Holbrooke Not a Bulldozer and Had Six Relationships with Karzai


richard holbrooke-thumb-340x191-2155.jpgThere are two themes that seem to find themselves in much of the emerging commentary on the life and impact of Richard Holbrooke. The first is that he was a “bulldozer” and the second that “well, he had a bad relationship with Karzai so couldn’t do much with him.”
This morning in the New Republic Brookings foreign policy chief Martin Indyk paints a laudatory picture of Holbrooke but also pushes this bulldozer image:

Richard Holbrooke was a diplomatic bulldozer with a seemingly limitless supply of fuel. Inevitably, the resentments of those in Washington who felt pushed aside accumulated. They almost did him in last year. Some of his close friends advised him to give up; told him it wasn’t worth it. But of course Richard refused. He was never one to leave the arena in mid-fight. And just as his fortunes in Washington began to improve so too did the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation start a slow turn toward a political endgame where his talents would be most needed. Tragically, the fuel ran out last night.

Holbrooke was a convincing chameleon — able to be either the bulldozer and tenaciously committed, results-oriented diplomat or to be the softest tactician, moving cautiously and with consideration. I saw this soft side many times in his discussion of what pieces needed to be moved in Afghanistan and how America needed to become a help and resource from seed to market to Afghan farmers rather than the cause of their impoverishment as crops were forcefully eradicated.
I also saw the “restraint” in Holbrooke’s own political machinations in the Obama administration. There is no secret that some of the biggest personalities on the team were at war with one another over Afghanistan policy. In the end, Holbrooke outlasted General Stanley McChrystal and National Security Adviser Jim Jones. He prevailed over efforts by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Jones to shove him aside — and did this not by bulldozing his rivals but by knowing when to keep his head down and his eye on the portfolio he had in front of him.
Holbrooke was refreshingly complex and a policy strategist as much as a shaper and twister of America’s national security bureaucracy.
On Karzai, let’s just remind that the Bush administration with Defense Secretary Bob Gates in the lead was the first to begin washing their hands of Hamid Karzai. Obama’s team walked into the Afghanistan President’s personal identity and anxiety crisis — but it was not Holbrooke’s job to put the support pieces in places for Karzai. His job, at that time was to construct a legitimate constitutional order with fair and free elections. This threatened Karzai. Holbrooke’s efforts at rolling back corruption in Afghanistan threatened Karzai.
Holbrooke’s job was not to make Karzai love him — Holbrooke’s job was to vision and work to implement in non-military ways an Afghanistan that would survive and be sustainable after Karzai.
With Karzai, Richard Holbrooke had a good relationship, a mediocre relationship, a really crappy relationship, a tense and fragile relationship, a constructive relationship, a reconstructed and happy relationship. He had all of these — and I know directly and personally from both Holbrooke and from sources very close to Karzai that Holbrooke and the Afghan President had a highly productive, very friendly “revisioned” bonding session in April 2010 when Holbrooke traveled with General Petraeus to Afghanistan (after one of Holbrooke’s first heart scares).
I think that the many tributes to Richard Holbrooke are important and wonderful — particularly Martin Indyk’s — but I want folks to see beyond caricatures of a very complex and important global player.

— Steve Clemons


8 comments on “Holbrooke Not a Bulldozer and Had Six Relationships with Karzai

  1. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Read anything of Naomi Klein’s if one of you goals is insight drawn from clear-eyed, fact-based journalism”
    Precisely why you never see her mentioned here or at any of the other “think tank” sounding boards.
    Interesting, a recent deal that happened with Klein’s site and I.
    In the past, one of her site minions has always responded to my queries about pieces appearing on Naomi’s site. But a few months ago, Naomi ran a piece on Emily Henochowitz that was quite good. Well, it stayed up for a day or so, then disappeared. I emailed, asking the reason for its removal, and never recieved a response.


  2. David says:

    Read anything of Naomi Klein’s if one of you goals is insight drawn from clear-eyed, fact-based journalism.


  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Never once did I see anybody go into MacDonalds with a gun to their head”
    Of course not, the “gun to the head” is used to open the door through which Macdonalds can enter.
    But you knew that.
    Go back and read Naomi Klein’s “Bagdad Year Zero”. Theres loads of content there for you to twist, deny, misrepresent, or simply hide from.


  4. nadine says:

    Warren, what is this bee in your bonnet about the conspiracy of corporations? There are far more corporations that make money from peace and prosperity than from war. Only arms makers make money from war. MacDonalds prefers peace. Never once did I see anybody go into MacDonalds with a gun to their head.


  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Hey Warren, check out Mahmud Ahmed, the Pakistani ISI general who is KNOWN to have sent money to Atta just prior to the 9/11 attacks. He was never pursued, or indicted. Instead, we made Pakistan “a most favored ally in the Global War on Terrorism”.
    Karzai being a crook is irrelevent. 99.9% of our own people involved in this are “crooks” as well. As if our motives are pure and our agenda can or would be pursued by honest men of character and integrity???
    It never ceases to amaze me that we consistenly install scum as willing puppets, then act indignant and suprised when said scum pisses in our water glass.
    Holbrooke had a habit of participating in this inexplicable practice, again, and again, and again, ad nauseum. Kinda like eating LSD over and over again, yet always having a bad trip. “Well, this time its gonna be different”.
    Fuckin’ surreal, is what it is. The only ones that come out ahead are the arms merchants. And the corporations, tasked, at great cost, to pretend they are rebuilding and cleaning up the mess.
    Funny, I can’t seem to find anyone to tell me what positive effect this much revered hero, Holbrooke, had on the afpak imbroglio these last two years. Has the situation improved due to his involvement?
    Or lets even go back eight years, to 2003. Was he right in advocating for a shift of resources and attention into Iraq? How much treasure spent, how many lives lost? Was this the policy advocation of a great statesman? Do we celebrate his alignment with the disastrous policies of the neo-con criminals that have succeeded in bringing our nation to its knees?


  6. Warren Metzler says:

    There is something here that is a total mystery to me. It is obvious that Karzai is a corrupt crook. How is that the US government gets to claim that it wants to stay in Afghanistan until its has a stable government, while supporting a man that is a crook, who stole an election? Where is world history is this example of a country who had a crook that stole an election as president that went on to form a stable government?
    I suggest this clearly communicates that the real US policy in Afghanistan has nothing to do with fighting the Taliban, with establishing a stable government, or with a smidgen of concern for the inhabitants of Afghanistan.
    And the status quo wonders why organizations like Wikileaks crop up.


  7. dbmetzger says:

    Holbrooke’s Death Expected to Alter US Af-Pak Strategy
    The US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, leaves behind a legacy of diplomatic achievements. Holbrooke died this week at age 69. Some experts and officials in the two countries say President Obama will have difficulty in replacing him. http://www.newslook.com/videos/274668-holbrooke-s-death-expected-to-alter-us-af-pak-strategy?autoplay=true


  8. DakotabornKansan says:

    In a society where friendship no longer has the significance it once did, genuine friendship is indeed one of the deepest joys of life.
    The loss of such a special friend produces a darkness that no one can imagine.


Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *