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The Tentacle


June 8, 2011

Lawrence Eagleburger: The Real Deal

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Many who have closely follow the intrigues and personalities of the United States Foreign Service and the implementation of American foreign policy for the last 50 years were saddened to learn of the death last Saturday of former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.

 

Although I first learned of his passing on Swampland, The Washington Post has since reported that Secretary Eagleburger “died of pneumonia at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. He was 80 and had lived outside Charlottesville since 1990.

 

Several astute news accounts got it right. “He did not fit the image of the office. He was hugely overweight. He chain-smoked cigarettes, sometimes with an aspirator to ease chronic asthma. He was afflicted with a muscle disease,” and an old knee injury and walked with the assistance of a cane.

 

He was blunt, shrewd, and from reading about him and his exploits over the years, often ‘crazy’ like a fox when it came to maneuvering the byzantine intrigues of personality driven power-mongers of inter-governmental relations.

 

Many appreciated his dry, wry, and uncanny sense of humor. NPR made special note that his “sense of humor served Eagleburger well. Asked at a Senate confirmation hearing if he had ever in public or private pinched a woman's behind, Eagleburger replied: ‘Can I divide that into two questions?’

 

Asked by reporters how he planned to run the State Department after James Baker's departure, Mr. Eagleburger responded: ‘Badly’…”

 

The Washington Post elaborated on his humor with a quote from Henry Kissinger: “He had a tremendous sense of humor, which helped bring a sense of proportion to diplomacy.”

 

Michael Duffy noted in his Swampland piece that “(h)e was the quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) guiding force behind several decades of politically appointed Secretaries of State. He served Democrats as well as Republicans from Eisenhower to Bush 1.”

 

Mr. Duffy further observed that “(a)fter he retired, Eagleburger had many offers to join corporate boards but resisted some because he couldn’t survive the cross country flights without a cigarette break.”

 

In The Washington Post tribute, Matt Schudel observed why historians are so fixated upon Secretary Eagleburger: “Much of Mr. Eagleburger’s work took place behind closed doors as a participant in the international strategies of every president from Richard M. Nixon through George H.W. Bush. A plain-spoken, likable diplomat, Mr. Eagleburger rose to prominence as a protégé of Henry Kissinger’s.”

 

The takeaway is simple yet profound. Almost all of American foreign policy from the late 1970s, until his retirement in January 1993, when President Bill Clinton unwisely choose not to keep him on, had Secretary Eagleburger’s fingerprints on it – especially if it was a crisis moment in American diplomacy. That was where Secretary Eagleburger excelled.

 

For example, according numerous news accounts, including Fox News, President George H. W. Bush noted that “during one of the tensest moments of the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein began attacking Israel with Scud missiles trying cynically and cruelly to bait them into the conflict, we sent Larry to Israel to preserve our coalition. It was an inordinately complex and sensitive task, and his performance was nothing short of heroic.”

 

Many news accounts especially noted that Mr. Eagleburger, the 62nd secretary of state was “the only career foreign service officer ever to be named Secretary of State.”

 

Bernard Gwertzman noted in The New York Times: “He served from Dec. 8, 1992, to Jan. 19, 1993. Only one other secretary served a shorter term, Elihu B. Washburne, who took office under President Ulysses S. Grant on March 5, 1869, and left 11 days later to head the American mission to France.”

 

Secretary Eagleburger joined the Foreign Service in 1957, according to his biography on The American Academy of Diplomacy website. Prior to that he served as a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army from 1952 to 1954.

 

“Mr. Eagleburger was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on August 1, 1930. He received his BS degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1952, served as first lieutenant in the US Army from 1952 to 1954, and earned his MS degree, also from the University of Wisconsin, in 1957,” according to The American Academy of Diplomacy.

 

Swampland noted that “(h)is biography is a descant to the last 50 years of American foreign policy. The son of a Milwaukee doctor he once described as more conservative than Genghis Khan, Eagleburger joined the Foreign Service in the late 1950s, served in Belgrade and in Washington before taking up a series of high level, politically sensitive posts.

 

“He worked for Dean Acheson when Lyndon Johnson called him back to service; for Walt Rostow at the National Security Council, at NATO Headquarters in Brussels and, of course, for Kissinger under Nixon…

 

“By the early 1980s, Eagleburger had emerged as something of a secret weapon of presidents and secretaries of state, a man who could take the visionary ideas of, for example, a Kissinger, and somehow push them through the state department’s often sluggish back offices. He was ideologically moderate, ruthlessly hard-headed about American interests and unusually effective behind the scenes.”

 

Although he was always loyal to the best interests of the United States and whichever president he was currently serving, “Mr. Eagleburger retained the respect of career diplomats and Capitol Hill lawmakers for his wide experience and independent mind,” said The Washington Post.

 

I have always been suspect of glitz and glam Hollywood-type caricatures in the role of the enormous responsibility of governance, especially foreign diplomacy where many foreign governments and rulers simply have no patience for sound-byte drivel and spineless superficial speciousness.

 

Secretary Eagleburger was the real deal and served our country extraordinarily well, with pride and dignity.

 

After God made Secretary Eagleburger he broke the mode. He was a one-of-a-kind diplomat. There was nothing like him before; however, we can only hope and pray that there will be another like him in the future.

 

. . . . .I’m just saying…

 

kevindayhoff@gmail.com

 



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