Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Front Page - By SAM ROBERTS The New York Times

Les­lie H. Gelb, an icon­o­clas­tic for­mer Amer­i­can diplo­mat, jour­nal­ist and prodi­gious com­men­ta­tor on world af­fairs, died Satur­day in Man­hat­tan.

Les­lie H. Gelb, an icon­o­clas­tic for­mer Amer­i­can diplo­mat, jour­nal­ist and prodi­gious com­men­ta­tor on world af­fairs, died Satur­day at NewYork-Pres­by­te­rian Hos­pi­tal/Weill Cor­nell Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Man­hat­tan. He was 82.

The cause was re­nal fail­ure brought on by di­a­betes, his wife, Ju­dith Gelb, said.

Les­lie Gelb was 30 years old when in 1967 he took day-to-day charge of the team that com­piled the se­cret Pen­tagon Pa­pers,

which had been com­mis­sioned by De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert S. McNa­mara.

He later worked as an ed­i­tor, colum­nist and Pulitzer Prize-win­ning cor­re­spon­dent for The New York

Times, the news­pa­per that had over­come a court chal­lenge by the Nixon White

House and in 1971 published the pa­pers, which revealed a damn­ing evolution of Wash­ing­ton’s in­ter­ven­tion in Viet­nam.

Gelb served as as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state and di­rec­tor of the Bureau of Politico-Mil­i­tary Af­fairs

dur­ing the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion from 1977 to 1979. He was pres­i­dent of the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, the pres­ti­gious New York-based think tank pep­pered with pol­icy ex­perts and for­mer of­fi­cials, from 1993 to 2003.

“Les Gelb was a unique star in Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy,” said Win­ston Lord, an­other for­mer diplo­mat and one of his pre­de­ces­sors at the coun­cil. “He was a pa­triot in its no­blest def­i­ni­tion who de­voted his se­nior years to help­ing veter­ans and men­tor­ing com­ing gen­er­a­tions of pol­i­cy­mak­ers.”

Hav­ing grown up in an in­su­lar Jewish fam­ily of par­ents who op­er­ated a small delicatess­en in sub­ur­ban New York, he was dis­cov­ered at Har­vard by pro­fes­sor Henry M. Kissinger and went on to defy the stereo­type of Wash­ing­ton diplo­matic dou­ble­s­peak.

“Po­lit­i­cally, he was a cen­trist and a re­al­ist,” Ge­orge Packer wrote in “Our Man: Richard Hol­brooke and the End of the Amer­i­can Cen­tury” (2019).

Grow­ing up against the back­ground of the corner store where his par­ents worked 14 hours a day bn­ever left him. “It gave him a kind of immunity to the temp­ta­tions and de­cep­tions of power,” Packer wrote.

Hol­brooke, a for­mer as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state, was one Gelb’s many acolytes.

“Les was a gi­ant of men­tors,” said his friend Richard I. Beat­tie, a lawyer and civic leader. “So many peo­ple, in ad­di­tion to Hol­brooke, looked to Les and wanted to know what Les thought. He was the go-to guy.”

Les­lie Howard Gelb was born March 4, 1937, in New Rochelle, New York, to Max and Dorothy (Klein) Gelb, Jewish im­mi­grants from Hun­gary.

“He was a poor boy with bad eye­sight and a sly, full-lipped smile,” Packer wrote. “The Gelbs read no news­pa­pers and owned two books — the Bi­ble and ‘The Roth­schilds.’ They were lov­ing par­ents with the worst lives of any­one Les knew.”

He grad­u­ated from New Rochelle High School and re­ceived a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in gov­ern­ment from Tufts Univer­sity in 1959 af­ter work­ing his way through school as a valet park­ing at­ten­dant and dish­washer.

“He was so poor that his bride Judy’s par­ents re­fused to bless the mar­riage and so smart that he got into Har­vard’s grad­u­ate school in gov­ern­ment and so badly ed­u­cated that he had no idea what his teach­ers were talk­ing about,” Packer wrote.

Gelb earned a master’s and a doc­tor­ate in gov­ern­ment and de­vel­oped a fer­vor for in­ter­na­tional af­fairs in grad­u­ate school, where, Packer wrote, “Prof. Henry Kissinger picked him out and Gelb be­gan to rise.”

Kissinger, who was one of the pro­fes­sors re­view­ing Gelb’s the­sis and with whom he had an on-again, off-again pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship dur­ing his ca­reer, said in an in­ter­view Satur­day: “I thought he had an un­usual per­cep­tion of the in­tan­gi­bles that make the dif­fer­ence be­tween suc­cess and fail­ure in for­eign pol­icy. I re­spected him greatly whether he sup­ported me or crit­i­cized me.”

In 1959, Gelb mar­ried Ju­dith Cohen, who sur­vives him, as do their chil­dren, Adam, Caro­line and Ali­son Gelb; and five grand­sons.

Gelb tried to en­list in the mil­i­tary sev­eral times but was re­jected be­cause of poor eye­sight, col­or­blind­ness and flat feet.

Gelb was ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant to Sen. Ja­cob K. Jav­its, R-N.Y., from 1966 to 1967; di­rec­tor of pol­icy plan­ning and arms con­trol for in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity af­fairs at the De­fense De­part­ment from 1967 to 1969, where he won the Pen­tagon’s Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Medal; and a se­nior fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion from 1969 to 1973.

Af­ter a stint as The Times’ diplo­matic cor­re­spon­dent from 1973 to 1977, he re­turned to gov­ern­ment dur­ing the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion and won the State De­part­ment’s high­est honor.

In 1981, he re­joined The Times to serve as na­tional se­cu­rity cor­re­spon­dent, deputy ed­i­to­rial page ed­i­tor, ed­i­tor of the op-ed page and colum­nist, and played a lead­ing role on the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Ex­plana­tory Jour­nal­ism in 1986 for a six-part series on the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Star Wars Strate­gic De­fense Ini­tia­tive.


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