Richard Holbrooke - who died yesterday, at age 69, of a ruptured aorta - was somewhat of a symbol of this age: a diplomat who took pride in his absence of tact. His job was to "lie for his country" - and did he ever! But he also enjoyed killing, cheating and stealing. This is the man who urged his superiors to "give us bombs for peace" (NATO intervention in Bosnia in 1995); who admitted in his own memoirs that he tried to swindle the president of Serbia during the Bosnia peace talks; and who took up investment banking when on sabbaticals from diplomacy (Credit Suisse, Lehman Brothers). Ironically, it was the latter that got him in the only spot of trouble in his career, when he had to settle charges of ethical violations before becoming Empire's ambassador to the UN.
Yes, he ended the Bosnian War - on America's terms, and only after Washington sabotaged every attempt to end it any other way. He then spent years on trying to undermine and destroy the very treaty he helped broker.
In 1998, he famously sat down with the KLA - shadowy militants his colleague Robert Gelbard had labeled a "terrorist organization". The photo of the shoeless Holbrooke sitting on the floor next to the bearded (and booted) KLA terrorist went around the world.
Later he told TIME magazine that he had been "furious". If he was, it never showed. He went to Belgrade as the Emperor's envoy again, and tried to repeat his 1995 performance. He bought the KLA three months to prepare for the coming NATO attack and set up the Racak "massacre," a pretext for it. But when the time came to try and bully Serbia into accepting the so-called Rambouillet Agreement, it was Holbrooke's boss, Madeleine Albright, who took over the limelight.
Holbrooke hitched his diplomatic career horse to John Kerry's wagon in 2004 and Hillary Clinton's in 2008. As a result, he never became the Secretary of State. He would eventually become Emperor Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Before that, he would pontificate once a month from the pages of the Washington Post, a newspaper that's never seen a Russian or a Serb it did not love to hate - unless the said Russian or Serb did Empire's bidding without a second thought; then he merely could not be trusted.
In one such column, in July 2008, gloating over the arrest of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, (in a piece called "The Face of Evil" no less), Holbrooke put forth at least four verifiable lies:
- that the war "had already taken the lives of nearly 300,000 people";
- that his colleagues, Bob Frasure, Joe Kruzel and Nelson Drew traveled through "sniper-filled, Serbian-controlled territory" when their vehicle slid off the road into a mine-filled ravine;
- that his meeting with Karadzic in Belgrade "resulted in the lifting of the siege of Sarajevo," and
- that Serbian PM Zoran Djindjic was assassinated in 2003 "as a direct result of his courage in arresting Milosevic and sending him to The Hague in 2001."
When I challenged those lies, I called Holbrooke a "sanctimonious, uncouth, arrogant, corrupt slimebucket," and I stand by that assessment. Yet I've always had a measure of respect for him due to one thing, and one thing only. He was arrogant enough to eschew hiding what he thought and felt. This is why his 1998 memoir, "To End A War," is an invaluable source in understanding his mind, and the motives of Imperial diplomacy.
By way of example, he quoted a note Robert Frasure had slipped to him during a meeting in Zagreb:
Dick: We "hired" these guys to be our junkyard dogs because we were desperate. We need to try to "control" them. But it is no time to get squeamish about things.
Sure enough, Holbrooke was not squeamish at all. If it took the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic regime, a Nazi revival and the expulsion of half a million people to re-establish American hegemony in Europe and in the Balkans, so be it. Arrogance of power, or power of arrogance? He lived long enough to see that hegemony begin to crumble, though.
As someone who helped bring the American Empire into being, Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke was a perfect embodiment of the vices it extolled as virtues. Ultimately, his brand of bullying "diplomacy" did America and Americans no favors. Oderint dum metuant didn't work even for Caligula. It absolutely debased the country that claimed to stand for values and principles, then went around the world violating them. Holbrooke either never realized this, or refused to let it stop him.
May God, whom he had forsaken to serve the earthly power instead, have mercy on his soul.