HOLBROOKE SPEAKS: A SHORT PRIMER ON RICHARD HOLBROOKE AND AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY.
"Terrorism is a tactic not an enemy".
This evening at the Cornell Club in Mid-town Manhattan, the man who is without a doubt the most qualified individual to be the next American Secretary of State (with Richard Armitage and Strobe Talbott as not so close seconds) under either a Democratic or Republican administration, Richard Holbrooke, spoke for forty-five minutes at an event sponsored by the Oxonian Society (www.oxoniansociety.com). The following are notes compiled by yours truly from this event. Apologies are made in advance for any errors of transcription (shorthand never having been one of my strong points).
According to Holbrooke, who currently serves as an advisor the Senator Clinton's campaign, the Bush regime has wrong footed the matter of the proper response to the event of 11th of September 2001 by, identifying 'our enemy' as terrorism:
"Our enemy since 9 / 11 is not terror or terrorists....But, Al Qaeda and like-minded groups who seek to destroy secular Arab regimes in the Middle East".
Terrorism according to Holbrooke, cannot be 'defeated' but merely 'contained', in which the damage from the same is 'limited'. What needs to be done, is to 'attack the root causes' of terrorism, but not 'terrorism itself'. As per Holbrooke: "the current administration has lead the public to a complete mis-understanding", of the nature of the enemy that we face.
Turning to the subject of the Balkans, where of course he made himself famous by negotiating the Dayton Accords of 1995, Holbrooke was on the whole optimistic about the future of the area, arguing that like Ireland, its future will be of a predominately peaceful and prosperous variety. With the only fly in this optimistic ointment, being the fraught issue of Kosovo. According to Holbrooke, the issue of Kosovo is one of Albanian "liberation from centuries (sic!)of Serbian oppression". With the Bush Administration being at fault in ignoring the problem for four years, when it could have been easily resolved. Now with Russia's Putin, "having gotten his mojo back" (a phrase which Holbrooke used three times in the coure of the evening), there is about 'ninety-five percent' probability of there not being an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. With the deadline of December 10th, more and more resembling a 'train wreck'. With the possibility of 'serious violence' occurring. The only remedy for this situation being 'reinforcing NATO troops', and, recognizing Kosovo's independence outside of a UN framework, where Moskva can exercise its veto power. In short, Holbrooke argues for "strong visionary leadership" by the United States, a necessity due to a 'divided EU and a hostile Russia. Not surprising of course for anyone who has read his articles in the Washington Post, Holbrooke was overtly anti-Serb, stating that 'thank God' Montenegro is independent of Belgrade.
On Iraq: Holbrooke stated that there "has to be a solution, just not a good one". With the USA leaving Iraq in the next Administration, since it cannot 'stay indefinitely'. And, that "success as defined by George Bush [is] not achievable". But, unfortunately, the current administration in Washington, DC would not adhere to reason and logic, and that consequently on the 21st day of January 2009, there would still be upwards of 160,000 plus American troops in Iraq. And, that withdrawing them, would be the work of not months but perhaps a year or two at best.
On the Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations, Holbrooke while admitting that the was not an 'expert', blamed the late PA President Arafat, for the breakdown of peace negotiations which took place in late 2000 and early 2001. The Arafat being 'short-sighted' and in essence 'created the circumstances of failure', which lead directly to the second Intifada. A failure which was inadvertently abetted by the Bush regime's failure to push for an resumption of negotiations between the parties, and in essence to fully and totally back Israel regardless of the consequences. Or as Holbrooke put it: 'now the lid was off', in terms of American support for Tel Aviv. Concerning the upcoming Annapolis Conference being organized by Secretary of State Rice, Holbrooke expressed puzzlement about the method being employed to organize the meeting between the parties: not "the correct way of going about the process", and, "not similar to what was done at Dayton". And, that the entire event gives evidence of a faute de mieux mentality to cover up the lack of action by the Bush administration for almost seven years with this hugely important problem.
With some final remarks on Cuba after Castro (not "likely to follow the Central European pattern"), and, the need for young people to go into the foreign service (the ideal age being 21 or 22 not 30 or 31 as at present), the evening was concluded.
What can one make of the man and the likely policies that he may pursue if he does become Secretary of State? Without a doubt, Holbrooke is an ultra-intelligent, masterful and experienced individual. He will if he is given his head, make a erste-klasse, American Secretary of State. I myself still tend to doubt that he will be appointed regardless of who wins the election in November 2008. It seem to me too much of the always the bridesmaid but never the bride, type of situation. Hopefully I will prove to be wrong. What does worry me however, is that in many ways, Holbrooke, with some degree of nuance and at a much, much higher level of sophistication and style, is au fond, not too much removed from the underlying mentality of the Bush and Clinton regimes, in which the USA is (sans phrase of course) the 'indispensable power' `a la Mme. Albright. In particular it does not appear that Holbrooke will concede much if anything to Russia in terms of the latter's return to the world stage. Indeed, Holbrooke repeated the language of his Washington Post articles in which he complained about the fact that Bush's kowtowing to Putin, had no positive results: "Bush has gotten nothing from Putin". And, that Russia's current diplomatic high profile, is merely a result of "ninety dollar oil" and the "Iraq". And, while one may agree that at times Putin's diplomatic tactics do give the appearance at times of a monkey toying with a Sevres vase, that fact does not obviate the matter that Russia is back. Both diplomatically and economcially. And that the Russia of today and tomorrow is not the Russia of 1993 or 1999. For Holbrooke to conduct American diplomacy under the latter premises will have the end result of endless difficulties for American diplomacy and relations with both Moskva and the EU. One can only hope that Holbrooke suffers a change of heart about the matter if he does reach the top of the greasy pole at Foggy Bottom come January 2009.