How Richard Holbrooke Represented America’s Best and Worst Impulses

On the podcast: George Packer, in conversation with Stephen M. Walt, on America’s long-serving diplomat.

By , the executive editor for podcasts at Foreign Policy.
On the First Person podcast: Stephen M. Walt talks with George Packer about Richard Holbrooke, America’s long-serving diplomat.
On the First Person podcast: Stephen M. Walt talks with George Packer about Richard Holbrooke, America’s long-serving diplomat.
On the First Person podcast: Stephen M. Walt talks with George Packer about Richard Holbrooke, America’s long-serving diplomat. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Richard Holbrooke was a long-serving diplomat whose life spanned the period of America’s dominance in the world. He served as an advisor in Vietnam, an ambassador to Germany, an assistant secretary of state, and, late in his career, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke was also the editor of Foreign Policy from 1972 to 1976.

The sheer force of his personality helped bring about the Dayton Accords, which put an end to the Bosnian war in the 1990s.

George Packer, an award-winning journalist who writes for the Atlantic, has a new book on Holbrooke, titled Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century. He argues that Holbrooke represented America’s best and worst impulses and that the two were often inseparable.

Richard Holbrooke was a long-serving diplomat whose life spanned the period of America’s dominance in the world. He served as an advisor in Vietnam, an ambassador to Germany, an assistant secretary of state, and, late in his career, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke was also the editor of Foreign Policy from 1972 to 1976.

The sheer force of his personality helped bring about the Dayton Accords, which put an end to the Bosnian war in the 1990s.

George Packer, an award-winning journalist who writes for the Atlantic, has a new book on Holbrooke, titled Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century. He argues that Holbrooke represented America’s best and worst impulses and that the two were often inseparable.

“Our feeling that we could do anything gave us the Marshall Plan and Vietnam, the peace at Dayton and the endless Afghan War,” Packer writes. “Our confidence and energy, our reach and grasp, our excess and blindness—they were not so different from Holbrooke’s. He was our man. That’s the reason to tell you his story.”

On First Person this week, Foreign Policy columnist Stephen M. Walt sat down with Packer to discuss the book.

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