The day I met Ambassador Mark Palmer was a whirlwind — he stopped by Hudson Institute in 2003 with an idea — to put the ideas set forth in his brilliant book, Breaking the Real Axis of Evil into law. Mark was that way, a bit like the Tasmanian Devil with a bow-tie — he always had someone interesting with him — whether a member of the Falung Gong, or the brilliant human rights activist James Mawdsley, who wrote the heart-wrenching book, The Heart Must Break, about his time battling the brutal regime in Burma.
The result of Mark’s idea became the ADVANCE Democracy Act — a bill that was written by Mark, Mike Horowitz, Eric Kadel, and myself, to make it the mission of the State Department to promote democracy. While the bill was passed into law as part of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 — many of its best elements were gutted. However prior to its enactment, the State Department didn’t have to answer for being on the wrong side when they supported dictatorships across the globe. Through the ADVANCE Democracy Act, it’s now the State Department’s and America’s mission to end dictatorship — a radical and symbolic departure that has changed the way the department does business.
To say Mark changed my life is an understatement. Truthfully, this organization and blog would never have existed but for his inspiration and ideas, and he served as an official Advisory Board Member to Democracy Project until his death. Mark lent his brain and credibility to so many democracy promotion efforts that never would have existed but for the spark of inspiration that came from the brilliance of his mind: the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, the Community of Democracies, and the sustained vibrancy of Freedom House as it stands today.
During the past three or four years, Mark battled cancer valiantly and like any soldier in the fight for his life he had his ups and downs — his good days and bad ones. I remember his frustration with me in his final years because I failed in my pursuit for freedom for the world’s least fortunate. Holding my tongue in exasperation I remember thinking we can’t all be Mark Palmer — tearing down the Berlin Wall with Ronald Reagan.
But upon reflection — we all should try to be like Mark. He was a true patriot, who traveled the world for his country, but never forgot that he was still a Yankee from Vermont. I encourage you to read The Washington Post’s thoughtful obituary of my friend and mentor, as well as The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board’s piece on his Cold War heroics as inspiration for a life well-lived.