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JBOC's  Notes on Oriental Rugs

Notes on Ambassador Bill & Kay Eagleton

 
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Ambassador Bill & Kay Eagleton

Illustration 3. Hartushi with "Caucasian" turtle, c. 1930

  • Technical Analysis
    Warp: white, black, brown goat hair, and mohair
    Weft: Tan wool, three shoots
    Knot: 4x5
    Colors: RED, blue, blue-green, purple, orange, white Size: 104"x49"
    Edge: w - 3 blue selvages
    Ends: 4" plaits to 1" crossbraid

I had the honor to meet Ambassador Bill & Kay Eagleton at the Textile Museum. Bill Eagleton is without a doubt the most knowledgeable people that I have ever met on the subject of Kurdish rugs.

Eagleton has a long history of service to his country as a diplomat and as one of the State Department's leading Arabists.

"Ambassador William Eagleton (United States of America) was duly appointed Special Coordinator for Sarajevo and has been working indefatigably, in cooperation with the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina and under the authority of my Special Representative, to achieve the restoration of public services in Sarajevo." Deployment of IFOR (12/13/95-2/14/96)

Eagleton's advice: Travel light while witnessing history of world

11/21/1999

Ambassador William Eagleton has a unique method of judging luggage.

In a 50-year diplomatic career with the U.S. Foreign Service, State Department and United Nations, he has traveled more than most people on this planet. Yet it was not globe-trotting that imprinted his baggage preferences. It was international terrorism.

Years ago, Eagleton lost one of his suitcases when it was used to hold the $1 million ransom for a hijacking to Algeria. He still has the smaller leather satchel he was given to replace it and declares the "half-million-size" bag to be far better than its million-dollar- size predecessor.

"A million dollars is a little heavy, (although) you can put it in one suitcase," he says thoughtfully. "The second hijacking, I sent word back while it was under way. I said, 'Bring two smaller suitcases because the person taking it away obviously isn't going to check it in...' I remember the first one, dragging the million dollars in a suitcase. It was not easy."

If a six-hour interview is any indication, that's Eagleton - wry, dry and understated. He may say little about his role, but name the hot spots in world history for the last five decades, particularly in the Middle East, and he was there: Iran, Iraq, Algeria, Cyprus, Libya, Syria, Sarajevo.

Count his stint in the Navy during World War II, during which his father, Navy Capt. William Eagleton, commanded one of the ships sent to sign the peace treaty at Tokyo Bay, and you can make it six decades as an eyewitness to world history.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher was at Tokyo Bay with Capt. Eagleton. In fact, 19-year-old Ensign Christopher was once assigned to "baby-sit" young Dick Eagleton, the ambassador's brother, on an outing to a dog track while the USS Tomahawk was undergoing repairs. Considering Christopher was later Dick Eagleton's boss, and occasionally interacted with Bill Eagleton Jr. during various stints in government service, he has a unique vantage point on this family.

"Ambassador Eagleton is a very distinguished Arabist, one of those very unusual people who have grown up with great expertise in the Arab world," Christopher says. "He has had the toughest assignments, and I think that makes him a particularly good subject for your project ... He takes it in stride. He is very modest. And that's one of the reasons he was very popular in the Foreign Service."

Last of great pashas

Seven years ago, Eagleton was one of a handful of people profiled in a cover story for The Atlantic Monthly called "Tales from the Bazaar." Written just after the Gulf War, the idea was to assess the Arabists - those who specialized in Middle Eastern diplomacy - and whether or not they should be trusted.

Robert D. Kaplan spent 30 pages trying to untangle the complicated politics in one of the most complex regions of the world. A good chunk of his analysis focused on Eagleton.

"The last of the great pashas" in the State Department is how Arabist Richard Murphy described Eagleton to Kaplan, who seemed equally taken with the former Peorian.

"At sixty-five, he has eyes that still appear young and full of enthusiasm: they are the eyes of a traveler who has retained a youthful disposition by means of constant adventure, challenge, and cultural stimulation," Kaplan wrote. "Eagleton is a true spiritual descendant of the early missionary-explorers."

Kaplan mentioned Eagleton's deep and varied experiences in the field, his study of local cultures and the two books he had written - one on Kurdish carpets and the other a political history of a short- lived Kurdish republic. ("It has a sad ending," Eagleton says. "They executed everyone.")

At the same time, Kaplan allowed unnamed critics in the Reagan administration to savage the ambassador by saying he couldn't "apply" that knowledge to political analysis, so they mocked his messages. The implication was that he had "gone native."

Eagleton is exquisitely aware that being called an Arabist is a double-edged sword. It almost cost him the ambassadorship to Syria in 1984.

"I had been running embassies for many years before that - but fortunately not as ambassador - as charge d'affaires or chief of the interests section, which meant that I simply had to get through a panel, an assignment panel in the state department," he says. "Once you are chosen to be an ambassador, you have to have the consent of the Senate."

Combine day-to-day American politics with the ultra- charged Middle East and anyone immersed in Arab culture can make some factions suspicious. Journalist Jack Anderson wrote a column charging Eagleton was "soft on terrorism." (At the time, Eagleton was quoted as responding, "Does anybody believe what Jack Anderson says?") It took personal contact with some of the senators, and lobbying by many Jewish friends, before Eagleton was confirmed.

"It's the type of thing that happens all too often, for whatever reason, sometimes having nothing to do with the qualifications of the person chosen," Eagleton says with a professional shrug of the shoulders. Diplomacy and terrorism

Although Eagleton downplays the more dangerous aspects of his career - no more dangerous than "walking down a street in Peoria," he says of his stint in bombed-out Sarajevo - they are there. Day-to- day life in an embassy might keep a stately pace, particularly earlier in his career when communication was much slower, but there is also the potential for violence.

In South Yemen, in 1967, even Eagleton concedes there were several "rather dicey experiences." His second wife, Kay, was pregnant and trying to join him there, despite formidable obstacles. (Thirty-two years later, Eagleton still lights up at the mention of her name. He credits Kay with much of his success, particularly her help with his second book.) Through the embassy windows, Eagleton could see commandos and Arabs exchanging gunfire. Several British had been shot walking in the street nearby.

Years earlier, he occasionally carried a gun in Kurdistan, but "it was more something to show after dinner, you would compare weapons with the Kurdish friends, shoot at beer cans, that sort of thing." South Yemen was "rather more serious...

"I was impressed by someone who told me that nobody with a revolver ... in their hand had ever been shot and killed," he says. "So, as we got out of the automobile, it looked rather silly, I suppose, but we actually had, I was carrying the gun in my hand going in and out of shops and whatever. I was never shot as a result, so that did work."

Later, in 1979, there were several demonstrations against the American embassy in Libya. Eagleton was prepared.

"Well, maybe there wasn't any grave danger," he muses now. "but when they come at the embassy with battering rams and commandos who can climb up the facade of the building using electric cables... we had a pretty hot reception for them.

"That is, we had grease and oil on some of the steps between, we all had a plan on how to get into a secure area, and then how to get out through a secret escape way through some other apartments. And then we had some tear gas. We did not have Marines, we did this on our own. But they were pounding for quite awhile."

Even now, Eagleton is amused. He had ordered the staff to shred and burn all sensitive materials. By the time the demonstrators broke in, they were triumphantly carrying off nothing more important than applications for visas.

Days later, another crowd of demonstrators burned the French embassy to the ground. Eagleton followed his wife to the United States, returning only to close the American embassy.

"Of course, we're not back yet," he notes.

Five years after that, in 1984, Eagleton made his first impression on Kaplan. The reporter was in Baghdad, covering the arrest of an Illinois engineer named Robert Spurling. Iraqi officials had detained Spurling at the airport, accused him of being a spy, and sent his family on without him.

According to Kaplan, despite Eagleton's "persistent appeals," Iraqi officials refused to admit they had the unfortunate American for three months.

"In October, the Iraqis delivered Spurling to Eagleton's doorstep," Kaplan later wrote. "Spurling had been subjected to electric-shock torture in his genitals and elsewhere. He had been beaten with weighted fists and wooden bludgeons. His fingernails and toenails had been ripped out and his fingers and toes crushed. He had been kept in solitary confinement on a starvation diet."

Kaplan gives Eagleton the credit for Spurling's release. Eagleton demurs.

"Why they were suspicious and what ever happened, you don't know in these cases," he says. "We always take the position that our guys are innocent and as far as I know he was.... I don't know what credit is available. We all do what we can." Working for the U.N.

James Baker didn't work with Eagleton all that closely when he was U.S. Secretary of State, but he is one of the people who recommended the ambassador for his current U.N. posting.

"He has had an excellent record in the Foreign Service, especially in Arab countries," Baker says from his Houston office.

And former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois also thinks highly of Eagleton.

"I was always very favorably impressed by both his ability and the way he conducted himself," Simon says.

In 1988, Eagleton took his first position with the United Nations, in Vienna. As a deputy commissioner general, he oversaw services for a group of Palestinian refugees.

"It provided the educational service, some welfare, no longer tents but still temporary- like shelters for the most part, awaiting the outcome," he says. "It's still there. This is an organization that had been going a long time, very well- run."

Towards the spring of 1994, an internal re-shuffling had left Eagleton without a spot, when it was decided that the United Nations had a particular need in Bosnia. After a bit of tinkering, Eagleton became the "U.N. Special Coordinator for the Restoration of Essential Services in Sarajevo" - a position others have referred to, more simply, as "mayor."

"It was thought there would be a possibility, not of rebuilding, but of getting the gas, water, electricity, some of the transport and all that going," he says. "So I had to go out, I had to raise the money for it, do a plan of action and report back to (the U.N.) Security Council, etc.... the total thing was about $100 million."

At that point, in 1996, Eagleton retired and thought he would never work in public service again. In the spring of this year, Baker and others intervened to bring him back to oversee an election in Western Sahara. There is a section of land on the border between Algeria and Morocco which has been disputed for years, despite a 1991 settlement plan.

"It's the second-longest-running dispute on the U.N. agenda, with Cyprus being the first," Baker says. "Many people will tell you it's insoluble. I mean, this has been going on since 1975."

The United Nations is responsible for setting up the voting list, according to Eagleton, "and of course who votes will largely determine who wins." The vote had been set for next summer, but Eagleton thinks it may take longer. Although he seems pleased to be back at work, he wants the matter resolved.

"I would be delighted if we could have a quick end because it's a dispute that needs solving," he says. "There are refugees. There are people sitting out there in the desert for 25 years waiting for a solution."

Baker thinks it a good match between a need and the expertise to solve it. That's why he's involved.

"You really almost have an obligation to try and do something," Baker says. "That's why I'm in it, and I daresay that's why Bill Eagleton is in it."

Reprinted from Google citing the The Peoria Journal Star

For Further Reading:


Thanks and best wishes,

J. Barry O'Connell Jr.

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