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A Tribute To Ron Asmus

Ron Asmus passed away on April 30.
Ron Asmus passed away on April 30.
I received the news of Ron's death last Sunday morning. A friend in common wrote in a one-line e-mail from Washington, "He fought hard." I knew Ron as a fighter for vision and values.

I first got to know him because he, like me, had a keen interest in Germany. Ron Asmus hailed from Wisconsin, was the son of German immigrants, and held a Ph.D. in European Studies from Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

I recall once being on a trip with Ron to Munich. He loved beer and bratwurst as much as he did debating the politics of the day. He loved Europe. "The Economist" noted at his passing that he "embodied the best in America's relationship with Europe."

Part of that best was his willingness to stick up for the trans-Atlantic relationship in the most difficult of times. During the raucous Iraq debates of 2003, at a time when anti-Americanism was running wild in Germany, Ron told Ian Johnson of "The Wall Street Journal" that "somewhere between Kabul and Baghdad, we lost each other." That was Asmus the understated analyst. He was passionate, but never one to fan the flames.

His greatest passion led him to his finest professional accomplishment. As a State Department official in the Clinton administration, Ron figured prominently in NATO enlargement debate of the 1990s. He believed in a Europe "whole and free" and was convinced that inclusion of Europe's new democracies was the wisest way to anchor these countries in the West and, if need be, to defend their newly found freedom.

Over the last decade Ron continued the very same work as a senior executive for the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Whether in Ukraine, Georgia, or Turkey, Ron was exceptional at finding like-minded souls who shared his belief in common Western values. He worked closely with those who wanted their countries included in the Euro-Atlantic community of democracies. Ron believed in democracy in its own right, but saw the strategic value in an association of democracies as well.

In an article published earlier this year (with Fraser Cameron), Ron argued that "Debate and free speech are the lifeblood of democracy." In this case, Asmus the fighter was taking aim at Vladimir Putin's Russia. He was always true to his intellectual roots. The former Radio Free Europe analyst -- he had done a stint with RFE in Munich early in his career -- maintained a strong moral compass throughout his various assignments.

Ron Asmus passed away on April 30 after a long struggle with cancer. We'll all miss him. He was a man of conviction and tenacity.

Jeffrey Gedmin was president of RFE/RL from 2007 to 2011. He is currently chief executive officer of the Legatum Institute. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL