JIM LEHRER: And now a few thoughts about Richard Holbrooke, the late diplomat President Obama called a unique figure and a giant of American foreign policy.
John Negroponte knew Holbrooke since 1964, when they worked together as Foreign Service officers during the Vietnam War.He went on to hold several major ambassador positions, including to the United Nations.He was also the first director of national intelligence, and is now with an international consulting firm.Susan Glasser is the editor in chief of “Foreign Policy,” a Web site and magazine which Holbrooke also edited in the early 1970s.She had lunch with him on Thursday, the day before he was struck by the aortic tear that led to his death last night.
Mr. Ambassador, what were his qualities that made him so unique?
JOHN NEGROPONTE, former U.S. deputy secretary of state:Well, the word relentless has been used very often, boundless energy, drive.We have heard all those terms.
I would add one: focus.Dick was able to take this tremendous amount of energy which, as a young man, started out in sort of a rambunctious way, but it refined itself over the years.And, as his career progressed, I think he learned how to focus this tremendous intelligence and energy on achieving specific purposes and objectives.
JIM LEHRER: Did you — was this evident to you in those early days in Vietnam?
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Oh — oh, absolutely, yes.
JIM LEHRER: Like what?What did he do?
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, we worked in the embassy together.But Dick — we were in our mid-20s, but Dick already had a real proprietary interest in our policy towards Vietnam.
And I recall, when — when he went back to Washington and worked for Nick Katzenbach as his aide on the Vietnam subject.I mean, Dick was right in the middle of things.He leveraged his position as a well-positioned staff assistant to optimize, to maximize the influence of that job towards affecting our Vietnam policy.
JIM LEHRER: What would you add to that, Susan Glasser, in the over — the one-of-a-kind, the unique, one-of-a-kind description?Is that your experience as well?
SUSAN GLASSER, editor-in-chief, “Foreign Policy”:Well, certainly, Ambassador Negroponte has many decades more experience than I do.
But I think I would add generosity to that, too.What I’m struck by is the real, genuine outpouring, which is very unusual and almost very un-Washington.This was the original, the prototypical networked guy.You know, he has nothing on Silicon Valley, right?This is one of the only people I can think of who knows everyone that you know, and then thousands more people.
And he seemed to have touched all of them in some way.So, for all the detractors who talked of his ambition and so forth, I think what I have been struck most by is — is this real outpouring of, here was a guy who managed to get himself in everybody’s network and managed to touch them in some way.
JIM LEHRER: I also read today that he — he — I don’t know how to put this gently, but that he fought — he loved — he loved down, rather than up.In other words, the younger people who worked for him, he treated them a lot better than he did the people he was over — that were technically over him or were his peers.Is that correct?
SUSAN GLASSER: You know, I certainly read that account of that.And I certainly saw his incredible generosity.
This was a man who was so proud of his staff.He said to me and also to many other people I know and I work with:Come see my operation.
He was very proud of what he had built in this AfPak team, very unconventional, right, for a State Department.This is an entrepreneur almost, right?And he had — I think one of his aides was quoted as saying this has a feeling of a startup, which is very unusual inside the State Department.He has academics.He has professors.He has almost got, to me, what I would call a very journalistic sensibility.He — he wants more inputs and outputs than the standard conservative bureaucrat.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, I think this was, in part, a reflection of his view as a young man that his own views should be taken into account. And, so, as he ascended…
JIM LEHRER: He said, listen to me. Listen to me.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: And so, when he got where he was in a position to do so, he wanted to listen to others.And he knew that the younger officers and younger people had inputs to make and views to be heard.
JIM LEHRER: And the other thing that people have overlooked, until his death, was, he was quite a writer, in addition to being a diplomat, was he not, Susan Glasser?
SUSAN GLASSER: Absolutely.In fact, I was thinking about, you know, let the young people be heard.When he was 29 years old, he wrote a very critical piece in the very first issue of “Foreign Policy” magazine in the winter of 1970.
JIM LEHRER: Which you have got there, right?
SUSAN GLASSER: I have got, right.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
SUSAN GLASSER: This is the very first issue.
And it’s called “The Machine That Fails.” And, again, this is a sitting Foreign Service officer. How many people inside the State Department today would publish a piece like that on our Web site or in a magazine or come on your show and say, you know, I have got some plans for massive reorganization of the State Department?
I have got — you know, it starts out with a very sweeping quote from then President Nixon, says, the age of, you know, World War II diplomacy, the post-World War II age is over.And then he goes on from there and he outlines his critique of how there has failed to be a new machinery, a state built for the challenges of the 1970s.
And it’s a very ambitious piece.It’s prescient in many ways.And, again, it was written by a 29-year-old.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: A related issue, if I might…
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: … was his compassion.And I saw that so well in — when he was assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and the extraordinary effort he went to, to assure the maximum number of refugee admissions from Indochina.
And you remember, the boat people, the great waves of people who came out of Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: And it was Dick.I was his deputy at the time.He sent me up to the Hill.And he said:Negroponte, you have to get them to admit 140,000 refugees a year, 12,000 a month.We should settle for no less than that.
And we got it. And it was thanks to Dick’s drive and energy. And I think there are people from Southeast Asia who are living in the United States today who would not be living in this country had it not been for Richard Holbrooke.
JIM LEHRER: The clip that was in Margaret’s piece, where Holbrooke was talking about AIDS, that came about because he called us, you know, as only Holbrooke can do, full-blast, and said, we have got to talk about AIDS on this, because nobody is talking about it. We have got to get in…
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Right. And he brought it into the Security Council and linked it to the issue of peacekeepers and everything else, as a way of getting the Security Council to take cognizance of the aid issue, which — AIDS issues, which previously had been kind of a second-order issue for the United States.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that his number-one accomplishment, as a diplomat, at least, was the Dayton peace accords on Bosnia?
SUSAN GLASSER: Oh, there’s no question. That’s his signature accomplishment. It’s also the subject of his really terrific book “To End a War,” which is his memoir of the very difficult negotiations that led up to those accords.
You know, I think anyone would be content to have had just that, and never mind all the other policy accomplishments that Ambassador Negroponte…
JIM LEHRER: But, on the writing thing, he also co-authored a marvelous autobiography that Clark Clifford wrote…
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: … which he was very proud of, I remember. We did some interviews about that.
SUSAN GLASSER: He showed me it the other day.
JIM LEHRER: Did he really?
SUSAN GLASSER: He pulled — he pulled that — he had in his bookshelf — his office right now at the State Department, right next to his desk on the shelf, there are a whole row of about 10 of those books.
And I was interested that it was a Clark Clifford book, and not…
JIM LEHRER: Rather than his own.
SUSAN GLASSER: … not “To End a War.”Exactly.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
SUSAN GLASSER: And he pulled that out for me just on Thursday.And he said he was showing me — and, you know, I did have a copy at home, but I wanted to hear what he had to say.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
SUSAN GLASSER: And he said, this section on the creation of the national security state after World War II, that’s the part that’s most relevant to know.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: He was sort of an op-ed machine, too, when he was out of office.And he had the incredible curiosity.He went to a lot of places that he had had nothing to do with before.
In fact, I recall him taking a trip to Afghanistan prior to taking this job at his own expense and at considerable risk. When I was serving in Central America, he came to visit Honduras. He had no…
JIM LEHRER: No reason to go.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: … interest in Central America, except he wanted to learn what all the fuss was about back at that time.That was the kind of intellectual curiosity that Dick had.
JIM LEHRER: Now how is his absence likely to affect the Afghanistan situation?Of course, the review process is under way this week.Holbrooke will not be there.
What is going to be missing?
SUSAN GLASSER: Well, the timing really is extraordinary, isn’t it, that they’re in the midst of this major sort of midcourse review at just the moment that this should occur.
I think there will be some real talk about, are they just going to appoint a replacement for him, or are they going to reorganize?And I could imagine both outcomes coming to be.
Clearly, this wasn’t only a really difficult assignment for Ambassador Holbrooke, but it wasn’t one that there was a clear path for him through to victory.It’s not like he was in the middle of some negotiations…
JIM LEHRER: There was no Holbrooke plan?
SUSAN GLASSER: Exactly.That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
SUSAN GLASSER: So ,first of all, what does that mean?Second of all, looking towards this July 2011 date, they have already been working to put some more time on the clock in a way and to take some of the political pressure out of next summer as being the key moment.
But I think there was a real sense that, for all of his accomplishments, he wasn’t the most favored person, shall we say, in Afghanistan these days. He had a very tense relationship, by all accounts, with President Karzai, also with Ambassador Eikenberry.
And so, you know, the question is, what kind of a person are they going to put in to replace him?It could be a very different model.
JIM LEHRER: The — Ambassador Holbrooke was also very pessimistic about — we saw some of that also in Margaret’s piece — about outcomes for Afghanistan.
Do you — did you share his pessimism about this?
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, I think, was it pessimism or just, this is hard?
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Right. OK.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: The times that I talked to Dick, he just said:This is hard.This is the hardest situation I have ever had to deal with.
And, by that, I think he meant he saw no clear way forward. I understand he harbored his doubts, but he was supportive of the policy. I think, ultimately, he wanted to try to help maneuver the situation towards a negotiated outcome.
But I think we all recognize that the pieces don’t yet seem to be in place.And he was having a hard time getting them into place.But I can’t think of a better man to have been doing that job, even if, occasionally, he did bruise a few feelings.
I think even those people whose feelings might have been bruised respected the enormous talents and intelligence that he brought to his work.
JIM LEHRER: OK. Mr. Ambassador, Susan Glasser, thank you both very much.
SUSAN GLASSER: Thank you.