FEBRUARY 21, 1996
As Richard Holbrooke leaves his post as Assistant Secretary of State, he discusses his efforts to make peace in Bosnia with Elizabeth Farnsworth.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Richard Holbrooke left his post as U.S. Ambassador to Germany in August 1994 to become Assistant Secretary of State for Europe. His chief assignment, Bosnia. Today is his final day on the job, a ceremony at the State Department honored his work on the Dayton Peace Accord that brought an end at least temporarily to the four-year civil war in Bosnia. Mr. Holbrooke returns to a career in investment banking in New York, but first, he joins us for a Newsmaker interview. Thank you for being with us, Mr. Ambassador.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE, Former Assistant Secretary of State: A pleasure.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You traveled in August 1992 to Bosnia, and you had seen war before. You were in Vietnam for six years as a foreign service officer during the war, but you said Bosnia was different. It was so personal. What did you mean?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: What I really found appalling about Bosnian on my first trips there as a private citizen and inexplicable was that it was people killing their neighbors. You'd go into a town, and there would be ten houses, eight would be blown up, in the middle of it there would be a Serb house that wasn't blown up. People came and killed each other just knowing who they were on ethnic basis. In Vietnam, it was an ideological struggle. It was brutal. More people died, but it didn't have that personal quality.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Was that the beginning of your determination to do something about it?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, when the administration took office, I volunteered to do, to get involved in Bosnia, and fate, destiny had another course that it followed.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You went to Germany.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I went to Germany as ambassador and then the rest of it unfolded.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And some have said that you have been particularly impelled, especially in the past year, by the memory of your colleagues, including Robert Frasier, who were killed on the road over Mt. Inman en route to Sarajevo.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Uh, that's very hard to explain these things. Bob Frasier and Joe Kruzel, Nelson, Drew, were in the vehicle behind us. It went over the side, it was not a road accident. It was an accident of war. We were only on that road because we couldn't get in any other way. The night before in Belgrade I had complained bitterly to Milosevic, that it was obscene that the Americans trying to bring peace had to travel in that way, and after that--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Milosevic, the head of the Bosnian Serbs.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: After that--well, the head of Yugoslavia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I meant the head of Yugoslavia, right, not Mladic. Yeah.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: And we then--you know, it put us under greater determination. A lot of people stepped forward to take their place. We reconstituted the team after bringing our comrades home, and we set off again, and I think it did give us a renewed determination and a tremendous cohesion. This cohesion was formed very dramatically at Ft. Meyers in the chapel, right after the memorial service, when the President met with us. There's a very dramatic photo of this. And he pulled us together, just as he pulled the nation together after Oklahoma City, gave us our mission, and sent us off again. And that was a moment in time you--you can see it in the photograph.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And now after the weekend in Rome, where you had to deal with what you called some of the bumps in the road of the peace process, how would you characterize how it is now?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: On November 21st, when we initialed the agreement at Dayton, I said publicly that we would have plenty of problems along the way. The remarkable thing is that we're having some problems, all of which we predicted. The remarkable thing is how much is going in the right direction. But we're headed for a decisive moment here at D plus 90, that is 90 days after Paris. That's only 27 days away, and on that day, Sarajevo must be a unified city under Muslim control and we have to be ready for it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What's happening with that right now? Let's look at just a few of the bumps in the road. Today people in Sarajevo are being--the Bosnian Serbs are being urged by their leaders to leave because on Friday one of the neighborhoods just a little bit North of Sarajevo, the Bosnian government, will take control, the Bosnian government's police will move in, what is happening now? Are they moving out in large numbers, and is that a real threat to the peace process?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: There are two kinds of Serbs in these areas, Serbs who've lived there for a long time and who should stay and whose rights have been fully guaranteed not only by Dayton but by the government, and Serbs who came in from the rural areas with rifles and mortars and committed the killing. This suburb you're talking about is on the hills above Sarajevo. There was a Volkswagen plant there was turned into a munitions plant. And the people who moved in dispossessing Muslims, using those houses to shoot, bringing their families in, they know who they are, if they leave, that's fine. I wouldn't overdo this exodus business. There is an exodus but there has been a massive dislocation of personnel. One quarter of all the people in Bosnia are homeless or refugee or displaced. We should not get too upset about an additional marginal dislocation in the pursuit of peace, particularly if people leaving are people who shouldn't have been there to begin with.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what about Mostar--in Rome this weekend, where you met with the leaders of the various entities, you also were dealing with Mostar, where Croats and Muslims were to begin joint, joint police patrols--what's happening there now?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Mostar concerns me a great deal more in a way because that is the core of the federation, the American-engineered alliance into a single entity and half the country of the Muslims and the Croats, there's no excuse for the conflict in Mostar. We flew into Rome on an emergency basis, late at night. The two mayors of Mostar and the European Union representative in Mostar, Mayor Kusnick of Germany, we negotiated all day long. The real drama in Rome was over Mostar, and it delayed the press conference several hours, and during those hours we left the Bosnian Muslims and the Croats alone for about an hour, and finally the NATO supreme commander, Gen. Joulwan and I, went into the room, and said, we've got to get moving, and we listened for a while, and after about 15 minutes, I realized that they were arguing about a single building, a high school built in the Austro-Hungarian empire era in a nice moorish style. I'm sure it's a nice high school, but this is not what it's all about, so Gen. Joulwan made a very strong statement, saying, we don't have 60,000 NATO and other troops in Bosnia for this kind of stuff, and we suggested a compromise, that it be used for communal purposes, and we got through that. There are also a lot of other issues, joint police patrols and so on. We cannot tolerate this kind of problem in Mostar. We talked to President Tudjman about it, and going forward, the U.S. Government will have to take a lead in preventing this from recurring.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are they--are the patrols, the joint patrols going on now?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I'm getting some reports--they're not clear to me--since I've been a private citizen now for two hours, I'm going to leave it tonight to colleagues and successors, former colleagues, to work that out. But I want to stress again, it is a bump in the road, a predictable one. It is not the end of the Dayton process. I'm a little surprised that people are interpreting Dayton as falling apart, or under challenge, when it's so obviously moving forward at the macro level, and it was so predictably going to run into these problems at the specific level. The basic threat to Dayton comes from what you might call the IRA or Hezbollah factions of all the groups, and above all, the most dangerous of the rejectionists, the Pale Serbs, the Bosnian Serbs, headed by two indicted war criminals, as long as they're in power, Dayton is going to come under challenge. Anyone who followed the Mideast and watched the PLO fracture into the Arafat wing and the total rejectionists, anyone who's watching what Gerry Adams and the Sinn Fein and the IRA is going through understands the dilemma. Structurally, it's the same, but in Bosnia, it's at a much higher level in terms of danger, bloodshed, bloody-mindedness even more than Palestine, Israel issues, and finally, it has the highest possible consequences to our national interest, because we, the United States, have fully committed ourselves to success in Bosnia. And failure is unthinkable and unacceptable.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: That's a very high bar, isn't it, in a part of the world that's been the graveyard for so many diplomatic hopes?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: It's a very high bar, but look where we are. Look at when I appeared on your program with Jim and Robin, less than a year ago. Go back and look at the tapes. Look where we've come from. Look at my, all our discussions at this table, and tell me that a year ago you or Jim Lehrer, any of the rest of you, would have thought that today we were talking about a country that's no longer at war, where people are reaching out to bridge across the years of bitterness and killing, and where most things are progressing roughly on schedule. That is unimaginable, and it is a very good event, but there are people trying to wreck it. And there's a criminal element running the Pale Serbs, and they must be dealt with.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All these outstanding issues and yet you're leaving, why?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: As I've said many times, I, I'm reluctant to involve personal issues in a professional issue, but I have a fundamental tension in my life between personal and professional issues. My two sons are both in New York. I got married eight months ago, and my new wife and her two children are in New York. They're all literally anchored in New York, so to speak, and I had to make a choice. I've made a commitment, so I asked the President's understanding, the President who's given us spectacular support throughout this negotiation, and has been much more heavily involved than the public realizes, understood that. He asked and Warren Christopher asked if I would be available on a, on a special basis. I said, of course I would. In fact, rather oddly, as I left the government this evening, they swore me in as an adviser to my successor, an unpaid adviser.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you might jump on a plane and go and solve a problem if one comes up?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I hope not. I don't want to. I'm starting a new job tomorrow. I'm joining C.S. First Boston, a New York investment firm, an investment bank, and I do not wish to do that. But if they ask, of course, I'll help.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Journalists and others have written that your role in the negotiations was so important because of your bravado, your very definite, strong negotiating style, there are lots of words that are put on that, they said--one journalist wrote that you understood that the Balkans are a snake pit and you were ready to be--ready and willing to be the biggest snake of all. Do you think that's right?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Oh, that's high praise.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Roger Cohen in the "New York Times" Sunday magazine. Do you think that's why you succeeded?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: You mean that I was a big snake?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: No, that you were willing to really knock heads together?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: You know, I keep reading about screaming and yelling and bullying and so on, but I worked on Asia for most of my career and you check the press on that and it never said I yelled. You have to match your method to the moment and your style to the substance and the situation. And in this negotiation, dealing with people who are liars and in some cases killers, dealing with people who are desperate, dealing with traditions, you just have to get very tough. But the key thing wasn't anything to do with personal style. It was the fact that in the Summer of last year, the President fully committed the United States to an all-out, diplomatic, political, and military effort, and one of the great things that people should have learned from this is that there are times when air power--not backed up by ground troops--can make a difference. That's something that our European allies didn't all agree with; Americans were in doubt on it; it made a difference. Secondly, sanctions worked. Sanctions really hurt the Yugoslavs, by Yugoslavs, I mean the Serbs. It had to be marshalled.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And briefly, U.S. involvement in this major way has been crucial in your view, and you've said that European institutions just are not, I think you said the institutions of Europe have not met the post-Cold War challenge.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, you know, Elizabeth, I believe strongly that historians will look back in the latter part of last year as a seminal period in American foreign policy like the '47/'49 period. The thing is we know how that movie ended. It won, the Cold war was over. This one, we don't know yet how it's going to go forward. We need the Europeans to work closely with us. The European institutions turn out to need some strengthening and restructuring in order to work in the post-Cold War era, and we encourage them. We're the most pro-Europe administration since Kennedy, but we feel that they ought to--we encourage them in their own internal restructuring.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ambassador, good luck to you and thank you very much.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Thank you.