After just a few pages into his latest book, Inside Reagan’s Navy, I knew I had to Q&A with Ambassador Untermeyer. It was clear that he had an inside look at a part of our government only a few are privilidged to see, however, it was his casual, relatable diary entries that make his book truly unique. Rather than an embellished and overly-dramatic tell-all, Untermeyer's entries reveal day to day life at the pentagon in a way that is easy to understand, believable, and still captivating. The author, himself, is just as interesting. Ambassador Untermeyer eagerly agreed to my request to do a Q&A with him, much to my appreciation. Here is a peak inside the mind behind Inside Reagan’s Navy:
Q: You have been a diarist since the age of nine. What encouraged you to share your diary entries relative to your time in the White House and Pentagon?
Ambassador Untermeyer: I felt the journal entries would not only tell the story of those very interesting days but do so in a fresh, contemporaneous manner.
Q: As a person who has experienced life in the Pentagon and the White House, how does public opinion of these entities compare to the reality of what goes on in both?
Ambassador Untermeyer: Perhaps the greatest pubic misperception of the White House is that it runs the US Government. At most, the White House sets the policy and the message for the administration and handles the politics. Day-to-day governing is done by the president’s appointees in the departments and agencies. What the public may not fully grasp about the Pentagon is how convoluted its bureaucracy (both military and civilian) is and how much that bureaucracy is fixated on the budgetary process.
Q: In the book you describe the White House as a "silken cocoon." Why was it a silken cocoon, and why did you feel the need to leave?
Ambassador Untermeyer: The White House is a “silken cocoon” because it is a very special place where historic things happen and whose denizens live every day in a rarefied atmosphere. Few who work there, in any administration of either party, can conceive of being anywhere else. I enjoyed and appreciated both my spells of duty in the West Wing, but I knew that to gain genuine satisfaction and benefit from serving in Washington, I had to leave for a job in a department/agency where policy is actually implemented.
Q: You seem to express admiration for Jeb Bush in your book. Why, and what are your thoughts regarding his current campaign?
Ambassador Untermeyer: I have known Jeb Bush since 1979, when he was 23 years old and working in his father’s first campaign for president. Even then, he struck me as a man of mature depth, strength, and judgment. His subsequent service as governor of Florida demonstrated how well he can handle complex issues and political controversy in a very diverse place. These are exactly what we need and expect in a president. Although I wish Jeb’s poll numbers were higher than they are right now, over the length of the primary campaign I am confident that voters will come to see these qualities and support him.
Q: In your book you suggest an alternative solution to Navy Disability Pay. What might those changes look like today?
Ambassador Untermeyer: Any disability system needs sensible rules, but it must allow someone at the top – in this case, the (civilian) secretary of a military service or his/her designee – to bend or overrule those guidelines if particular cases merit such sympathetic action.
Q: You express concern in the book about your reputation as a political fixer. Was this a fair assessment in your opinion, and in what ways has this perception changed over time?
Ambassador Untermeyer: Although I have had a life-long interest in politics – and won election to public office all four times that I ran – I have never been a political “operative”. (I prefer this word to “fixer”, because the latter denotes someone outside government who seeks to affect administrative and legislative decisions. The operative is concerned with winning elections.) But I have recognized that in the American system, opportunities to serve in government often (if not always) come from helping specific candidates in their campaigns. When people ask how I became an ambassador, I only half-jokingly reply, “I stood in the snow in New Hampshire and waved a sign.” President George W. Bush certainly appointed me to head the US embassy in Qatar for other reasons, but he also knew I was a proven supporter.
Q: What do you believe is one of the greatest things readers are able to take away from Inside Reagan's Navy?
Ambassador Untermeyer: I hope the book conveys some of the drama, excitement, and humor in a major center of action during in the Reagan Administration, the Navy Department. If I have succeeded, people who were not even born yet can sense what it was like to be in Washington during those days.
To get a closer look at Ambassador Untermeyer’s life in the pentagon, purchase Inside Reagan’s Navy here.
I would like to thank Ambassador Untermeyer for taking the time to engage in this Q&A with me and for his willingness to offer such candid responses.
Written By Rebecca Reap