BY SHELLEY NEESE—
Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger died on Saturday in Charlottesville, VA. According to the family, he died of pneumonia although he had suffered from a heart attack the week before. He was 80 years old and is survived by three sons, all named Lawrence. When asked by the Washington Post why he gave them all the same name the statesman famous for his dry wit said,“It was ego. And secondly, I wanted to screw up the Social Security system.”
Having joined the U.S. Foreign Service at age twenty-seven, Lawrence Eagleburger served as a lifetime diplomat and statesman. Over a forty-year career, he was appointed to key diplomatic positions by Presidents of both parties. Carter selected him as Ambassador to Yugoslavia. Reagan appointed him Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. Bush Senior made him Deputy Secretary of State. His success eventually led to his appointment as the 62nd Secretary of State. Eagleburger was the only career Foreign Service officer to ever receive the elevated position.
As an expert in foreign policy, Mr. Eagleburger remained a candid and outspoken pundit his entire life. He appeared regularly on political talk shows. Also in recent years, he led the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims to resolve unpaid Nazi-era insurance claims for survivors of the Holocaust.
Mr. Eagleburger was a friend of Israel and served on the Advisory Board of the Jerusalem Connection many years. In a 2006 interview with managing editor Shelley Neese, Mr. Eagleburger discussed the Iranian nuclear threat. His assessment of the situation in the Middle East is certainly still applicable today.
Shelley Neese, TJCI: The threats and anti-Semitic statements repeatedly made by Iranian President Ahmadinejad are alarming, to say the least. How seriously should we take Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory statements? I believe that Iran is a real threat, not just in regard to Israel and anti-Semitism, but with regard to Iraq and the overall stability in that part of the world. I think Ahmadinejad is dangerous, very dangerous, largely because he is ignorant. He doesn’t know anything outside of Iran. His statements are clearly his convictions, and he is therefore dangerous. Part of what we are dealing with is a country that is governed by a man who is ignorant, doesn’t know the world around him, and beyond that, is a fanatic in his view of Islam. He is dangerous, and his country is dangerous. He is dangerous because of his anti-Semitism, and he is equally dangerous because of the spread of nuclear weapons. In my judgment, it’s something that cannot be permitted to continue, but I’m not running the U.S. government.
Lawrence Eagleburger, Former Secretary of State:
Are there any circumstances in which you believe the United States should take military action in Iran?
Yes. I think you are talking to one of the only people in the United States who believes this. But I don’t think we should do it tomorrow morning or anything of the sort. What I do very much believe is that in the North Korean case and the Iranian case, the move toward nuclear weapons, if it is not stopped by a group of countries acting together, is terribly dangerous. Decades from now, or less, people will be asking why in the world we sat here and watched all these actions take place without any effort on our part to stop them. Once these countries, particularly Iran, possess nuclear weapons, the whole approach to the country has to change.
It becomes much more dangerous. In both cases, they are very isolated from the rest of the world, and I’m not sure they fully understand what nuclear weapons can do and what would happen to them if they decide to use them. On the other hand, another danger is that they may build nuclear weapons which may end up in the hands of terrorists. Terrorists have no real compunction against using them, and it would be very hard to retaliate because we don’t even know where they are.
In every sense of the word, I think the continuation of allowing Iran to proceed with arming themselves with nuclear weapons assures a much more dangerous circumstance some years down the road, with their possible use of these weapons against us, against the West, and against Israel. I think it is insane to let that process continue. If that means war at some point, I would be prepared to say it would probably be worth it. But I would hope it would be military action taken by a coalition of countries, not just the United States. For example, the Chinese cannot want a nuclear-armed North Korea any more than the rest of us. A nuclear-armed North Korea is a serious danger to all the countries in the region, starting with Japan, and the Chinese can’t accept that kind of instability. In the Iranian case, which is perhaps even more dangerous, it must be remembered that they are located in the Middle East, which is an area that is not stable to begin with. Again, I think that Iran and North Korea have little understanding of what the use of a nuclear weapon might do. It could lead to a real conflagration. There is no question in my mind that should one of these countries ever develop nuclear weapons and use them, we would have no choice but to respond. It is a future I don’t want to have to contemplate.
Has your position on this become more firm recently?
No, I’ve had a strong view of nuclear proliferation ever since the North Korean thing took hold. We simply cannot permit these rogue states to develop nuclear weapons, and if we do permit it, we will pay a real price later on. But I also have to say to you that I don’t think there is a general view among nations that this is a matter that should be dealt with through force at this stage. I think any diplomatic measures are hopeless. We are dealing in both countries with someone at the head of a government that is totally out of touch with reality. Iran is a much more difficult country to deal with. Iran is located in the middle of a very unstable world. All of its neighboring countries are threatened by anything Iran may do. I believe that in the long run, it is insane for us to let it proceed. I’m not saying we should go to war tomorrow morning, but I am saying it ought to be a solution we keep in mind in case we reach the stage where there is no other choice.
Now that I’ve made myself look like a warmonger, what’s next?
What should happen if Iran insists it will continue its uranium enrichment program?
I know there will be a turn to the United Nations to see if we can agree to impose sanctions. I don’t have any objection to trying this, but if you look at history over the last fifty years, sanctions have only worked in the South African case. That was because everyone applied them. Almost any other time that sanctions were imposed, there was so much leakage that it really made little difference. However, I think we should at least try through the UN to develop sanctions that would perhaps persuade the Iranians to take another look at things. But that would only work if there is general agreement among the nations regarding those sanctions. That would mean we’d have to get the Chinese and the Russians and everyone else to agree to the sanctions, and that may be tough to accomplish. But that’s where I think we must go next.