Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Difficult Man to Handle Difficult Problems

Richard Holbrooke was a classic in American Foreign Policy: a diplomat known more for assertiveness than for discretion.  He ruffled many feathers over the course of his career, serving in Vietnam, at the UN, in the Balkans and finally in the Af-Pak theater.  He was not always successful, as recent events attest, but he did play a key role in shaping American foreign policy and history over the course of his lifetime.

His book on the Dayton Accords, To End a War, was a fascinating account of the diplomacy involved to end that conflict and to end any conflict, even if, like all memoirs, was about as self-serving as can be.  It is only appropriate that the man who stood out so long, pushing himself and others to do the hard work, would be the one to write his own epitaph:
He’s [Karzai] an enormously tough customer,” Mr. Holbrooke said during one of the periodic breakfasts he had with reporters who covered his diplomatic exploits. “As you’ve heard,” he added with a smile, “so am I.”
Given an impossible mission in Afghanistan, Holbrooke was unlikely to succeed.  I wonder if it is best to judge a person by their successes or to judge a person by the difficulty of the tasks assigned?  The latter is certainly a "metric" for how others viewed him--as the best chance to handle difficult circumstances.

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