Lawrence Eagleburger Dead At 80

Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger has passed away:

WASHINGTON — The only career foreign service officer to rise to the position of secretary of state, Lawrence Eagleburger was a straightforward diplomat whose exuberant style masked a hard-driving commitment to solving tangled foreign policy problems.

“As good as they come,” recalled his immediate predecessor as America’s top diplomat.

Eagleburger, who died Saturday at age 80, held the job late in George H.W. Bush’s presidency, culminating a distinguished diplomatic career.

Over 27 years in the foreign service, he served in the Nixon administration as executive assistant to Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, as President Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to Yugoslavia, and as an assistant secretary of state and then undersecretary of state in the first Reagan administration.

In subsequent years, he was available to offer advice, along with other former senior officials, to Hillary Rodham Clinton as she prepared for the job under President Barack Obama.

Eagleburger died in Charlottesville, Va., after a short illness, according to a family friend, Christy Reap. No further details were immediately available.

Tributes poured in immediately, from Obama and Clinton, to two of his one-time bosses, Bush and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

Eagleburger held the top post at the State Department for five months when Baker resigned in the summer of 1992 to help Bush in an unsuccessful bid for re-election.

As Baker’s deputy, Eagleburger had taken on a variety of difficult assignments, including running the department bureaucracy. With Baker often abroad, Eagleburger was left to tend to the home front.

Eagleburger told The Associated Press in 1990 that he operated “sort of by osmosis. You get a feel how he (Baker) would react to a situation.”

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.

Born Aug. 1, 1930, in Milwaukee, Eagleburger graduated from the University of Wisconsin. He grew up in a Republican family, once telling a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal that “my father was somewhat to the right of Genghis Khan.”

Eagleburger remained a Republican, but of a more moderate stripe.

Bush called Eagleburger “one of the most capable and respected diplomats our foreign service ever produced, and I will be ever grateful for his wise, no-nonsense counsel during those four years of historic change in our world.”

In a statement, Bush said 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.”

Baker said Eagleburger “was a legend in the U.S. Foreign Service, a consummate professional who served his country expertly and with great dignity as a selfless diplomat.” He said his former colleague was “superb at divining trouble and heading it off. That’s why he became the first Foreign Service officer in history to rise to deputy secretary of state and later to secretary of state. Simply stated, Larry Eagleburger was as good as they come — loyal, hard-working and intelligent, a trifecta for an American diplomat.”

From The New York Times, an interesting story about Eagleburger’s time as an Ambassador:

Despite Mr. Eagleburger’s close identification with the Republican Party and with Mr. Kissinger, President Jimmy Carter picked him to be the ambassador in Belgrade, a place he relished ever since his days as an economics officer in the American Embassy from 1962 to 1965.

During that earlier period, Mr. Eagleburger became known as “Lawrence of Macedonia” to Yugoslavs because of his almost single-handed effort to marshal American aid to set up a full-scale United States Army field hospital in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, which had suffered a severe earthquake in 1963.

Josef Broz Tito, the wartime resistance fighter, who led Yugoslavia as an independent Communist state from the end of World War II, had died in 1980, and so Mr. Eagleburger faced a complex time as ambassador. Newsweek in 1981, several years later, quoted a State Department official as saying, “We could not have been better represented in Yugoslavia during the tense period after Tito’s death.”

In Mr. Eagleburger’s tour as ambassador, the problems that later split Yugoslavia into separate states, engendered a long conflict in Bosnia and a NATO intervention in Kosovo, were just beginning to cause concern.

Mr. Eagleburger met several times with Slobodan Milosevic, then the president of Serbia, the largest of the Yugoslav states, to urge him to stop trying to foment radical Serbian nationalism, which entailed trying to suppress the aspirations of the large Albanian population in the Kosovo region. “You’re going to have to change your approach if you want a close relationship with the United States,” he told a reporter later about his message to Mr. Milosevic. “You can’t hold Yugoslavia together by force.”

When Mr. Milosevic later tried to do precisely that, Mr. Eagleburger said, “I misjudged him.

As his term as secretary of state was drawing to a close, he began speaking out more on the conflict in Bosnia, in which Serbs were trying to crush the largely Muslim population of Bosnia.

“I spent seven years of my life in that country,” he told a reporter. “I got to know the various peoples and regions very well. I developed equal respect and admiration for all of them. I have friends in every republic. What has befallen all of the peoples of Yugoslavia is a tragedy.”


FILED UNDER: Obituaries, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Fallibilist says:

    I’ve always wondered what an actual eagleburger would taste like.

    Too soon?