed at the time and confirmed subsequently.”
Immerman wasn’t just stepping outside of his academic silo. He was, essentially, framing the job Washington would tap him to execute three years later. It was no coincidence; it was rock-hard scholarship.
“I became interested in this area during the Vietnam War in trying to understand how the United States ended up in the position that it did,” he says. “I am still trying to figure out how these things happen. There’s a fine line that will separate war and peace. And in terms of international relations theory, they would say that you have to be willing to go to war in order to create peace.”
It took years for Immerman to coalesce a record of research and pedagogy around war and peace, force and diplomacy —concepts that the layman might call opposites — for him to arrive at what would eventually become CENFAD. Yet, Immerman sees these opposites more as equal edges of the same sword.
Immerman’s research addresses the intersection of history, political science, psychology, public policy, foreign affairs and — ultimately — the decision-making apparatus of nation-states. Today, we call it Grand Strategy. But for Immerman, it was just research — dogged, relentless, often lonely, exploration. At times, that meant trying to access classified information using the Freedom of Information Act; making formal requests to various government agencies for access to enlightening information.
“Grand Strategy is military … plus,” Immerman says. “It’s how a nation applies all of the instruments it has, all of the instruments of power, military, economic, diplomatic, cultural instruments, all of these powers. It’s how you coordinate all of this to achieve an objective. And having studied Eisenhower for many years, this was something of a natural thing for me to do.
Or as I often say, I didn’t even know what I was doing. It was serendipity.
Serendipity or not, Immerman’s path to Temple was paved by incremental steps down an historic black hole in academia where disciplines collide without ever being studied. He was making illuminating connections where others had built silos. He was no Ivory Tower scholar. He was breaking the tower down, brick by brick.
“One of the problems with education is that we have political science, we have history, we have anthropology, but students don’t always understand what these disciplines are, or how they differ,” Immerman says. “So they learn all of these stories, but they don’t necessarily learn well — learn about how scholars can actually apply their craft to doing it.”
After a career that brought him from the Ivory Tower to Foggy Bottom, Richard Immerman is no stranger to getting it done.
Immerman came to Temple in 1992 after a decade teaching at the University of Hawaii. A graduate of Cornell University, he received his MA (1973) and PhD (1979) from Boston College. From there it was off to Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, where he served as associate director of its presidential studies program. There are many other posts and distinctions in Immerman’s storied career, including a return to Princeton for two years in the mid-80s as a MacArthur Fellow in International Peace and Security Studies. The fellowship funded his research in political psychology with famed presidential scholar Fred Greenstein at Princeton and under the tutelage of international relations expert Robert Jervis at Columbia University.
By 1992, Immerman had published widely on subjects ranging from Eisenhower to the CIA — all of which examined how force (or the threat of force) was used to diplomatic effect. His award-winning dissertation, The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention, was published in 1982. In addition, he published a number of seminal works on the New Look strategy, including “Eisenhower and Dulles: Who Made the Decisions?” (1979), “Eisenhower, Dulles, and Dienbienphu: The ‘Day We Didn’t Go to War Revisited,’” (1984), and “Confessions of an Eisenhower Revisionist: An Agonizing Reappraisal” (1990).
Temple — namely then-distinguished professors Russ Weigley and David Rosenberg — took notice and recruited Immerman to establish a new venture: CENFAD.
“I was essentially the director before the center was actually launched,” Immerman remembers. “What I did not realize is that not only was I the missing piece in the plans for a center, but I was also expected to take the lead in developing it. Although, we never could or would have gotten it done were it not for Russ and David. Both were titans in the world of scholarship.”
Carolyn Adams, who also helped Immerman launch the Center, remembers hiring Immerman to run CENFAD as a gamble worth risking.
“Richard had my enthusiastic support from our very first conversation about the plan that he hatched with Russ Weigley and David Rosenberg,” Adams remembers. “Academically, the Center would make a significant statement about the value of linking the study of military force to the equally important scholarship of diplomacy.
“On a practical level, which deans must always consider, the Center would take advantage of what we already possessed: well-established strength in military history with growing profiles in diplomatic history and global studies,” Adams says. “Time, along with the unstinting work done by Richard and his colleagues, has certainly justified our starting hunch.”
Established in 1993, CENFAD was created within the Department of History to foster interdisciplinary faculty and student research on the historic and contemporary use of force and diplomacy in a global context. Over time, the Center became the College of Liberal Arts’ intellectual hub for dialogue about the interrelationships between state and diplomacy, merging thought leadership between departments within the College of Liberal Arts and from other Temple colleges. Immerman, with the support of his history department colleagues and Dean Adams, began building the Center from the atomic level. He met with donors, and secured the funding necessary to grow what, at the time, wasn’t the most orthodox of initiatives for a liberal arts college to undertake.
As the Center grew, so did Immerman’s credentials. He became the Edward J. Buthusiem Family Distinguished Faculty Fellow in History, the Marvin Wachman Director of the Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy, and was also appointed as the Francis W. DeSerio Chair of Strategic Intelligence at the U.S. Army War College. In 1998, Immerman was elected chair of the Department of History. He worked with Dean Adams and her successors to hire new faculty in clusters, many of whom collaborated in some way with CENFAD. They began tempting more qualified and engaged graduate students who demanded more programs, which led to CENFAD sponsoring lectures, colloquia, workshops and conferences. The center also began to offer many prizes in recognition of undergraduate and graduate research in military, diplomatic and international history.
In addition, CENFAD developed Strategic Visions, the bi-annual newsletter that has given Immerman a direct line to the cabal of scholars throughout the country who began looking to CENFAD’s thought leadership as a shining lodestar.
“It was really the first couple years of the 2000s when it really took off and I started having conferences,” Immerman says. “And we get to the point now where I meet people and they ask me when can I come and talk, because, you know, CENFAD is part of the tour. I said, ‘What is the tour?’ And they said ‘Well, if you’re going to make it in the world of diplomatic, grand strategy and international security, you have to have given at least one talk at CENFAD.”
The praise doesn’t just come from outside of Temple. The most humbling admiration has always come from Immerman’s students.
Brian McNamara, a PhD student in Temple’s Department of History and the 2016-17 Thomas J. Davis Endowed Fellow in the Study of Force and Diplomacy, says he is just the most recent link in a long succession of graduate students at Temple who have benefited from Immerman’s guidance.
“CENFAD and Dr. Immerman, have made Temple a top destination for graduate students who want to study force, diplomacy and international history,” McNamara says. “When I was considering graduate schools, Temple immediately stood out to me because of the existence of CENFAD and Dr. Immerman’s presence on the faculty. His reputation as a dedicated mentor to graduate students and a tireless advocate for their success is well earned, is borne out by the success of his graduate students, and has helped make my graduate career to this point extremely fulfilling.
Scholars who have new, often cutting-edge research to present are eager to come to CENFAD, because they know they’ll get an informed audience who will help them refine their arguments and sharpen their ideas.
Immerman’s eyes light up when he speaks about teaching. He remembers the day after 9/11, during just the second meeting of a course on U.S./Western foreign policy called “Super Power America.” Once the towers came down, he threw away the script and challenged his students to contextualize what they saw on TV. He encouraged them to see the effect world events were having on the global posture of the U.S., and to examine the relationship between domestic politics and international affairs. In the same way Immerman used to teach the Vietnam War as his “slice” of history,” he began to see his students getting intimate with their own share.
“Part of the joy of teaching is to be able to think through what you’re researching,” he says. And my students are aware of it. I’m always conscious of when they recognize that I’m teaching them stuff that’s new; it’s what I have just found. And sometimes just to engage them, I’ll be very explicit about that and I’ll tell them the story of how I discovered this document and it made me change what I was working on completely.”
In the fall 2007 edition of Strategic Visions, Immerman used his “News From the Director” column to announce his move from academia to world of national security.
With a tinge of irreverence, Immerman wrote that he was going to “bridge the divide between the scholarly and public policy universes.” He was going to step up to the plate and serve the public good. “To stop criticizing and start doing.”
“So, next year I’ll be in Washington,” he wrote. “I’ll report what I can when I can. Wish me luck. Like many of you readers, I’ll attentively follow along by email announcements, the Web page, and Strategic Visions. I’ll doubtless be able to attend some events, but too few of them. Fortunately, I know I can depend on my assets for special intelligence.”
As for the intelligence he vetted while working for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, much of it remains classified. One day, scholars from fields that span from history to psychology will no doubt access the information, digest it, and use it to create new knowledge to bridge gaps that haven’t yet been identified.
In 2009, after he left his post and returned to Temple, the American Historical Association appointed Immerman as its representative to the Department of State’s Advisory Committee on Historical Documentation. He was elected the committee’s chair in 2010 and still serves to this day.
Four times a year, he treks down to the capital to meet at the State Department, where he has security clearance to examine classified documents to help decide whether they are crucial to telling the full story of American foreign relations. These days, he devotes much of his time looking to the future, wrestling with the notion of what should be public or private, what should be released or remain classified.
He’s also looking back, researching the rocky relationship between Richard Nixon and national intelligence for another in a long list of publications he has authored.
The threat of war.
The waging of peace.
The role of force in diplomacy.
The role of diplomacy in international relations.
It’s all connected. And Richard Immerman will never stop trying to untangle the knots.