Stuart E. Eizenstat Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Politics, Law, and the
Search for 'Imperfect Justice': Conversation with Stuart E. Eizenstat, former
Deputy Secretary of the Treasury; April 30, 2003, by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

Page 6 of 6


After 9/11, we seem to have entered a new era in which the institutions and values that prevailed in previous Democratic administrations may or may not be as relevant because of increased security concerns. Tell me why that conclusion is wrong, and why the kinds of agendas that you've worked on -- the pursuit of justice, the international economic policy, the human rights policy -- are all going to matter even in a world where national security concerns are so great.

Let's recognize initially that when you're in a wartime environment -- and we feel ourselves to be, with the whole terrorist issue and Iraq -- there are inevitable compromises which come with civil liberties, and they need to be kept to the bare minimum if they exist. One of the greatest presidents ever, Abraham Lincoln, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, a very basic human right. We had the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. All of these are, in a sense, blights on our history, but they occurred during wartime. Here we have Americans and others kept in Guantanamo and elsewhere without full access to justice and lawyers. These are unfortunate and inevitable. They need to be, again, kept to a minimum. We may end up looking back and saying that this was not the right way to act. But what's important during a wartime environment, and particularly now with Iraq and al Qaeda, is to keep our minds on the broader issues, that the things that the United States stands for -- democracy, tolerance, and human rights -- those are the things that we need to project.

In the post-Saddam era in Iraq, those will be the crucial things that this administration is attempting to do. It will be important to have some kind of an open, tolerant society. Maybe it won't be a Western democracy, but something that respects human rights. If we don't, Harry, then the conflict in Iraq, the sacrifices, the death of over a hundred Americans will, unfortunately, have gone for naught.

What about our relations with our European allies? Are they going to be quite different now after the Iraq war than they were in the period where you were serving as our representative in European Union?

Yes, Harry. We used to think during my tenure that a crises in European - U.S. relations occurred if we had a trade dispute over beef and bananas. We only wish for that kind of crises now. Iraq has exposed a very fundamental gulf between the thinking of Europe and the U.S., particularly in this administration, over the following: the risks of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, the use of multilateral institutions to solve them, the appropriateness of military force, when the UN should play a role. These are all very, very fundamental differences in approach. The Europeans basically have different preferences because the European Union is itself an institution of shared sovereignty. The only way they can influence world policy -- unlike the U.S., which can do it unilaterally -- is by collective action, by using multilateral institutions, by diplomatic means, because they don't have the military capability. They want to solve problems in a very different way, particularly different than those of this administration.

That gulf has been evident for a number of years, but it's been exacerbated by the unilateralist tendencies of this administration, which has pulled out of the Kyoto global warming accord that I negotiated, has pulled out of the ABM treaty, out of the International Criminal Court, out of the small arms treaty, and has a much more go-it-alone policy. They would love to have the Europeans join us, but only on our terms. So I think that this division is a serious one.

I believe we can begin to bridge it if we found a way in the post-conflict period in Iraq to work together, to have a legitimate role for the UN to bring our European allies in as peacekeepers and to help us reconstruct Iraq, not to simply give contracts out as political favors to favored U.S. companies, but to open up to international tendering. That's going to take some compromising on both sides of the Atlantic. If it doesn't occur, then this war will have exacerbated underlying tendencies that will split us from our natural allies in ways which will be to our long-term detriment and to Europe's.

Your experience with the Holocaust problems and their solutions suggests that there is a distinction between having power and using it for leadership versus having the power and using it to control and exclude cooperation in the search for solution.

We can win the war, and we have in Iraq, essentially on our own, with some help from the British. We can't win the peace, we can't solve global warming, we can't solve the North Korea problem, we can't solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem ourselves. We have to have allies -- economic allies, diplomatic allies, political allies. I have to tell you, Harry, sometimes it's very complex, very messy, very frustrating to try to win an international consensus, to get our European allies in the same boat as we're in. It's easier to act unilaterally, but it's less fulfilling and less satisfactory in the end, because we can't solve the world's problems alone.

It's inevitable that we have to [work with our allies], and I think the sooner the administration makes those gestures, particularly in a post-Saddam era toward Iraq, the better off we'll be. The more we can recognize that we can't solve economic, environmental, and political issues ourselves, and that we have to have allies and multilateral institutions involved, the better off we'll be, even though it's more complex, even though it may be more time consuming.

If students were to watch this interview, how would you recommend that they prepare for the future?

I would hope that they would prepare by being willing to engage in some way or another, in either public or community service. It could be as a volunteer at the community level. It could be working in state, federal, or local government. Give something back to your country. It's a great country. Try to help the disadvantaged in this country, and then try to help the world be a better and safer place. If you see as an individual citizen an injustice occurring, whether it's in Africa, in the Middle East, or wherever, speak out. Be part of a crowd. Put pressure on your government, or if you're in government, care enough to do something about it.

One final question requiring a brief answer. What is the theme that emerges from this very interesting journey that you've taken us on, the story of your life in politics and law?

I think the theme of what I did in the Holocaust negotiations is that historical facts can be covered up and suppressed for a very long time, but in the end they have a way of bubbling up, and when they do, there's a desire to do justice. It may be through reparations, through restitution, it may be through historical commissions, but it is terribly important for the truth to come out, for countries and people to confront uncomfortable facts about their own background. If they do, they'll be more sensitive in the future to violations of human rights. They'll want to build a more just world. And that, I hope, will be the measure of the action that we've taken here.

Mr. Eizenstat, thank you very much for taking the time to be here with us today.

Thank you, Harry.

And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

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