RICHARD HOLBROOKE, 1941-2010: REQUIESCAT IN PACE
"A brilliant, sometimes abrasive infighter with a formidable arsenal of facts, bluffs, whispers, implied threats and, when necessary, pyrotechnic fits of anger, Mr. Holbrooke dazzled and often intimidated opponents and colleagues around a negotiating table. Some called him a bully, and he looked the part: the big chin thrust out, the broad shoulders, the tight smile that might mean anything. But admirers, including generations of State Department protégés and the presidents he served, called his peacemaking efforts extraordinary.
When he named Mr. Holbrooke to represent the United States at the United Nations, President Bill Clinton said, “His remarkable diplomacy in Bosnia helped to stop the bloodshed, and at the talks in Dayton the force of his determination was the key to securing peace, restoring hope and saving lives.” Others said his work in Bosnia deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. Few diplomats could boast of his career accomplishments. Early on, Mr. Holbrooke devoted six years to the Vietnam War: first in the Mekong Delta seeking the allegiance of the civilian population, then at the embassy in Saigon as an aide to Ambassadors Maxwell Taylor and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., and finally in the American delegation to the 1968-69 Paris peace talks led by W. Averell Harriman and Cyrus R. Vance. Mr. Holbrooke was the author of one volume of the Pentagon Papers, the secret Defense Department history of the Vietnam War that catalogued years of American duplicity in Southeast Asia. The papers were first brought to public attention by The New York Times in 1971.
As assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Carter administration, Mr. Holbrooke played a crucial role in establishing full diplomatic relations with China in 1979, a move that finessed America’s continuing commitment to China’s thorn in the side Taiwan and that followed up on the historic breakthrough of President Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. During the Clinton presidency, Mr. Holbrooke served as ambassador to Germany in 1993-94, when he helped enlarge the North Atlantic alliance; achieved his diplomatic breakthroughs in Bosnia as assistant secretary of state for European affairs in 1994-95; and was chief representative to the United Nations, a cabinet post, for 17 months from 1999 to
2001....While he achieved prominence as a cabinet official and envoy to many of the world’s most troubled arenas, Mr. Holbrooke’s was frustrated in his ambition to be secretary of state; he was the runner-up to Madeleine K. Albright, Mr. Clinton’s choice in 1997, and a contender when Mr. Obama installed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the post in 2009.
Foreign policy was his life....But there was to be one more task. As Mr. Obama assumed office and attention shifted to Afghanistan, Mr. Holbrooke took on his last assignment. He began by trying to lower expectations, moving away from the grand, transformative goals of President George W. Bush toward something more readily achievable. But his boss and old friend, Mrs. Clinton, expressed absolute confidence in him. “Richard represents the kind of robust, persistent, determined diplomacy the president intends to pursue,” she said. “I admire deeply his ability to shoulder the most vexing and difficult challenges.”
Robert D. McFadden, "Richard C. Holbrooke, U.S. Diplomatic
Troubleshooter, Dies at 69," The New York Times, 13 December 2010, in www.nytimes.com.
"All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs."
Enoch Powell, Joseph Chamberlain (1977), p. 151.
Richard Holbrooke, was a giant of contemporary diplomacy. A consummate diplomat, to his fingertips. His early passing away is a tragedy. Peut-etre. Because in all honesty, equally tragic was his failure to climb the gilded pole, to the top of Foggy Bottom. Id est become Secretary of State. He was of course one of the two remaining 'special envoys' (Ex-Senator Mitchell is the other one), that the current American Administration has employed to 'assist' the State Department in carrying out its policies. In Holbrooke's case in the ultra-difficult and murky waters of the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre. But anyone who had any real knowledge of Holbrooke's career, especially its latter part, understood how mis-placed and under-utilized Holbrooke's unique, Kissinger-like talents were by his not being given the State Department Secretaryship. First in 1997 and then again in 2009. Indeed, one is tempted to believe that au fond, it was the fact that Holbrooke did indeed, possess, Kissinger-like talents and energies, which oddly enough disqualified him. Something which I myself understood quite well, having seen him give a talk in early 2008 to members of the Oxonian Society. Where it was quite well evident that this was an individual who the fates clearly meant for disappointment at not being given the top prize which he so clearly deserved and wanted. Or as the late Cyril Connolly, once put it: 'whom the Gods wish to destroy they first call promising" 1. All this unfortunate history merely shows that a truly talented, ultra-experienced individual `a la Holbrooke, rarely makes it to the top in contemporary American politics and officialdom. Merely to name those given the top place at the State Department in the years since it was headed by James A. Baker III & Lawrence Eagleburger, shows this to be the case: Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton. As the long-time American journalist, Elizabeth Drew, notes notwithstanding his alleged great self-confidence the current American President, like his predecessors prefers to appoint people who 'he is said to be comfortable with' 2. Unfortunately, this rather increasingly common habit bodes ill for competent and commanding diplomacy. Something which the diplomatic 'track-record', of the current American Administration demonstrably shows to be true. In the final analysis, one could say of Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke, what Harold Nicolson said of another great personage of the world of diplomacy and politics, Lord Curzon:
"Posterity will look back upon Lord Curzon, not as on some arrogant proconsul who gloried in the honors he obtained, but as on a man of superhuman energy and great gifts, who by the irony of fate, had been robbed of the gift of adaptability. Curzon did not fit. 3"
1. Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise (1938).
2. Elizabeth Drew, "In the bitter new Washington," The New York Review of Books, 23 December 2010, p. 93.
3. Harold Nicolson, "Curzon," Foreign Affairs, January 1929.