Monday, December 13, 2010

Woodward's tribute to Richard Holbrooke

So sad to read of great-hearted Richard Holbrooke's untimely death.  I'm no expert on his career, but I'd just like to flag (actually repost) one rather uncanny, somewhat backhanded tribute from Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars:
In one discussion about the tensions between Pakistan and India, Holbrooke introduced a new angle. "There's a global warming dimension of this struggle, Mr. President," he said.
     His words baffled many in the room.
     There are tens of thousands of Indian and Pakistani troops encamped on the glaciers in the Himalayas that feed the rivers into Pakistan and India, he said. "Their encampments are melting the glaciers very quickly." There's a chance that river valleys in Pakistan and perhaps even India could be flooded.
     After the meeting, there were several versions of one question: Was Holbrooke kidding?
     He was not. Holbrooke subsequently detailed his concerns in a written report. The diplomat--sensing that he was on the outs with Obama--was trying as hard as he could to say something distinctive that would impress the president (210-211).
The story segues into further evidence of Holbrooke's failure to connect with Obama. Is the irony intentional? Woodward's preface to Obama's Wars is dated July 25, 2010. The catastrophic floods struck Pakistan on July 22, 2010.

Whether the account of that conversation was a late interpolation or not, I believe that in general Woodward awards an unspoken sagacity palm to those in his account whose conclusions regarding Obama's chosen strategy are best summed up by three words he attributes to Richard Holbrooke: "it can't work."

UPDATE/postscript/epitaph: incredibly enough:
Family members said his last words before he headed into surgery were: "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan," according to the Washington Post.
Update 2: seems the context of those final words is uncertain, to say the least. Here's the Washington Post's account:
He underwent a 21-hour operation that ended on Saturday to repair his aorta.

As Mr. Holbrooke was sedated for surgery, family members said, his final words were to his Pakistani surgeon: "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan."

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