tv George Packer Our Man CSPAN August 11, 2019 2:55pm-3:59pm EDT
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check the book fairs tab on our web site, booktv.org. >> good morning, everyone. welcome to the council on foreign relations. it's a pleasure to have george packer here for the somewhat be a late launch of the issue on forever affairs. most of you know george's byline very well. you probably know his most recent books, the assassin's -- the most important chronicle of the early years of the iraq war, the unwinding which won the national book award in 2014 -- 13 -- and now his new book, our
man, rich holbrooke and the end of the american century. we were thrilled to have an excerpt of it in foreign affairs in this issue, focusing on vietnam and afghanistan which we will talk about in the course of this conversation. i recommend the peace hartley to all consecutive you nose at a substitute nor book but as a teaser. i'm confident if you read the 8,000 word inside foreign affairs you'll read the entire a 500 or so pages in the hard cover edition. it is a really extraordinary and fascinating book. both as a kind of chronicle of and -- and reflection on american foreign policy and diplomacy in war over the half century or so some who richard holbrooke was a central player and also in its portrait of this individual and almost great man, as george puts it and it is a really complicated, rich, novelistic portraited of high school -- holbrooke whom many of
you know. want to start by asking you a question that is maybe not entirely fitting for the council on foreign relations and that's how you chose to write this book. it reads more like joseph conrad or graham green than the usual biographies of diplomats or statesmen that men are us or accustomed to reading. >> that's what's wanted to hear. >> you can put than tote paperback. there's so much to that but one interesting choice you make in the book and that's the narrative voice. you essentially invent a narrator that is not george packer but slight live different which is a risky choice for a book like this. i say that that because so many reviewers seemed to have missed that. >> maybe i was too subtle. i just want to emphasize this is not edmund morris' dutch. there are no inventions no,
fantasized past for me or for richard holbrooke, it's as factual is a could make it -- let me read the first paragraph to give the audience a little taste of it. >> if you could read and then talk but it. >> this will just -- so we're not talking too abstractly. holbrooke, yes, i knew him. i can't get his voice out of my head. i still hear it, saying, you haven't read that back? you really need to read it. saying, i feel and i hope this doesn't sound too self-satisfied, that in very difficult situation where nobody has the answer, i at least know what the overall questions and moving parts are. or saying, i got to go. hilary is on the line. that voice, calm, nasal, atrace of old are new york, a sing sock cadence when he was being
playful but always doing something to you cajole, flattering, bullying, seducing, needling, analyzing, one-upping you, applying continuous pressure like a strong underwater current. ... >> it intrigued me because it was so much livelier and more energetic than the typical biographical narrative voice i've been trying to work within
and growing very frustrated with. because i don't know if all of you feel this way but, i find biographies are often boring. there's these long stretches we have to plod through stretches of the life that the biographer on earth every detail of and you want to get on with it and get to the thing you're really interested in. so how do you handle that? i thought if i tried out the narration in a voice that's as idiosyncratic as it's quite a person. not me being that someone a little older. someone who knew him better than i did been someone who might have been a colleague of his or her just been an eyewitness to his whole story. then it could really have the life that a reader wants from a biography. rather than he was born on such and such a date and he went to such and such a high school. once i tried that out, it liberated me to do all kinds of things with the narrative that
i wouldn't have done otherwise. >> did you reach the stage early in the process? rex i was kind of in a crisis. >> because i was interviewing hundreds of people. and reading through hundreds and hundreds of pages of his personal papers at his widow gave him after he died. i'm this autobiographical material. he knew everyone and seem to turn up everywhere. hillary clinton said he was this is a lick of foreign-policy point how do i turn into a good book? i was in the sort of crisis when that voice popped into my head. it's in like my salvation because it would allow me to tell a story. rather than build a monument
which i didn't want to do. i wanted it to feel as if you're listening to a particular person who happens to somehow know the whole story. telling it to you over a very long night without getting into what interviewed and what documents i read and all the mechanics of research which i thought would kill the book. >> is a something about his personality that made the voice work or would you use it for john kerry or madeleine albright? >> carrie, yes i knew him. it just doesn't have quite the same - - holbrook. the name itself has this energy surrounding it. both good and bad. he became a name when people said, have you heard what holbrooke did? everyone knows what that means. the very beginning, assumes that a listener has just asked this question.
there something outsize and even mesmerizing about the sheer size of his personality and of his ambitions and appetites and flaws. that fits a big capacious, narrative voice. and i think a more contained subject like john kerry would not be well served. >> the book is somewhat nontraditional as you know in the way you structure the narrative. [indiscernible] the three pillars of the book as i read it are vietnam, and in afghanistan and of his career ended tragically before he died. >> so i had to ask myself, how do i handle his ambassadorship in germany?
yes, he did things including leaving behind the american academy in berlin but honestly, we don't want to know very much about that. that's more of a resume item than a core part of the story you are telling about a man who is trying to get things done and who embodies certain american attributes. he did other things as ambassador but you don't need to know about them. which keeps coming back when my narrator is breaking convention. do you mind if we hurry through the early years is the first sentence of my first full chapter. some readers have said, i just wanted to hug you when i read that line. because yeah, i don't mind at all. i don't need to know where human to elementary school. >> vietnam is extraordinary for me as someone who has studied vietnam in retrospect.
as a blunder, to go back to these early years of the war when people like holbrooke with this incredible ambition went to vietnam. he was there with incredible captive journalists like - - [indiscernible]. do you have this kind of hope for the war and the failure of those hopes with his disillusionment with the war over the next several years? i guess, let me steal a question you quote from my former boss, george steinberg was somewhat younger and around holbrooke hearing him talk about vietnam and distributors and say, what happened to these guys in vietnam? rex steinberg came back from a meeting in the white house on bosnia.
>> which is) turned enemy, anthony lake, were locked in some conflict. there were others who were part of the generation. and the tension and energy and anger was so sick that he said what happened to those guys? something must have happened. that's why wanted to create the world of the young diplomat. now that many writers have approached. we usually get vietnam from the point of view from soldiers and marines oil or from the very top. generals and ambassadors. i found this world of young civilians in saigon and in the provinces early in the war to be really compelling. because they were idealist. holbrooke saw the war in vietnam as kind of a foreign
equivalent of what was happening in birmingham in the same summer of 1963. he wrote a letter to his brother saying, you are home so you should be marching and getting yourself locked up and if i were home, i would be doing that too.but instead, i am here fighting for freedom in the rice patties. but he saw them as essentially the same american mission. we forget how much of that was animated. even - - who were these great skeptics of the war. they were not for withdrawal. they were for winning but fighting the war better as john was instructing them to do. holbrooke was part of that mindset. because i have all his letters which he wrote to his fiancce, i could track the stages of doubt as they took over his very sharp mind. he was almost immediately send to a province by rufus phillips.
which is where the war was most intense. where the vietcong were winning. the embassy and the white house didn't know that and didn't want to know that. at age 22, holbrooke was the senior american civilian in this entire proverbs. effectively doing aid and - -'s work on the civilian side. the reports going up to saigon and to washington were misleading, if not outright false. there were not 324 functioning in his province. yet, by the time that report got to washington, no one questions it. the other thing he realizes is our strength, our firepower and technology was actually hurting us.because we were going into hamlets with artillery and helicopter gunships and killing civilians and creating vietcong
sympathizers. he began to question the assessments and the tactics right away. and was not shy about telling his superiors. you can see this kind of courage and is clear idleness when he was very young. it took four more years for him to go through the final stages of disillusionment to reach the point by 1957 where he believed the worker cannot be won and we had to negotiate with the north vietnamese. i wanted to sort of watch a very bright young man in the thick of the action through the transformation through the stages of doubt and holbrooke did that. >> is incredibly compelling. i should take a quick detour to bosnia in the 1990s.
i think you would agree was holbrooke's greatest accomplishment. the thing he was most known for. his energetic negotiation to end the war in ohio in the 1990s. the war in bosnia. you do an incredible job in this chapter showing. [cheering and - - holbrooke's diplomacy and for policymaking. as you go through this negotiation and you show, what made holbrooke a great statesman. but you and with sort of a less triumphant take on dayton and al, and what it meant. >> let me first say something about bosnia because that passage is somewhat the end of the bosnia part. holbrooke in that same spirit
of young foreign service officer in vietnam, wanted to see for himself. that was always in animating impulse. he went to sarajevo as a private citizen. he couldn't get a job for bill clinton. he'd waited 12 years to get back into government and he couldn't get a job when a democrat was elected. why? because he'd alienated all the people around bill clinton. we haven't discussed holbrooke's gargantuan faults but they are were many. and somewhat fatal for him. by the time the brass ring had come around again, anthony lake had become his enemy and was at bill clinton's side i was keeping holbrooke out along with others. he went to stereo full in a soak. he did something i really admire. he found a way to get into this besieged city to spend very little time but enough time to feel what the war was.
to get it under his skin. what he felt was this was a war of aggression. against some of - - of the multiethnic city and the europeans are standing by and unable or unwilling to stop it. we have to be involved. he came back to washington animated with that idea, which no one in the clinton administration wanted to hear. for the next 2.5 years, clinton became distracted and did not want to confront this bleeding wound in the middle of europe. i think holbrooke had to take from vietnam the right lesson. don't get involved. for holbrooke, that was not the listener vietnam. it was don't get involved in a civil war of nationalism that we don't understand. and that we can't win. but bosnia, he saw differently.
more like a kind of fascist war. in that case he felt we had to be involved. others have been paralyzed by vietnam. holbrooke at not. he negotiated the end of the war in dayton which showed his amazing persistence and persuasive powers. people think of him as a bully in diplomacy but really he was just tenacious and a great student of the adversary. >> he could be returning and charismatic. >> and was willing to spend eight hours eating lamb and rice and pretending to drink - -.but holbrooke didn't drink. he had the patience to wait him out until finally he said, mr. president, you have to end the siege of sarajevo. i didn't understand how hard diplomacy was until i got into holbrooke's life. how much stamina it takes. picture it like climbing a mountain and being able to
breathe at high altitude. so dayton was the great crown of his career. he thought it onto my nobel peace prize. he went to oslo to make his case, which you are not supposed to do. >> but it's very holbrooke. >> so clinton said, he probably would have gotten it has you not tried so hard. you look back at dayton and it begins to recede. so here's this passage. history is efficiently brutal with our dreams. nathan wasn't the highest peak after all. it wasn't the marshall plan for the opening to china. it solved a nasty problem but it didn't create anything new and big. for those who lived through the war who suffered on the inside or cared on the outside, bosnia was immense. it was all that mattered. but holbrooke dedicated three
years of his life to a small war in an obscure place with no consequences in the long run, beyond itself. the disproportion between effort and significance, i respect him for it. and here's the verse from ecclesiastes i associate with holbrook. whatsoever they can find it to do, do it with thy might. but dayton did not mark a new path in the - - story. it was closer to the end of something. i don't know if i need to go on but that's - - yeah, i feel dayton was a false hope. it seemed at the time as we now had, the way was clear for american values and interests to be perfectly married because russia was not a factor in china was not yet a factor. and we had a free hand we could use our diplomacy and military
and ideals to solve these problems around the world. the chaos that followed the cold war. turns out it was a one off. in retrospect, it was maybe the high watermark of the post-cold war. >> you also note that skeptics of u.s. policy or the lessons drawn, draw a line. i'm stealing your language from dayton to iraq. what are the right lessons from dayton going into the 2000's? >> i think it led to a certain overconfidence." although maybe furthered it even though it was a messy war that took far longer than anyone expected. i think they bread and overconfidence in people like me, in liberals. who suddenly fell in love with the idea of the american military could be a tool for
humanitarianism. that's kind of what holbrooke embodied in that era. he was the insider who seemed most comfortable with the idea of humanitarian intervention. i would say madeleine albright was the other one. after 9/11 it was a different playing field entirely. but he saw iraq in some ways as an extension of the same - - we have a terrible dictator. the ability to get rid of him. we should work with the un but if we can't, we don't need to request the un was the problem in bosnia, not the solution. in kosovo, the un wasn't involved. so i think it created ideas that were destructively misleading. in some ways, we are always learning the lesson of the last war. holbrooke grew up with the great generation that created
the postwar institutions. for him, world war ii and nato and the un are what american form policy was about the vietnam comes about and it's an application of that and it's the wrong place. bosnia comes along and a whole new generation tries to apply vietnam and it's the wrong place. iraq comes along and the architects of bosnia apply it to iraq and it seems like it's a cycle. and in syria, you could say we applied some of the wrong lessons but that's another story. >> when you get to afghanistan in the book. it's the last part of the book and the last chapter in holbrooke's life. does not have much rapport with president obama. >> you are being way too polite. >> i will let you be less polite. he becomes the special representative in the state
department. it seems to take different lessons to afghanistan in this case. a skeptic of the surge early in the obama administration. he's much more in favor of pushing peace talks. but, he also fails to apply the lessons of vietnam in ways that really proved to be tragic for him in this final phase.he never shares - - [indiscernible] >> obama disliked him and did not really want to be around him. holbrooke was long-winded. by the time he got to that last round in government, he had maybe begun to believe his own legend a bit. he was no longer as acutely able to read the room and into understand others and what they wanted. he was coming in like, here i am. i'm going to do this. he lectured obama. flattered obama. all the things that someone
more sensitive would have immediately realized for the wrong things to do. and obama just had no time for him from the start. in the end, kind of humiliated him and cut him out. >> sorry to interrupt you but there's this amazing scene where holbrooke is going on and on about vietnam and obama says to someone at his side in the situation room, who still talks like this? you feel this equitable sympathy in some ways for this giant of american diplomacy being humiliated. >> it's not obama's finest moment but it wasn't holbrooke's either. two different generations. utterly different temperaments. obama, curtis, wants the briefing. to me in a linear fashion. holbrooke, everything has to be couched in historic terms. mr. president, we are at the savage intersection of politics, policy and history. that's the one that prompted obama - - holbrooke was on videoconference from kabul. and obama said around the table, who talks like that?
at that moment, the entire foreign-policy team that holbrooke was finished. that was three weeks into the administration.so, holbrooke was a skeptic of the surge. i think obama was a skeptic. he had campaigned on winning in afghanistan. holbrooke could not say no to hillary clinton as she was the one that gave him that john and she was his only friend in the administration. and she was a hawk on this so he couldn't afford to contradict her. so he was quite about this. he didn't say much. after the strategy review was over, obama called him and said richard, i didn't get to hear your views. imagine holbrooke sitting
around the table, not speaking. he had lost his confidence. in a row pose the surge publicly in the theater where it mattered at the white house. he also, as you said, wanted to negotiate because of the other lesson he took from vietnam. not just military force alone cannot win but if you're in a political war, you must be able to negotiate. especially when you are obviously losing. no one wanted to hear that in the first year -and-a-half. neither the white house or the pentagon or the cia or hillary clinton. so holbrooke had to do a little under the table. the time he began to make it a case for it, his life was about to end. so there's a sort of tragedy at the end that he lost the ability to use the great experience and wisdom gained from the whole of his career. >> would we be in a different place in afghanistan had
holbrooke had the influence he wanted in the administration? >> i think it would depend on whether the taliban were really serious about negotiating. what holbrooke argued to himself and in his diary and in a few memos was, you don't negotiate when you've begun to withdraw. that's what nixon did in vietnam. and as you are withdrawing, you are losing leverage. so your losing negotiating power. you negotiate your top strength which in the case of afghanistan, basically, the end of 2009, beginning of 2010. the cousin obama had announced we are beginning to withdraw. we willfully until that moment. if there was any chance of some resolution of that war, it was that. of the surge. i don't think the taliban were ready to come to the table. so i doubt if in the end, it would have mattered. we will never know and that's tragic by itself because here
we are 10 years later trying to talk our way out of afghanistan. >> let me ask you one more question before we go to members for their questions. you are in your own way, efficiently brutal with holbrooke's dreams and flaws. but the book really does have a - - in the end. you talk about what we will miss from characters like holbrooke and the ambition and idealism he brought to the use of american power, whether the medic or military. what do you think we should salvage from that? what will we mess and what will we be better off without going forward? there's this fascinating interaction between holbrooke and the american establishment he wanted so much to be part of it represented by places and rooms like this in some ways. that establishment is in many ways, gone as well.
your tone when it comes to that loss in some ways. >> i'm not on critical of the establishment. but holbrooke wanted so much to have a career like his heroes. harriman, cannon, charles boland. the atchison. and it was no longer possible because the world is not in the state of sort of openness to being remade by a few titanic statesmen as it was after world war ii. and the american establishment broke up after vietnam. there was no longer a single unifying voice of authority that presidents from both parties listened to. and had the respect of the country and could speak of the country. that's no longer true today. if anything, the country is so skeptical of the leads that when the foreign policy elites speak, the country says, no. we are not interested anymore.
we don't want to keep sending our sons and daughters. or we don't see the point in these alliances were spending this morning. holbrooke assumed we would be in the lead. it wasn't a worked out foreign-policy. it was in his blood that we would leave because no one else could. and if we didn't, problems would become our problems even if they seem to begin in very faraway places. >>. [indiscernible] >> and then after bosnia and in kosovo and so many places. while we were in the lead, he would be in the lead. part of the deal was, you needed an american and what better american than richard holbrooke. i don't think that's the world we live in. there's no place for someone to stride across the state and say i am here.
everyone's going to sit down and we will work it out but i will be the one orchestrating it. i don't think there will be another dayton in which a big american takes over and forces these - - to come to terms. i was in bosnia in january. what i kept hearing - - even from some people in banja luka. where are you americans? you basically created this country at dayton. we present the structure of the government terribly. - - resent. we never hear from your ambassadors. why are you here because the russians are now here and there filling the void. my guess is you would hear that in a lot of places.
we are always acutely aware of being presented. but not always aware of being wanted. there's a kind of quizzical, why have you lost your confidence to the point you don't think you should be here, even diplomatically? even in the small work of ngos and working with local organizations. i think holbrooke cared about other people in other places. it was not about exercising american power for its own sake. he really wanted to solve problems and i think we should forget how essential we remain to so many people around the world as an example. our example is no longer much of an example. so we will never be a good example to others until we are one to ourselves again. i think holbrooke felt that deeply and it's something in some ways, is part of our eternal narcissism to forget. not only that we can be
resented, but also needed. >> let me remind you that this meeting is both on the record and being televised. note that anything you say will be on tv. please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it and state your name and limit yourself to one question so we can get as many in as possible. we will startover here . >> hi, how are you? good morning. terrific book. great presentation. tom mcdonald. part of - - law firm and part of the u.s. ambassadors zimbabwe in clinton's second term. met richard first in ohio. i think before this trip, you talk about in 92, he gave a sort of tour of the world. i said, richard, i think bill richardson's got the un job locked up. no, i'm getting that.
in any event, he came to zimbabwe twice. and an enormously capable diplomat. but your stories, putting his feet up on chairs and taking over the concierge desk in the hotel in harare - - [indiscernible]. until i said, richard, we are going to dinner. he did lead the congo conference in 2000. so my question really is, where does africa, where does the un job fit into sort of this narrative you so beautifully painted. and in the book where i would contend, his nomination had been held up as you know to the united nations but that was the most senior position he ever held, confirmed by the senate. so when he got to the dance,
everybody had sort of taken their part of the world. africa was left.and every member spending time with him dealing with hiv/aids. >> that was a hard chapter to write because there was no organizing theme. that's a really important period. because it's essentially holbrook liberated. he's put distance on him. he's really in his element. he only had 17 months as u.s. ambassador. he did an enormous amount of things. the important one was to get the us to pay the billions of dollars in dues it owed.
to do that, to get every member of the un to raise its dues while we lowered ours. so we had to get both republicans in congress and every country in the world into one place. that's maybe the most single most remarkable thing he did. he saw africa as an american space in american diplomacy. although susan rice didn't necessarily want to see you all that terrain and he and rice became bitter rivals. that remains so into the obama the - - [indiscernible]. he also tried to end the war. including hiv-aids. which was holbrooke at his most
imaginative.seeing that a disease had a place at the table that was only reserved for national security. that was the major shift of the un and maybe the u.s. government. he didn't think like a normal diplomat. he thought about people. and in africa, aids was met with a single most critical issue affecting the largest number of people. you see richard holbrooke at his most unchained and a flying high and doing so much. but he didn't have time to do the one thing that maybe would have cemented his place in history. which he never quite got. >> let's vote just behind nelson cunningham and then elson cunningham. >> hi. terrific book. i think the part of the book
that would have driven the craziest was the lack of an index. and i'm curious - - >> did it drive you crazy too? >> i read it cover to cover. was that your idea or your publishers idea? >> i didn't do it to torment people at all. i did it to emphasize this is a first and last reading experience. and the only way to read this is from start to finish. if you start dipping into this or that section, you will not have the right experience of the book. i know it's unusual. i don't think every book should be read that way but i worked really hard to make this book a continuous narrative arc that
you can't put down. that was my goal. and an index would sabotage that. it's called the washington read where people look themselves up in the index and i've heard complaints from washington readers about that. all i can say is, i am sorry. but read the book and then you can complain to me. >> we work for a long time to come up with the way to take this rich, coherent story and put it in - - [indiscernible] >> i can see the need for that but i felt if there's an index at the back. it's going to signal this is just a book of facts that you can pick and dive into at will and that's not the kind of book it is. >> nelson cunningham. you paint such a vivid picture
of a man skills were so outsized and yet, in his later years, the problems he was solving felt small. you could imagine he would so relish having this moment. having vladimir putin and the surge of russia.looking at the rise of china. what frame do you think he would bring to the questions we are facing now. >> i don't think afghanistan was small. i think it was immense. but you're right. i think that's where holbrooke's talents lay. not in sitting back and thinking through the structure of world order 10-20 years. that's kissinger. holbrooke had this lifelong fascination with, rivalry with henry kissinger.
holbrooke called kissinger, the most vipers man i know in this town. richard holbrooke said kissinger was utterly immoral and cynical but they couldn't ignore each other had to come to some - - [indiscernible]. they were fundamentally different in their worldview and the way they operated. i don't think holbrooke had kissinger's strategic genius. richard holbrooke was thinking about ending the war, saving refugees in indochina after the vietnam war which he cared deeply about. and in calling attention to hiv-aids and figuring out how
to get pakistan to stop destroying itself and us. these were more his scale because he was an operator i think. he was a guy who loved to go to the ground and talk to the sheiks, the prisoners, to the refugees. that's when he was at his most energized. i don't think a grand strategist necessarily functioned that way. so what would holbrook do today? i think he would be horrified by our foreign policy which is the antithesis of everything he believed in. but also would be - - flummoxed. because it's a different world and the world has moved on and it's no longer that era. the book kind of ends with his death. but really it ends with the election of 2016 because i think that's one of the era he embodied related end.
i don't - - he may have written essays for foreign affairs about china, etc. but he would have done that in order to get a job in the next administration. not because that's what engaged his passions. can we get rufus phillips? >> rufus phillips, yes. >> i think you've done a hell of a job on an extraordinarily complex guy. i wanted to comment on one aspect of his character which was as he was extraordinarily generous toward people he thought had helped him. and i can recount that i went to see him at the un with my wife. and thank him for writing and forward to my book. he took me around the office
and introduced me to every person there. and he talked about me in such exalted terms. that were really moving. when i think about it, i moved at this moment. so that was one interesting, and i think, very attractive aspect of his character. which was so multifaceted as you point out. in your book. >> he had a talent for friendship and loyalty. and the deepest loyalty had went to the vietnam group. remained his friends for the rest of his life. unless they became his enemies like tony lake. he felt those ties with them on that made him. as many enemies as he made, he
kept as many friends. and it's hard to convey in a book what it's like to just be around someone. i tried to. from what i heard from so many people including you, he was just fun to be around. he was full of life. he couldn't wait to tell you about the movie he had just seen. the book he just read. the person he just talked to. he just carried that lifeforce with him that was infectious and made other people want to be around him. even when they were pissed off at him. they just wanted to see what he would do next. and he could be a very good friend. i think he never forgot the opportunity you gave him in south vietnam in 1963 that set him off on the rest of his career. >> and he paid it forward to young staffers working for him. >> they still have reunions. there was a party a couple
weeks ago. how many government bureaucrats have their staff celebrate or honor them on the anniversary of their death or at a party at a reunion. holbrooke had this power to create disciples and make them lifelong loyalists as well as to make rivals into enemies. i think the one place you didn't want to be with holbrooke was at the same level. because then you were a threat and he was going to take you out because he couldn't stand to be in competition. >> let's get a couple more in. table here to the left. >> hi, kathy. i was 20 something in the clinton administration. the lead advance person for clinton so i was in a lot of different rooms with richard
holbrooke. and i later married a military officer. it strikes me, there was a certain joy in our activity. i wonder if you can comment on the way the man in his personality and the country at that time is reflected. >> that's a really nice point. you don't want to drive too far but the way the world sees us is kind of the way richard holbrook was. somewhat uncouth. inpatient with protocol.
somewhat blind to ourselves and our excesses. but always kind of there that you can't get rid of us. that is the way in which holbrooke embodied the span of his life. i think it began in 1941. - - coined the phrase and ended sometime in the early 21st century when holbrooke was in decline. i don't want to make it too good or too tight a connection. if you look for an american who contained those multitudes, it was holbrooke. under the thing hillary clinton send to me was, i picture him like oliver tied down by little
- - and that was in the obama white house. >> let's go back here. >> charlie stevenson. you had extraordinary access. love letters. his own diaries. you kept a diary. i don't know anyone would do that nowadays because of the risk of subpoenas. what advice would you have for anyone who might want to write a book, a biography of some other statesman or public figure? >> i couldn't have written it without his papers. which his widow gave me with no conditions. and that was an extraordinary thing to have. you just listed all the best stuff you the diaries were
often micro-cassette recordings. i heard his voice. spent hours listening to that voice. i think, pick a subject isn't at the very top. once there is a subtle account of why they're important. and there's layers and layers of protection in some ways against getting to the heart of the matter because the two important to reveal themselves fully. richard holbrooke was at level one or two steps down. where there was something naked about his path through life. he was not trying to cover up his tracks. it wasn't important or cautious enough to do that. i think you really do see something about how government works and the nature of power when you're able to get inside
the room with someone who's not the most important person in the room. try to get the diaries if they exist. hunt down the letters. whatever it takes. but you're right, people don't leave a record anymore and it terrible.terrible thing for historians and journalists. try to find a character who isn't too important to already be disappearing behind a mist of half-truths and euphemisms but that would be my advice. >> let's go to the very back. >> the very back indeed. my name is peter rosenblatt. i have that this event is of not yet having read the book. but i look forward to not being able to put it down. i worked with dick in the white house in 1966-1968. he was sick then.
--dick then . while he was working and what for him, might have seemed like the ideal job of overseeing in a way, the conduct of the civilian side of the war. which he had learned about so well during the four years he was there. when he was in the white house, he was able to establish back channel contact with people in vietnam from the provinces to the embassy. while at the same time, he was cultivating as only he could. senior officials in washington. he came to be at that time
perhaps the single person together with our colleagues, bob montague. the best informed person about what was actually happening in vietnam. i think he was recognized as such certainly by our boss. and he devoted himself they and night to doing what you say he did best which is to be an operator. but unfortunately, whatever influence he had came to the end with the johnson administration. then of course he was on a different track. i think if you understand how he operated, 66-68, you understand what you need to
know about the man. at least in his public face. >> i totally agree. it tells you something about what it's like to be inside the government at the heart of the biggest problem facing the government. and to be working 14-16 hours a day while at the same time having the detachment and intelligence to see what was and wasn't working. it's sometimes the most knowledgeable people who are the last ones. to see what may seem obvious to someone who's just reading about it in the paper. it's so much with they are contented too.
the closer you are and the more you know about in some ways, the less you be able to see what's obvious to the unschooled. so holbrooke began to realize the war was not only not being won, but unwinnable by the standard of what the american people were willing to do. when he came back and suddenly saw what it was doing to american society. he was writing a memo on behalf of nicholas, his boss at the state department. after he left the white house. a brilliant memo explaining why north vietnam was going to wait us out. so the whole focus of the administration had to change. i've never read anything by a government official is
well-written and keen as that. but it took many years and many steps someone as close and dedicated as he was to get to that point. >> let's go to bernie aronson. >> thank you. one of the points that comes through the book either implicitly or explicitly, that it's always a great disadvantage instead of government decision-making. particularly in national security, to be the advocate of action. the easier position is to be, mr. president, that sounds good but here are the risks. it's election year and we shouldn't try this. and dick often wanted to solve a problem which meant you had to make a decision and solve something. there's a bias always against the one that wants to do something risky. the risk of inaction are not as explicit and the risk of action are. he wanted to act he always had
that fence to put up to get something done and he was the target for those who do ãno go. i think it's another way in which the book which i thought was a great read. illustrates the way how diplomacy is not only carried out but formulated. >> i think that's a great point. >> let's go to one final question here. >> i worked for albright in the 60s. dick was part of the administration, a terrible habit of disliking congress getting involved. even though, as you say he was
on the same side of what the administration could do.so the question is, he didn't like congress interfering even when they were on the same side. the arguments i used to have with him. were not based on the facts of the issues really. [indiscernible] >> i think he learned a lesson from that because in later years, he would talk about the need to have congress and the public behind you if were going to succeed in diplomacy. you couldn't do it in secret. by the time he got to bosnia and the un, even before that
under carter. his first moves as he became secretary of state. at the tender age of 35 were to go to the hill and start making friends with people there. i think if he can convince jesse helms to approve his appointment, which was not an easy thing to do.it's because he convinced jesse helms that he would listen to congress. i think maybe he learned that lesson from the years in vietnam. >> there are shiny new copies of the book for sale.
for those of you have not yet read it, i cannot recommend it highly enough. for those who have read it, it makes a great graduation gift, father's day, birthdays, whatever. thank you and congratulations on the book. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> here's a look at authors on booktv's "after words". our weekly interview author program that includes best-selling nonfiction books and guest interviewers. last week michael malice reported on the far right movement. coming up, journalist natalie wexler will argue the u.s. education system can be improved by expanding the curriculum of elementary school students in history, science and the arts. and this weekend, terry mcauliffe recounts events that led to the tragedy in charlottesville following the
2017, unite the right valley. >> a lot of this started when obama got elected. for many people, the concept of a black president in the oval office for many, was offensive. but they didn't act on any of it. they may have on social media. and then you have a president who comes and who spent a lot of time on the birther movement singing president obama wasn't born in america and all the other. he's tweeting, re-tweeting white supremacist and neo-nazi activities while he's running for president. and then trump comes in and the ban. i think it send a signal that if the president can say this, i can too. and that emboldened them. that's why they came to charlottesville.people used to wear hoods. they used to do this at