Georgetown University, Washington DC
The following remarks delivered by Dr. Ivan Sascha Sheehan, the president of IPC.
Thank you and good evening.
I am honored to join you tonight to pay tribute to my friend and dear colleague, the incomparable Professor Raymond Tanter.
At the outset of my remarks, allow me to extend my deepest condolences to you, Shawn and Kirk, on the passing of your father. No matter how long the goodbye, none of us can ever really be prepared for such a loss. But I am of the belief that each of us takes a bit of courage from those that have shouldered the pain you feel and that it is this courage that gives us the strength to bear this burden when we face it in our own lives. I hope you know that you are in our thoughts and in our prayers.
On a personal level, I only came to know Professor Tanter later in his life – beginning in the early 2000s – when he became a prominent voice on US-Iran policy. It was nevertheless impossible to be a student of Political Science in the 1980s or 1990s and not be familiar with the name Raymond Tanter.
RT – as his friends knew him – led an extraordinary life. He was a distinguished professor, White House official, political advisor, and US envoy. He was also a champion of human rights and a believer in Democracy.
Professor Tanter joined the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1967, rising in the decades that followed to the rank of Full Professor. From 1981 to 1982, he served on the senior staff of the National Security Council and as Personal Representative of the Secretary of Defense to the 1983-84 arms control talks in Madrid, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Vienna.
A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Professor Tanter was affiliated with the Hoover Institution, the Woodrow Wilson International Center,
the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and he founded the Iran Policy Committee (IPC).
Professor Tanter taught at several of the world’s leading higher education institutions – Northwestern University, Stanford University, the University of Michigan, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and right here at Georgetown University. He was also a Fulbright Scholar and served as an expert-in-residence at the American embassy in Tokyo.
The accolades and distinctions go on and on.
Over the course of his career, Professor Tanter’s empirical work increased our understanding of revolution in international politics. He also examined theory and policy in international relations, modeled global conflict, explored sanctions as an instrument for deterrence, and utilized rational choice theory as a means for explaining US policy in Iran and proliferation on a global scale.
His writing on the joint threats facing the US and Israel made him a go to figure in Washington. And his pathbreaking work on the democratic opposition challenging the Islamic Republic of Iran was formative and laid the groundwork for many, including me.
I chuckle when I think back to my first meeting with Professor Tanter. I must have come across as a bit too eager when I suggested that we undertake the task of writing together. The good professor – some four decades my senior – gently suggested that my star would need to rise before I could appear in his company.
But within a few years, Professor Tanter must have been worn down by my unwillingness to leave him alone because he began inviting me to appear with him on panels and join him in writing on policy issues.
We met frequently in Washington, teamed up in Europe, and debated one another privately and publicly. And, on those occasions when we did not appear together, it was not uncommon for me to see him peering out from the front row of an audience, nodding attentively, and giving a thumbs up when he concurred with what I was saying.
On many of these occasions, he had come to these events on his bicycle, wearing his trademark bow tie, ready to ask tough questions, to hold US officials accountable, and always eager to learn something new.
Raymond Tanter had swagger, a bounce in his step. He was truly a larger-than-life figure.
And whether it was engaging US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – who greeted him with a warm smile and a personal welcome when he rose to ask her a question as she spoke from a podium at the Council on Foreign Relations – or speaking to a random passerby, Raymond Tanter left everyone wondering: “Who is that man?”
Professor Tanter was also the consummate mentor, and like all good faculty, RT realized that his legacy was dependent on those he influenced. There were literally generations of students and scholars that were shaped by Professor Tanter’s guidance, his teaching, and the example he set. But US officials – and parliamentarians the world over – also benefited from his public policy insights.
Professor Tanter understood something that too few American academics appreciate and that is that there should not be distance between the ivory tower and the public forum. Public policy should be shaped by the great thinkers of every era, and Professor Tanter was one such influential scholar who shaped America’s international relations from the Cold War through the War on Terrorism.
His focus on rogue regimes – and particularly his assessments of the threats posed by Iran – made him an enemy of the ayatollahs – but highly sought after in Washington. His scholarly work was influential for three principal reasons: (1) It was evidence-based; (2) It had conviction; and (3) His policy prescriptions were bipartisan.
It should be said that though Professor Tanter did clearly have political leanings, he was a statesman and not a partisan. He believed that facts should speak for themselves. And he believed that evidence should inform ideology, not the other way around.
I have one fond memory of a late-night telephone call. In fact, most of our calls were in the middle of the night. Raymond Tanter was one of the few people I knew that literally worked around the clock.
On this occasion, I had written an article and sent him a draft seeking feedback. When I got him on the phone, he began peppering me with didactic questions. I tried to explain myself by saying: “What I meant to say was…” At that moment, he cut me off: “Darn it, Sascha. Don’t tell me what you meant to say. Say what you mean!”
It is a voice I have heard echoing over my shoulder in every piece I have penned since. Professor Tanter spent his life saying what he meant and meaning what he said.
Raymond Tanter also had a wonderfully competitive streak. Whether he was demonstrating how many more Twitter followers he had than me (a contest he always won) or reminding me how many calories he had burned on the way to Capitol Hill or bestowing the virtues of his healthy diet or reminding me of the elite institutions that he had taught at, he often left me – and others traveling with him – wondering how it was that we were having such difficulty keeping up with this older man!
In all my work, Raymond Tanter used to remind me to let the facts speak and not to worry what detractors had to say. He came of age before the advent of our contemporary “cancel culture” and he never seemed remotely concerned that his critics took issue with his assessments. In fact, he took pride in the fact that he was fostering debate. This was particularly true when it came to his work on US-Iran policy.
Raymond Tanter believed in the Iranian opposition because he believed in the benefits of democracy as a form of government. He believed in the Iranian resistance because he understood that the facts were on their side, and because he believed in the power of ideas and ideals.
Whether it was working on the National Security Council, educating generations of students, or influencing US policy, Raymond Tanter led a life of public service – always giving back, trying to make a difference, hoping that he was having an impact.
Tonight, as we celebrate his life and honor his commitments, I trust that Professor Tanter is looking down on us, smiling, prodding us not to forget his many accomplishments, and hoping that we carry his legacy forward.
All week, I have been reflecting on what makes for a life well lived. It occurred to me that, at the end of one’s life, the best thing that can be said of any man is that he was good.
Raymond Tanter was a good man. And though he will be missed, he will most certainly not be forgotten.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to join you this evening to celebrate a remarkable life. My deepest sympathies go out to the Tanter family and all of you that feel this loss.