RIP Richard Holbrooke
Out for a long-overdue drinks and dinner with foreign-policy-oriented friends tonight, all of a sudden our phones buzz. Richard Holbrooke, the most distinguished diplomat of his generation, has died. None of us know quite what to say. Our respect for Holbrooke has long been tempered with a certain exasperation with how his personality has overshadowed his talents and gotten in the way of his ambition.
And all of a sudden it dawned on me how trivial and thin that critique is. What other American diplomat can credibly say s/he ended a savage war? I read To End A War the year I came to Washington and decided I wanted to cover foreign policy — immediately, if I recall correctly, after I finished A Problem From Hell, partly because I didn’t want to stop exploring what that book mined — and still remember how superhuman a task Dayton seemed, even after factoring out Holbrooke’s interest in making it seem so arduous.
For 40 years, no other diplomat has played as impactful a role in as many of the nation’s crucibles. It’s him and Kissinger (and Kissinger’s been out of the arena for a long time). And whatever Holbrooke’s flaws were, his influence during these tests was ultimately wise and beneficial, quite unlike Kissinger’s. Think for a moment about how thin the line is in foreign affairs between principle and hubris; between the lessons of experience and the blinders they impose; between subtlety and miscalculation. Someone who manages to manage, as Holbrooke always did, is a precious resource.
We read our messages, and clinked our glasses in honor of a great man, thought of his family, and drank. RIP.