Chairman, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Advisory Board
In Memoriam and Appreciation
It is with a heavy heart that I report sad news. Longtime Chairman of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations' National Advisory Board, the inimitable Ambassador Lucius Durham Battle, died Tuesday, May 13, 2008. He had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for quite some time. On June 1, he would have turned 90.
What I have to say here is based entirely on conversations I have been privileged to have with Ambassador Battle over the past 35 years. It will undoubtedly be different, in some ways less detailed, and in places possibly not as accurate as what others may have to say. It is a memory and appreciation of the life of Lucius Durham Battle. Although no one is bereft of blemish, what I have to say is as accurate as I can make it and also as impressionistic a portrait as I could hope to paint of an extraordinary person. I apologize in advance if these remarks are less enlightening or insightful than what one may hear in forthcoming eulogies or read in the days to come in The Washington Post or the New York Times.
Lucius Durham Battle was born in Dawson, Georgia on June 1, 1918. After pre-collegiate schooling in Bradenton, Florida, he attended the University of Florida, from which he received both his undergraduate degree and a degree in law. After serving in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during World War Two, he applied to and was accepted into the U.S. Foreign Service. Like any entry level officer, his early responsibilities were not exactly of a routine nature. Neither were they of a kind that determined the world's daily orbit. Among his earliest assignments was service on the staff of Secretary of State George C. Marshall up to and through the time when the Marshall Plan, drafted and declared in June 1947, and for which Marshal was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, proceeded to help rebuild West European economies that had been devastated in World War Two. He then joined the staff of Marshall's successor, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, for whom he served as the Department's Executive Secretary throughout Secretary Acheson's tenure, which included the onset and most of the duration of the Korean War. Subsequently, during the first Eisenhower administration, Battle was assigned to the post of First Secretary at the American Embassy in Denmark from 1953-1955. From there he was seconded from 1955-1956 to NATO in Paris, where he served as secretary to NATO Secretary General Lord Ismay. Battle resigned from the Foreign Service in 1956 and aided in the restoration of Williamsburg, Virginia as Vice-President of Colonial Williamsburg, Inc., from 1956 to 1961, when he returned to the Department of State under President Kennedy.
President Kennedy, Ambassador Battle, and others were involved in the idea of establishing a future national center for the performing arts, one that, although no one then could have foreseen, would later bear the name of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. An additional component of Ambassador Battle's posting as Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Culture became his and his wife Betty's role in the Art-in-U.S. Embassies Program. The program succeeded in using private sector sources to fund an ambitious and extensive campaign to place the paintings and other art work produced by some of America's most gifted citizens on the walls of the foyers and drawing rooms of American embassies throughout the world.
Ambassador Battle's work in helping to save the Egyptian monuments at Abu Simbel made for a natural bridge to his appointment by President Lyndon Baines Johnson as American Ambassador to Egypt. During his tenure as Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in Cairo, Ambassador Battle was the principal United States point of contact with Egyptian President Gamal Abd al-Nasser and Vice-President Anwar Sadat, who was simultaneously also President of Egypt's National Assembly. Diplomatic relations between the American and Egyptian governments during that period were polite but often strained. The relationship between the two countries often became tense as the Egyptian government sought to navigate a non-aligned course through the treacherous shoals of Cold War competition, pursue pan-Arab ambitions, and assert leadership in the continuing regional conflict with Israel. The caliber and results of the overall geopolitical dynamics between the two countries were often mixed. Even so, prior to President Kennedy's assassination, the relationship bore the extraordinary imprint of an unusually personal and heartfelt exchange of letters between President Kennedy and President Nasser. Since then, nothing remotely comparable is known to have occurred between an American president and any Arab head of state.
One of the seeds planted on Ambassador Battle's watch during his time as America's chief representative in Egypt evolved to become an extended visit by Anwar Sadat to the United States in February 1966. At the time, Sadat was the highest ranking Egyptian official ever to have visited America. No previous Egyptian monarch, prime minister, or president had ever bothered to come. Those associated with the occasion, including escort (later Ambassador and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State) Michael Sterner, also a longtime member of the National Council on U.S. Arab-Relations' National Advisory Board, would long afterwards refer to that experience as one that had a profound, far-reaching, and enduring positive impact on Sadat.
From what Luke and Ambassador Sterner shared with me over the years, all involved with Sadat's visit were awed by what happened to him as a result of his visits to the U.S. Congress. According to Sterner, who was the principal escort, Sadat was fascinated by the position and role of the Congressional committees, hearings, and the budget process. Battle, Sterner, and others recall that it was then that Sadat's admiration for the United States acquired some of its deepest and most profound and lasting roots, ones that would later nurture, among other things, the 1979 Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel at Camp David that remain in effect to this day.
Sadat's 1966 visit extended to Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. The overall impact left him deeply grounded in the importance of local politics and increasingly attracted to democratic principles, processes, and ideals. That Lucius Durham Battle played a key visionary and strategic role in these developments may have been lost upon some but not many others, including me, as I was a living and studying in Egypt when Kennedy's and Nasser letters were exchanged and was aware of Sadat's visit when it occurred.
The period (1962-1967) during part of which Ambassador Battle served as America's senior representative in Egypt was also one, however, when Egypt was weighted with an enormous burden of national economic and human costs. A significant component of these costs were incurred by Nasser's decision to send and sustain an armed expeditionary force to Yemen that, as Nasser himself later admitted, evolved to become Egypt's Arabian "Vietnam." As the fighting in Yemen continued without what seemed at the time any end in sight, the Yemen adventure severely drained Egyptian forces and resources. It also contributed directly to the relative ease with which the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was able to rout the Egyptian army stationed in the Sinai in June 1967 when Israel invaded and occupied Egypt.
Not many Americans are aware of what Ambassador Battle did when the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war occurred. After Israel defeated Egypt, the Israeli government very quickly sent an official delegation to the Department of State on the weekend to inform the Department that, as the IDF had seized Egypt's oil and gas fields in the Sinai, Israel considered these resources as part of "the spoils of war" and would henceforth proceed to produce and benefit from the fields in the course of their having become "Israeli property." The Department of State duty officer who received the delegation appropriately informed its members that, as it was a weekend, they would have to wait until Ambassador Battle and the Department's then Legal Counsel, Leonard Meaker, returned to the Department, when they would be apprised of the matter. When they returned, Battle and Meaker examined the merits of the issue and concurred that under no circumstances would the United States acknowledge that Israel had any legal right whatsoever to Egypt's energy resources. Together, notwithstanding the pressure exerted upon them by the government of Israel and the American Israeli lobby, Battle and Meaker placed the United States on record as legally being in the strongest possible opposition to the Israeli claims.
Ambassador's Battle's time in Egypt and afterwards was also a period when the United States was extensively engaged in administering a program that provided American agricultural exports to Egypt. It was administered under what was known at the time as the "Food for Peace Program" or Public Law 480 (PL 480). For long afterwards, the program entailed that Egypt pay in Egyptian currency for its food-related imports from the United States. With there being little American official or private sector demand or other need for Egypt's currency in those days, as trade between the two countries was minimal, the currency amounts accumulated were placed in a special account for possible undetermined future use. Before the end of his tenure in Cairo, Ambassador Battle managed to gain approval for the United States to allocate a substantial amount of these funds for the local capital building program of the American University in Cairo (AUC).
This precedent, however bland and innocuous it may have seemed to some at the time, was prescient. It would lead to numerous additional American appropriations in support of AUC's educational mission from these and other funds. The results would ultimately help to place on a firmer financial footing what, then as now, is America's largest university outside the United States. Those long ago strategic steps in which Ambassador Battle took the lead and helped shepherd to successful conclusion a robust center of American-style university education in the heart of the Arab world have had an unending series of positive ripple effects on the overall Arab - U.S. relationship down to the present. For example, what he did -- there was no precedent at the time -- helped ease and provide added momentum to the process by which AUC became home to the extraordinarily popular and successful Center for Arabic Studies Abroad that, to this day, is remarkable for enrolling the largest number of young Americans studying Arabic anywhere in the world.
Ambassador Battle's educational legacy in furthering the U.S.-Egyptian relationship through the work of the American University in Cairo also did much to heighten AUC's legitimacy in the eyes of Arab donors. A case in point is HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Sa'ud, who in recent years has contributed to the endowment of AUC's Center for American Studies. Battle's impact also helped strengthen AUC's overall foundation, enabling it to add new academic programs. Among the more prominent of such programs are those that presently focus upon women's studies, humanitarian assistance and human rights, and broadcast journalism studies. By extension, Ambassador Battle's role facilitated the multifaceted and multi-year efforts that have led to the scheduled opening of AUC's brand new campus later this year.
The AUC centers and programs of educational excellence which Ambassador Battle helped foster and sustain are recognized far and wide. They are acknowledged for what they are: pioneering hallmarks of American international university outreach and efforts to promote and expand the merits of citizen diplomacy in a country that, on the regional and global stage, is hardly of marginal significance - Egypt is home to one out of four of all the world's Arabs. It was therefore no coincidence that Ambassador Battle subsequently served on AUC's Board of Trustees. Neither was it an accident that he was awarded the Order of the Nile, Egypt's highest award for excellence at a ceremony that my wife and I were honored and privileged to attend and witness.
At the conclusion of Lucius Battle's tenure as American ambassador to Egypt, something different, and in its own way greater, lay in store for him. He was appointed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson to the highest post in the U.S. government dealing with America's relations with the Arab countries, the Middle East, and the Islamic world: namely, Assistant Secretary for Near East and South Asia Affairs. In assuming the post, Ambassador Battle became one of only two Americans ever to have twice held the post of Assistant Secretary of State.
With the onset of the Nixon Administration in 1968, Ambassador Battle resigned from the Foreign Service and returned to the private sector, where he served as a Senior Vice President with COMSAT. In 1973 he accepted the post of Middle East Institute President. This is where and when he and I first met and became fast friends. Then and ever since we were two dyed-in-the-wool southern boys that had journeyed, as it were, north towards home - a point on the compass that, with a chuckle, we acknowledged readily in each others' presence whenever we reflected on how far we had strayed from our ancestral origins.
At the time we met, I was simultaneously working as Assistant Editor of the Institute's Middle East Journal, teaching courses on the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf countries at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and serving as chairman of the Department of State's Near East and North Africa Program, which trained American diplomatic, defense, and other U.S. personnel assigned to the region. It was in the context of those activities, in each of which Ambassador Battle was either already or would soon become involved, that he and I began an association that grew ever-closer from one year to the next and that lasted from then until today.
One of the more hilarious and unforgettable episodes in our friendship is known but to a very few. The episode occurred shortly after the October 1973 War and the aftershock of the ensuing skyrocketing of oil prices and the subsequent economic boom times in the Arabian Peninsula countries and elsewhere in the region. Some of the Middle East Institute's then supporters suggested strongly to its leadership that "Ambassador Battle and Dr. Anthony" collaborate in writing a book for Americans on "How to Do Business in the Middle East." The idea had appeal. No such book then existed. Enticed by the thought, and in an effort to give it a try, the two of us retired to Luke and Betty's beloved Sunnyfields. This was their extraordinary home outside Charlottesville, Virginia, situated barely minutes away from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. It was perched atop the exact same hill and located but seconds across the road from their longtime friends, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Woodward.
For nearly ten days, working apart from each other in different areas of the house, Ambassador Battle and I cranked out draft after draft of what had the makings of either a book or, more exactly, a southern street dog's breakfast -- meaning, a little of this, a little of that, and a little of this until it all added up to a meal -- if only in length. Fortunately, that was as far as the project went. Of the many things Luke and I would connive and contrive to do together over the next three and a half decades of brotherhood and friendship as comrades-in-arms, that particular effort stood out from all the rest as an utter failure on both our parts. Even so, it was ultimately a happy failure, given that neither of us knew anything about what we had been tasked with writing. Long afterwards, whenever we periodically reflected that we had once had the naiveté, if not also the insanity, to think we could maybe write such a book, the memory of the effort itself always reduced us to laughter. For decades, we would not infrequently refer to that episode in our lives as the "greatest book never written."
Few Americans in their post-diplomatic career can claim to have accomplished as many exceptional and varied feats as Luke Battle did from the late 1970s onwards until his passing. Among his more remarkable achievements other than the ones already noted are the following: he served twice as president of the Middle East Institute, leaving it at the end with an endowment base, originally underwritten largely by three generous women benefactors, each of whom was an extraordinary person in her own right, who thought the world of him, that helped to ensure the Institute's existence for many years to come; he was also Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Middle East Peace; Chairman of the board of the American Near East Refugee Aid, Inc.; Chairman of the SAIS Advisory Council; Founding Chairman of the Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute; Member of the Board of Advisers of Harvard's Middle East Center; Founding Chairman of the National Commission to Commemorate the Fourteenth Centennial of Islam; Founding Chairman of the American Institute for Islamic Studies; Recipient of the Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired, Inc. Award for Outstanding Public Service and Achievement; and, as mentioned, following Senators J. William Fulbright and Charles Percy, he served with distinction, from 1995 to 2008, as National Chairman of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Advisory Board.
For many years before and after assuming this last position, unbeknownst to many, Ambassador Battle managed to find the time to meet and brief every student and academic delegation that the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations' Kerr High School Scholars and Malone University Faculty Fellows in Arab and Islamic Studies sent to the Arab world. He also served (with me) as co-escort for the first of the many delegations comprised of what in time would become 220 Members of Congress and Congressional staff participants in the National Council's study visits to the Arab world. In addition, he was: a fellow member of National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations' delegations that met in Europe and the United States with European Union countries' members of parliaments that sought, on the whole unsuccessfully, to stiffen the spine of America's national lawmakers on foreign policy issues of importance to U.S.-Arab relations; co-teacher of a course on the Middle East that I taught at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School; co-lecturer in seminars we addressed at U.S. military bases and other armed forces establishments in the United States; a fellow Member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and co-participant in the strategic dynamics and decision-making of how best to organize the National Council's Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conferences, now in their seventeenth year.
Over the course of his extraordinary range of public service commitments and contributions after retiring from the world of diplomacy, Ambassador Battle was also frequently sounded out by the president then in office as to whether he might agree to return to government service. Not only were some of the offers tempting, but they were ones for which the range and nature of his talents, accomplishments, and experiences, as his many admirers agreed and argued, were sorely needed. On at least three separate occasions of which I am aware, he was asked by senior U.S. government officials representing the president whether he would accept, if nominated, the post of American Ambassador to Great Britain, Greece, and Iran. His reaction to each of these invitations was vintage humility. He believed that the better part of wisdom would be for him not to accept. He and Betty made these decisions jointly and, by all accounts, with no later regrets of consequence.
Among other attributes for which Ambassador Battle will long be remembered by his family and many loved ones, he was also renowned for his knack of discovering young American talent early in their careers and granting them extraordinary leeway to develop their leadership and related talents. Widely cited research suggests that many mentors over time tend to grow jealous and resentful of those they helped nurture, especially when attention ends up being sometimes focused more on the mentee than the mentor. However, it is a matter of no small moment to note that Luke Battle was perennially the exact opposite.
I am but one among many, including Foreign Service officers I have met who once served under him, who can attest to how he challenged to the maximum young people in whom he saw promise and potential, especially those who were just starting their careers. He backed to the fullest such American leaders of tomorrow through thick and thin. He was unstinting in his support of their career advancement. And in the end he was almost as pleased and proud as those he encouraged were when, contrary to what some of them thought might be possible, they ended up succeeding beyond his and their wildest dreams.
Not the least of the memories I will cherish of the many quality hours of my life spent with Lucius Durham Battle is the same one that is cherished by my wife. Next month it will be twenty-five years ago since Luke and Betty hosted a reception at their home for my family and friends the night before my wife and I were married. As if that was not enough of a fitting tribute for a friend, the next day he was also the person who walked down the aisle with my bride-to-be, Cynthia, on his arm. Knowing that her father had predeceased her, Luke had earlier agreed to be her father's stand-in. He agreed to be the one who, in front of everyone, with his booming voice, would say "I do!" even before I did -- in response to the minister's query, "Who presenteth this couple to be married?"
Another memory, one that my twin sons and I will never forget, is when they were barely four years old. Luke and I took them to a local playground and placed them in swings that we pushed to the boys' delight. At the end of that afternoon together, when the boys and I piled into the car and began to pull away from the curb, one of my sons, Jamie, leaned out the window and for as far as he could hold Luke in the line of his sight, kept waving and calling at the top of his lungs, "Goodbye Battle; Goodbye Battle."
It is no coincidence that my son Jamie's son, my grandson, is named Lucius.
There is one other thing about Luke and my times together that I am compelled to relate. It has to do with what the two of us tended to marvel at more than once whenever we saw it in each other. It was when we pondered the course of our country's history nationally and internationally, and sometimes when we watched together a stirring movie that blended various themes of love of country with uplifting ideals and principles. On such occasions, we could become unabashed weepers. Neither of us could explain it. We openly admitted to each other that there was great pain in our hearts whenever we pondered the maladies and injustices that our country's leaders, over time, unwittingly or otherwise, had caused to be inflicted upon people who, at the end of the day, were totally innocent and undeserving of what befell them at our hands and behest. More than once, in the stark reality of realizing the nature and substance of things over which we had no control, but wished we did, we would get angry, say it is not right, and, despite the fact that we were grown men and from a societal perspective not supposed to do such things, more than tears welled in our eyes -- we cried.
Twenty years or so ago, when Luke was relinquishing the Chairmanship of the Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute, a number of his friends decided to host a farewell party for him at SAIS. (SAIS, by the way, has several scholarships for deserving students that bear the name of Lucius Durham Battle, made possible by individuals who want to see his example emulated and, if at all possible, perpetuated). Although I was unable to attend because I was out of the country, the organizers, knowing of Luke's and my relationship, asked that I submit remarks that my wife might read aloud at the event. The thrust of those remarks, a copy of which I no longer have, was but an echo of a then soaring, popular, and beautifully uplifting song. It had to do with the love of the singer's object of affection and which he described lyrically and metaphorically as the wind beneath his wings.
For untold numbers of Americans of all ages and walks of life, Lucius Durham Battle was forever, for me and for many, a constant source of wind beneath the wings - that and more. His presence will be sorely missed by all those who were as privileged and honored as I was to know him long and well. Not least among these are those who knew him best and for the greatest period, who loved him, and whom he and Betty loved the most -- his daughters Lynne D. Battle (Bill Roesing) of Bethesda, MD, and Laura D. Battle (Chris Kendall) of Rhinebeck, NY, his sons John D. Battle (Janice) of Concord, MA and Thomas D. Battle (Margaret Waters) of Belomt, MA, and their eight children - Luke and Betty's grandchildren.
"Goodbye Battle; Goodbye Battle."
Lucius Durham Battle: May He Rest in Peace.
ο John Duke Anthony