Remembering the Great White Shark of American Diplomacy

On Tuesday evening, I hosted an event at NYU's Skirball Center in New York entitled Afghanistan After America America After Afghanistan. The program was produced by Jeremy McCarter and Oskar Eustis of the Public Forum at the Public Theatre. There were three groups of speakers, ranging from George Rupp and Eliza Griswold to David Rohde and Matt Pottinger (for a full description please go here.

One person who was scheduled to appear was Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke, of course, died the day before. The event on Tuesday marked the 15th anniversary of the Dayton Peace accords, which are consistently mentioned as Holbrooke's greatest diplomatic achievement and which brought about a workable peace in Bosnia.

I did not know Holbrooke that well. Then again, I wonder if I ever could know someone as peripatetic as he was. Holbrooke was a political and diplomatic Great White Shark. Intellectually powerful, scaldingly opinionated, indefatigable. A gentleman who made even political sideliners, like yours truly, feel like a worthy comrade if you were genuinely on the side of one of the things Holbrooke seemed possessed by, and that was the truth. The extension of US military power and diplomatic cunning on behalf of global stability being the other.

I saw Holbrooke in Washington for the Kennedy Center Honors. He briskly told me that when I would see him at the forum in New York, I had to "get right to the WikiLeaks thing. Right away." Holbrooke had intense opinions on the need for discretion in statecraft. Days later he called me to tell me he had to cancel to go to the White House for meetings. Soon after, his heart gave out and he died.

I wanted to take a moment to say that government has become a sprawling, nearly incomprehensible monolith these past few decades. Thousands of egos, millions of lives, billions of dollars colliding with each other, chaotically at times, every day. Lots of activity and so little progress to show for it. Least of all, progress in the column marked "peace".

Richard Holbrooke was a man who served his country, restlessly and relentlessly, in pursuit of that altogether American brand of practical peace. He was a larger than life figure and a great American, and he will be missed.