Dick Holbrooke’s Liberal Legacy

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, left, in Afghanistan with Marine Major Gen. Richard Mills. <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/isafmedia/4722606362/sizes/l/in/photostream/">ISAF/Flickr Commons</a>


I never met Richard Holbrooke, but I sure knew him. I was introduced in college, when I picked up David Halberstam’s War in a Time of Peacea not-terribly memorable piece of solid reporting that explained the Clinton administration’s approach to conflict. Holbrooke emerged from the dense narrative as a sort of demigod, a smooth-talking, brilliant if self-promoting diplomat who brokered the Dayton Peace Accord that began the end of killing in the Balkans.

He wasn’t unknown to Halberstam. Holbrooke joined the State Department’s foreign service after college in the early ’60s, and right out of the gates, he got a thankless job: fixing pacification in Vietnam. Within a few yearsand before he’d reached 30he was advising the US delegation at the Paris Peace Talks, as well as drafting his own candid analyses of the Vietnam War…analyses that would later be known as part of the Pentagon Papers.

It was only natural after Holbrooke’s service to successive Democratic presidentshe was rumored to be Hillary Clinton’s choice for Secretary of State were she to win in 2008that Barack Obama would tap him as a special envoy to Afghanistan, tasking him with yet another impossible mission in yet another out-of-control war. (MoJo readers may remember Holbrooke as one of renegade General Stanley McChrystal’s targets in his infamous Rolling Stone ramblings.)

Holbrooke continued to serve the president in Afghanistan until today, when he succumbed to complications from heart surgery in Washington.

And Lord, some heart. To call Holbrooke a foreign-policy wunderkind is to give other wunderkinds too much credit for intelligence, enthusiasm, and ebullience. He was larger than lifeand certainly too large for cliches like that one. Holbrooke had his career and his ambitions, yes, but he also had his ideas. His vision was one of measured liberal governance, and while it often put him at loggerheads with progressives and conservatives alike, it’s the sort of reasoned diplomacy that’s so rare in hard-nosed careerist civil servants. Regardless of your opinions on the man and his politics, he also represents an independent spirit that too often is lacking in the highest echelons of diplomacy and military policy. His is the spirit engendered in so many lively, almost lyrical WikiLeaks cables from young, opinionated diplomats. And it’s a spirit that hopefully will live on in US foreign policy long after him.

Say a kaddish for Dick Holbrooke.

One More Thing

And it's a big one. Mother Jones is launching a new Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on the corruption that is both the cause and result of the crisis in our democracy.

The more we thought about how Mother Jones can have the most impact right now, the more we realized that so many stories come down to corruption: People with wealth and power putting their interests first—and often getting away with it.

Our goal is to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We're aiming to create a reporting position dedicated to uncovering corruption, build a team, and let them investigate for a year—publishing our stories in a concerted window: a special issue of our magazine, video and podcast series, and a dedicated online portal so they don't get lost in the daily deluge of headlines and breaking news.

We want to go all in, and we've got seed funding to get started—but we're looking to raise $500,000 in donations this spring so we can go even bigger. You can read about why we think this project is what the moment demands and what we hope to accomplish—and if you like how it sounds, please help us go big with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate