No rivals on Team Obama
From left: Holbrooke, Madeleine Albright, Lake, and AL Gore; FILE: Getty Images Barack Obama is fond of citing Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, not least because the Illinois senator styles himself as Lincoln’s heir, but also because, as he put it to Time‘s Joe Klein, “The lesson is to not let your ego or ...
From left: Holbrooke, Madeleine Albright, Lake, and AL Gore; FILE: Getty Images
Barack Obama is fond of citing Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, not least because the Illinois senator styles himself as Lincoln’s heir, but also because, as he put it to Time‘s Joe Klein, “The lesson is to not let your ego or grudges get in the way of hiring absolutely the best people.”
But if Obama really wanted to put this proposition to the test, he might consider bringing Richard Holbrooke into the fold. Holbrooke, a Democratic Party heavyweight on foreign policy and the point man on the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian civil war, was conspicuously absent from Obama’s national-security working group, announced Wednesday.
Yes, Holbrooke strongly backed Hillary Clinton in the primary, which probably wasn’t a good way to endear him to the eventual nominee. But I mention Holbrooke because of his famous feud with Anthony Lake, who was Bill Clinton’s first national security advisor and is now a key member of Team Obama’s inner circle. As the late David Halberstam recounts in War In a Time Peace, his book on Clinton-era foreign policy, Holbrooke and Lake were once close friends and rising stars in the diplomatic establishment. But their friendly rivalry turned ugly when Holbrooke was made ambassador to Germany instead of scoring a top job. Halberstam writes:
His slippage in the pecking order in the world of foreign policy was especially painful for Holbrooke friends thought, because Lake ended up with one of the two prized jobs, national security adviser. Their friendship had always had an unstated competitive quality, and now Lake seemed to be the clear winner and had, in Holbrooke’s eyes, worked against his place in the administration. As a result, a simmering tension now existed between the two old friends, turning them into genuine enemies.
Their relationship was apparently no better when Holbrooke returned from the German wilderness to take the lead on Bosnia:
Their personal friendship, once so close, had long ago been shattered, and they worked in an atmosphere of barely disguised rivalry and distrust.
So, if he really wanted to be the second coming of Lincoln, Obama would put his money where his mouth is and bring Holbrooke back. At the least, it might inject some much-needed drama back into the campaign.
Blake Hounshell is a former managing editor of Foreign Policy.
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