Sunday, December 12, 2010
Holbrooke Bedridden After 20-Hour Operation
Richard Holbrooke is famous in the Foggy Bottom Legendarium for being a prickly asshole, as well as an effective negotiator. My boss in Lyon, France for a year was Peter Tarnoff, who knew Holbrooke from both Saigon and from the Paris Peace Talks in the late '60s. Tarnoff himself was one of a 'ratpack' at Saigon under Henry Cabot Lodge, including Daniel Ellsberg, Frank Wisner Jr., Tony Lake, Holbrooke himself, and Peter told me once that when Lodge said to him that Nixon [with whom Lodge had run in '60 as the VP candidate] was looking for an advisor for him on Vietnam, Peter said that he was reading an obscure Harvard professor's book, On Thermonuclear War, and suggested to Lodge that he recommend Kissinger. Kissinger duly arrived, although he claimed to be working in the Rockefeller camp, and Peter told me how Henry the K was known as Henri le Baiseur in Saigon for his all-nite exploits with Saigon bargirls, some of whom were fetching as all get-out. But I digress...
Holbrooke came twice to Lyon while I was there with Tarnoff---he had just started Foreign Policy Magazine during a sabbatical and was now head of the Peace Corps in Morocco, where he had a wife who bossed him around [I heard many stories.....]---and was generally a fly on the wall while eating a Michelin Two-Star meal invariably consisting of Quennelles a Savoie or Loup en Croute. Peter told me that Holbrooke was ambitious and pushy, and Les Gelb famously echoed Peter's sentiments a couple of decades later when Les opined "rumors that Dick Holbrooke is half-Jewish are only half-true."
Holbrooke was Hillary Clinton's foreign policy advisor and would have been the second FSO Secretary of State, after Wisconsin-native Larry Eagleburger, had Hillary not lost the nomination to The Won. But after Hillary was made Sec-State, Holbrooke accepted the thankless job of being Special Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan [and India as well, but the lamestream media ignores that part of his portfolio]. Sadly, Holbrooke's reputation for backbiting and general nastiness preceded him and both Zarderi and Karzai refused to meet with him, as did India's PM Manoman LNU. A State colleague recently told me that Holbrooke is largely responsible for Karzai's horrible reputation being front and center in the US press. Karzai is indeed corrupt, according to this State Dept. Afghan specialist friend of mine, but not outside the regional guidelines for pecuniary theft. And while many of the allegations are true, Zarderi is far more corrupt and less competent to boot, but Holbrooke's drumbeat reached American shores through his former live-in girl-friend, Diane Sawyer, who shacked up with him while he was living in the Harriman guest house on N St. in Georgetown and rode a motorcycle to the State Dept. every day. This was while he was Asst. Sec-State for SEAsia and his deputy Bob Oakley used to insult him every morning for not having read the 'take' during the night before Holbrooke presided over morning 9AM staff meetings.
Holbrooke was irresistable in his pushy, but brainy approach to life and I even visited his office at Lehman Bros. with George Ball way back in the early '80s, where Holbrooke made millions as an investment banker or glorified advisor. I must say that part of my non-fan attitude toward Dick was based on his ignoring me once I'd returned from overseas---I had slighted him a couple of times at the lunches in Lyon, and he NEVER forgets a slight.
All of the above notwithstanding, his work on the Dayton Accords was instrumental in forging some sort of tranquillity, if not peace, in Bosnia in 1995. His knowledge of the Vietnamese language [which I also studied] was useful in keeping the postwar situation in Indo-China relatively peaceful, even after Pol Pot's genocidal murder spree. Vietnam actually ended up since being neutral and sometimes friendly to the US.
Besides Diane Sawyer, the list of Holbrooke's conquests of female reporters [one of which worked at the Wall Street Journal] was long and impressive. If he does pass, history will remember him positively, even if his friends don't.