Tufts University

Leslie H. Gelb (A'59)

[ Biography | Honorary Degree ]

Commencement 2009

LESLIE H. GELB, A59, has been a distinguished figure in U.S. foreign policy for close to half a century. From the days of the Cold War to the Obama administration, he has analyzed key events on the global stage with a sharp mind and scholarly eye; in the process, he has received some of the highest awards bestowed by government, academia and the press, including the Pulitzer Prize. His far-ranging career includes work as a diplomat; at the Pentagon; as a reporter, columnist and editor at the New York Times; and as a university professor, think-tank analyst and author.

Gelb graduated from high school in New Rochelle, N.Y., where his immigrant parents ran a grocery store. He received his bachelorís degree from Tufts in 1959, and earned a masterís and Ph.D. from Harvard.

He began his career as an assistant professor at Wesleyan University and soon became an executive assistant to U.S. Senator Jacob K. Javitz of New York. From there, he moved to the Department of Defense, where he was director of policy planning and arms control for international security affairs and director of the Pentagon Papers Project. He received the Defense Department's highest award, the Distinguished Service Award.

From 1969 to 1973, Gelb was a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, while also serving as a visiting professor at Georgetown University. He then began the first of two stints at the New York Times, working as diplomatic correspondent from 1973 to 1977.

In 1977, he returned to government as assistant secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter. He was director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs and, as he had during his time at Defense, he received the State Department's highest award, the Distinguished Honor Award. He was a senior associate for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace from 1980 to 1981.

Gelb then re-joined the Times, where he remained until 1993. During that time, he was national security correspondent for five years, and was a leading member on the team that won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism for a six-part series on the Strategic Defense Initiative, the so-called "Star Wars" program. He was also editor of the op-ed page and deputy editorial page editor, and was a columnist from 1991 to 1993.

After leaving the Times, Gelb became president of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent, non-partisan think tank and publisher. Gelb held that position for 10 years, before becoming president emeritus, a post he currently holds.

Gelb is the author or co-author of six books, including Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue Foreign Policy (HarperCollins, 2009). Among other points in the book, Gelb argues that recent American presidents have squandered their power; however, he also disputes the notion that globally, we are in a "post-American" age. "No progress has been made or can be made on a major international issue without American leadership," he said in a recent interview about the book. "But it's equally true that the U.S. can't accomplish any of these tasks on its own."

Gelb is a trustee emeritus of Tufts University and a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is a board member of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. He is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His 1980 book, The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked, was awarded the American Political Science Association's Woodrow Wilson Award.

In 2003, Gelb received the Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award from Tufts' Institute for Global Leadership.

Gelb is married to Judith Cohen, J59, and has three children and five grandsons.

Tufts will award Gelb an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

This story originally ran on May 17, 2009.