Monday, December 20, 2010

Richard Holbrooke Obituary

Richard Holbrooke Obituary By Leon Wieseltier | The New Republic
Leon Wieseltier writes eloquently, and powerfully, as he most often does, about the accomplished diplomat, Richard Holbrooke. He writes:
What [Holbrooke] believed in most of all, I think, was in the ability, and the duty, of the United States, by a variety of means, to better the world. He was, in his cast of mind, a realist, but his cast of mind was not his philosophy: this realist—the Democrats’ most accomplished Machiavellian—was always returning to first principles, to moral considerations, to the alleviation of human suffering and the spread of political liberty as goals of American statecraft. He came away from his early years in Vietnam with lessons but without a syndrome. He was unanguished about the use of American force, when it was morally justified and intelligently applied—which is to say, he was the last of the postwar liberals. Even in his most virulent criticism of what he regarded as America’s military mistakes abroad, there was not a trace of the temptation to surrender a high sense of America’s role in history. Isolationism disgusted him. He had a natural understanding, it was almost an attribute of his character, of the relationship between diplomacy and force. He had no illusions about the harshness of the world, and therefore about the toughness that is required for the creation of a world less harsh. His last assignment, the increasingly Sisyphean attempt to bring Afghanistan into the community of open and decent societies, was a bet on this sober and unsentimental optimism. He cared famously about what worked, and he could be brazen in his pragmatism, but Holbrooke’s professional life was animated by goals and concepts that no mere pragmatist could share. American interventionism, for him, was not just a policy; it was a way of existing responsibly in the world, the measure of a national (and personal) ideal, the real greatness of a great power.
It was this rare package of means and ends, of ideas and instruments, that made possible Holbrooke’s triumph at Dayton. He negotiated a peace with a villain whom he deeply despised, and thereby ended a genocide in which we, the United States, and an administration from his own party, had outrageously acquiesced. In this way he helped to restore the honor of his country after a period of disgrace. On the day that Holbrooke suffered the cataclysmic collapse from which he never recovered, The New York Times reported that Henry Kissinger—the Republicans’ most accomplished Machiavellian—remarked in 1973 that “if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.” Such unforgettably filthy words would never have crossed Richard Holbrooke’s lips. In government and out, not least in his groundbreaking work at Refugees International, his career was a loud and effective refutation of that chilling “maybe.
I continue to believe as well that the alleviation of human suffering is not simply a goal, but a commandment. We dare not turn away from the troubles of the world!  Enjoying liberty and success should be more about responsibilities than luxuries.

For those who would like to learn about Holbrooke's views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict read Dore Gold's piece in The Jerusalem Post.

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