Books and Arts; Book Review;Richard Holbrooke；Bullish and bullying；
The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrooke in the World. Edited by Derek Chollet and Samantha Power.
Richard Holbrooke, an American diplomat known by friend and foe as a bulldozer, was accustomed to getting his way. His final assignment to fix the mess in Afghanistan and Pakistan, however, proved more than he bargained for.
Barack Obama appointed him as his presidential envoy, but Mr Holbrooke held little authority. Senior officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan, who resented his abrasive personality and his relative lack of knowledge of the region, kept him at arm's length. At home, American generals and the CIA ran the show. Most debilitating, Mr Obama, whose distaste for self-promotion is well documented, treated his envoy with a coolness not unlike that shown by many of the subcontinent's leaders.
This frustrating final post of Holbrooke's life, coupled with his failure to get the job he most coveted, secretary of state, may have been what prompted his friends to assemble an encomium in such fast order that it appears less than a year after he died. This tribute offers essays by colleagues, protégés, several journalists (a tribe on which he lavished unwavering attention), as well as his wife, Kati Marton, a former foreign correspondent. The reader is presented with mostly admiring anecdotes about Holbrooke's early days in Vietnam as a questioning foreign-service officer, his rebellious tenure as Peace Corps director in Morocco, and onwards and upwards as assistant secretary for East Asia and the Pacific, peace negotiator for Bosnia and ambassador to the United Nations.
This all feels less complex and engaging than the man himself. More striking are Holbrooke's own writings on foreign policy. Whenever he needed to drive a point home, particularly on subjects he was in the midst of negotiating, he was quick to put pen to paper. The editors have selected some short pieces on Bosnia that stand out for their passion, and that pass the test of time.
A stellar piece of Holbrookeiana, now 40 years old but more current than ever, is a critique of the lumbering process of foreign-policy making in Washington, DC. The endemic caution, overstaffing and endless circulation of policy papers among dozens of bureaucrats mean that presidents and secretaries of state often lack the guidance they need. “The massive foreign affairs machine built up during the post-war era rumbles on, as ornate and unwieldy as ever,” he wrote after being in the Foreign Service less than ten years. A routine cable on a humanitarian issue needed 27 clearances in Washington before being sent to the field, he discloses. The essay was passed around the state department earlier this year. It still feels accurate, say the editors of this book.
Mr Holbrooke accomplished much. He might have done more in South Asia and, perhaps, Washington if he had understood that the bullying tactics he used to forge a peace in Bosnia did not necessarily work elsewhere. “If Richard calls and asks you for something, just say yes,” Henry Kissinger is quoted as saying. “If you say no, you'll eventually get to yes, but the journey will be very painful.” In Pakistan and Afghanistan it was hard for Mr Holbrooke to even start making calls.