The Greatness of Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke, who died today, may well have been America's greatest diplomat of the past several decades. Holbrooke occupied a dazzling array of diplomatic posts, ranging from Ambassador to Germany to negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords to his recent service in Afghanistan. Direct, bold, and analytical, Holbrooke represented the best virtues of the foreign policy establishment.

Unlike Steve Clemons, who recently wrote a tribute to Holbrooke, I did not know him well. But even a conversation with him was enough to know that he had tenacious mind, a passion for accuracy, particularly when recounting his experiences in the Balkans. Holbrooke's career began in Vietnam as a foreign service officer. He went on to become the managing editor of Foreign Policy. He also wrote Clark Clifford's memoir. All of his writings had one quality--they were filled with penetrating judgments and they flowed beautifully. Holbrooke was a literary craftsman.

His greatest triumph was bringing peace to the Balkans. The Clinton administration was floundering. To be specific, Warren Christopher had made a hash of things. America stood by impotently as the marauding Serbs slaughtered the Bosnians. Holbrooke cracked heads. He got a deal. Not a perfect one. But absent his efforts, there would likely have been none. For that accomplishment alone, he deserves to go down in the history books.

Holbrooke never became Secretary of State. Int he end, he was too acidulous, too independent to get the top job. His tenure in Afghanistan will necessarily be an inconclusive one. But his death will surely be an enormous loss for an administration that is flailing in its efforts to create some kind of stability in the region. An indomitable fighter for peace and justice is now gone.