Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Holbrooke Dies

Richard Holbrooke, the diplomat sent out by various presidents to sow harmony and accord in nettlesome places such as Bosnia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, died from a tear in his aorta, literally a broken heart. Before passing on to that great peace conference in the sky, Mr. Holbrooke had a brief contretemps with his surgeon, who told him it was important that he relax before the operation.

Holbrooke: “I can’t relax. I’m worried about Afghanistan and Pakistan."

According to a report in the Washington Post, Holbrooke’s last words were: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan,” not quite as revealing as the reputed last words of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche – “More mask” – but close.

In a dusty New York Times article, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was given the job in the Obama administration that Mr. Holbrooke wanted, characterized the late peacemaker’s diplomacy as “the kind of robust, persistent, determined diplomacy the president intends to pursue.” Reminded of his sometime overbearing qualities, Mrs. Clinton responded in mock surprise, “Gee, I’d never heard that he could be any of those things before" and, turning serious, added “Occasionally he has to be, you know, brought down to earth and reined in.”

A cartoon by Bob Englehart of the Hartford Courant shows Mr. Holbrooke advancing on a starry night in which an exploding star heralds “Peace on Earth.”

To be sure, Holbrooke, at the tail end of his career, was handed a tough card. Brief eras of peace on earth historically have followed conclusive wars. Successful diplomacy is aided by successful wars. Successful wars are most often hampered by inept diplomacy. It was much easier for the Prime Minister of Britain to negotiate with the Germans after the successful prosecution of World War II; negotiations with Hitler’s regime before the conclusion of the war were not, as Prime Minister Chamberlain discovered, a road to peace.

Possibly Holbrooke realized the limits of diplomacy during wartime; if so, the realization could only have added to his frustration, now mercifully over.

God loves the peacemakers, we are told. Those who believe in the Christian message will have the courage to think that Mr.Holbrooke, no longer brought down to earth, has been raised up and is, at last, at peace.

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