The career of the late imperial courtier par excellence Richard Holbrooke is summed up well here by Diane Johnstone. As she notes:
The Dayton Peace Accords were presented as a heroic victory for peace extracted by the brilliant Holbrooke from a reluctant Milosevic, who had to be "bombed to the negotiating table" by the United States. In reality, the U.S. government was fully aware that Milosevic was eager for peace in Bosnia to free Serbia from crippling economic sanctions. It was the Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic who wanted to keep the war going, with U.S. military help.
In reality, the U.S. bombed the Serbs in order to get Izetbegovic to the negotiating table. And the agreement reached in the autumn of 1995 was not very different from the agreement reached in March 1992 by the three ethnic groups under European Community auspices, which could have prevented the entire civil war, if it had not been sabotaged by Izetbegovic, who withdrew his agreement with the encouragement of the then U.S. ambassador Warren Zimmermann. In short, far from being the great peacemaker in the Balkans, the United States first encouraged the Muslim side to fight for its goal of a centralized Bosnia, and then sponsored a weakened federated Bosnia – after nearly four years of bloodshed which left the populations bereft and embittered.
The real purpose of all this, as Holbrooke made quite clear in To End a War, was to demonstrate that Europeans could not manage their own vital affairs and that the United States remained the "indispensable nation". ... His victory was a defeat for diplomacy. The spectacle of bombing plus Dayton was designed to show that only the threat or application of U.S. military might could end conflicts.
Holbrooke's death this week was capped by sinister, cynical comedy from the White House, which sought to turn his dying refutation of the murderous Af-Pak policy he pushed so assiduously into a bit of manly joshing with doctors before going under the knife. Well, maybe that's how it was; maybe he stayed in character, the eager, hearty, shallow courtier, even as death was staring him in the face. In any case, whether Holbrooke saw the light -- or rather, saw the darkness he had served his whole life -- before he died or not, his demise brings to mind a point we were making here just a few days ago.
What I like best about the the health care drama in the US right now is how nearly everyone is fighting on the other side, unwittingly or otherwise. We've got Democrats working to save Obama's nationalized version of Romneycare, while Republicans are doing everything possible to defeat insurance-purchasing mandates that would give even greater power and wealth to their corporate patrons in the health insurance industry. I haven't had this much fun (politically, anyway) since the waning days of the Clinton administration, when give-peace-a-chance Republicans were trying to undermine Clinton's determined efforts to kill Yugoslavs and Iraqis, and Democrats and their "progressive" enablers were clamoring for more more more smart bombs.
Will Republicans be able to rescue universal health care in the US from the seemingly mortal blow it took from Obama and the Democrats? Time will tell.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on December 16, 2010.