I’ve never served in battle, but I have worked around men and women who have. What I admire most about veterans and diplomats is how they stand — always erect as if unburdened by the conflicts they endure.
On Wednesday, the world will meet, through Congress' impeachment hearings regarding President Donald Trump, a man who has endured conflict both as a soldier and as a statesman and is now in the middle of a conflict not of his making.
U.S. Ambassador William B. Taylor finds himself at the center of the impeachment inquiry because of what he knows of Trump’s Ukraine scheme. Bill is battle-tested. Like his father, he attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served in Vietnam and earned a Bronze Star. He served in the infantry for six years, including in the 101st Airborne Division. He then worked in government at the Energy and Defense departments, and has carried out diplomatic assignments in Europe and the former Soviet Union, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East. Hard places. From 2006 to 2009, he served as ambassador to Ukraine under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama — Republican and Democratic administrations. He has no political ax to grind.
I first met Bill shortly after he returned from his tenure as ambassador to Ukraine in 2009. The foreign policy community in Washington is small and tight-knit. His reputation was stellar, and over the decade that followed, he and I crossed professional paths many times, including at the State Department, where we overlapped. What I saw in Bill at every meeting and every interaction was a highly knowledgeable, serious, straightforward and exceedingly polite man whose first order of business is public service. (I also noted that his tie was always perfectly straight, his suit without a crease — not a hair out of place.) If ever I needed sage advice, Bill was someone I could call upon, and did.
So I was not surprised to learn over the summer that Bill had reluctantly agreed to return to Kiev to head up the U.S. Embassy because then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch had been dismissed from her post. I had no idea Bill would experience a diplomatic nightmare; I only knew there was no one better to handle the job.
Within months of arriving in Kiev, he saw what he has testified to — an “irregular channel.” He saw that military assistance to a U.S. friend and ally, Ukraine, was being held hostage to a presidential political agenda. He called it out, saying it would be “stupid” to hold the military assistance — not a word he would routinely use. He knew that holding up the delivery of weapons to Ukraine could cost lives and lengthen the war between Ukraine and Russia. He spoke truth to power.
What Americans will see on Wednesday is a tall, slender, straight-as-an-arrow man with the posture of a soldier, and hear, in enormous detail and with great candor, the misdeeds he witnessed.
In a week in which we celebrate Veterans Day, we honor those who serve the country. Count Bill among them, both for military and diplomatic service. In my book, he earns another star.
Tara D. Sonenshine, who served as U.S. under secretary of state in the Obama administration, advises students at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.