Alex Massie

Richard Holbrooke: Last of the Big Beasts?

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In a sense, Richard Holbrooke is one of the few American foreign policy hands of recent years whom one can mention in the same league as the Big Beasts that prowled through the Cold War and the Vietnam disaster (Holbrooke was there too: he wrote one volume of the Pentagon Papers). His death - as Brother Korski says - is a great loss for American diplomacy and the Afghan effort.

Holbrooke's last words (as reported by his family) were "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan" have occasioned much comment. Blake Hounshell, for instance, considers Holbrooke's views on Afghanistan and asks if, latterly, Dick Holbrooke had discovered a dovish side.

I don't know. But whatever the mess in Afghanistan - and however difficult it will be to extricate ourselves from it - Holbrooke's final piece of advice was not, I think, directed towards Washington. Since the New York surgeon operating on his heart was born in Pakistan, it seems reasonably probable that the "You" refers to Pakistan.

So there you have it: Richard Holbrooke, Optimist. But also Realist since everyone agrees that Afghanistan can't be "solved" without Pakistan. Unfortunately everyone also seems to agree that Pakistan can't be solved with Pakistan. Which means that, in the end, even the Optimists in the Hindu Kush are really Pessimists.

UPDATE: And now it turns out that, as one should have suspected, initial accounts of Holbrooke's last words were a better story than the more mundane facts of the matter should have dictated. Time's Mike Crowley has the details.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.