segunda-feira, 8 de julho de 2013
Remembering Richard Holbrooke
By JACOB HEILBRUNN
THE UNQUIET AMERICAN
Richard Holbrooke in the World
Edited by Derek Chollet and Samantha Power
Illustrated. 383 pp. PublicAffairs. $29.99.
In the spring of 1991 Strobe Talbott, who would become deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration, visited Richard Holbrooke at his weekend home in Connecticut. After playing tennis and going for a swim, they had brunch at a neighbor’s house. But when Holbrooke saw a trampoline on the far side of a manicured lawn, he excused himself, hopped onto the canvas and insisted that Talbott join him. “The result,” Talbott recalls, “was an exceedingly amateurish blend of gymnastic duet and duel — sometimes semicoordinated, sometimes dangerously competitive and constantly accompanied by talk, most of it coming from Richard. The subject, naturally, was world affairs.”
It was vintage Holbrooke. He could never stop talking about what was wrong in the world and how it could be fixed, preferably by himself. Holbrooke, who died in 2010 while serving as President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, wasn’tinterested in foreign policy; he was consumed by it. Though his seemingly inexhaustible energy and fervor brought him service under each Democratic president since John F. Kennedy, his desire for power was so brazen that it impeded him from attaining the job he coveted most. Holbrooke, who had apprenticed under doughty establishment figures like Henry Cabot Lodge, W. Averell Harriman and Dean Rusk, never became secretary of state. But like Harriman, whom Kennedy admiringly referred to as a “separate sovereignty,” he had a knack for maneuvering himself from the sidelines into the center of the diplomatic fray, all on his own terms.
When he wasn’t occupying a government post, Holbrooke traveled constantly, and he published several hundred articles. A skillful writer, Holbrooke had a keen interest in European history (and was responsible for the establishment of the American Academy in Berlin). He was co-author of Clark Clifford’s illuminating memoir “Counsel to the President.” He also wrote the acclaimed “To End a War,” an account of his negotiations to bring the Bosnian war to a close in 1995. Now Derek Chollet and Samantha Power have assembled “The Unquiet American,” a festschrift-like tribute to Holbrooke that includes excerpts from his own writing. The result is a fascinating book.
Holbrooke, who grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., always seemed to possess a preternatural instinct for where the action was. As the student editor of Brown University’s Daily Herald, he traveled to Europe in 1960 and wangled a temporary position with The New York Times to help cover the four-power summit in Paris. As E. Benjamin Skinner reports in a crisp essay about Holbrooke’s early years, he got to witness Khrushchev blow up the conference with a two-and-a-half-hour tirade about the perfidy of capitalist countries.
Inspired by John Kennedy, Holbrooke entered the Foreign Service in 1962 and was soon stationed in Vietnam. There he became friends with journalists like David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan, who were skeptical about the war. Upon returning to Washington, he made a beeline for the White House, where he became a special assistant to the deputy national security adviser Robert W. Komer at the age of 26. He also helped draft the Pentagon Papers — “The process by which the American government came to increase its support for pacification,” he wrote, “is disorderly and haphazard” — and was a junior member of the American delegation to the 1968 Paris peace talks. Yet despite the disastrous conduct of the war he had witnessed firsthand, Holbrooke never concluded, as George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign slogan had it, that the moment had arrived for America to come home.
On the contrary, by the 1990s Holbrooke was one of the premier liberal hawks during the Serbian onslaught against Bosnia, which included herding Muslims into camps like Omarska. It wasn’t so much that he had views about foreign policy. He had convictions. He announced in Foreign Affairs that Bosnia was “the greatest collective security failure of the West since the 1930s,” extremely strong words from an official serving in the Clinton State Department. When it came to Kosovo, the New York Times columnist Roger Cohen writes that despite his years of conversations with Slobodan Milosevic, Holbrooke had no hesitation about supporting military action: “When Milosevic balked, NATO bombed — and just over a year later Milosevic would be ousted and make his way to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.” Cohen adds about Holbrooke, “I have no doubt that the free and stable Europe he worked so tirelessly to build was also his own American retort to the horrors of Auschwitz and Omarska.”
What none of the contributors to this volume mention, however, is that the efficacy of air power in the Balkans led inexorably to the delusive belief that it would be a simple matter to wage war in Iraq. It is an unfortunate omission. Holbrooke was quite explicit in arguing during the run-up to the war that while Saddam Hussein should be removed by a coalition of powers, George W. Bush was essentially on the right path. Speaking on “Charlie Rose” in September 2002, for example, he said the president had ended the disarray of that summer with “a beautifully crafted, beautifully delivered speech a week ago at the U.N., where he didn’t change his positions — an inch.” He continued: “I think Saddam Hussein is far and away the most dangerous person in leadership in the world today, and removing him, which is not related to Sept. 11, is a legitimate goal, just as removing Milosevic was a legitimate goal.” Not quite. America had responded to Serbian aggression. The Iraq conflict, by contrast, was a preventive war. Isn’t it sometimes a bit too easy to slide from liberal moralism about human rights violations to endorsing the use of American military force abroad?
Holbrooke himself had to grapple with the limits of American power when he tried to clean up the mess left behind by the Bush administration in Afghanistan. But here he once more found intractable terrain that was as forbidding in its own way as the jungles of Vietnam. One of his first moves was to confront Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but his threats and bluster went nowhere. Nor did he ever really earn the confidence of President Obama, who regarded him warily from the outset. It was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who understood his talents and helped ensure that he become special envoy. According to Gordon M. Goldstein, Holbrooke was particularly dismayed by three glaring similarities between Vietnam and Afghanistan: “the existence of an indefensible border harboring enemy sanctuaries; American reliance on a corrupt partner government; and, most critically, the embrace of counterinsurgency doctrine, which he had learned through painful experience was an exceedingly difficult military and civilian strategy to execute.” He pushed successfully for several pragmatic policies, including direct negotiations with the Taliban.
Holbrooke was not unaccustomed to being a singular figure. In a handsome eulogy to George Kennan in 2005, he observed: “In today’s Washington, with its emphasis on orthodox thinking, such a person could never rise inside the government. . . . This is a great loss, because, as the life of George F. Kennan shows, individual, original thinking by one lonely person can sometimes illuminate and guide us better than all the high-level panels and commissions and interagency meetings.” That might also serve as an appropriate epitaph for Holbrooke.
Jacob Heilbrunn, a regular contributor to the Book Review, is a senior editor at The National Interest.
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 16:22