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The Richard Holbrooke I Knew

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
January 2, 2011
The Daily Beast


Far better to write a novel about Richard C. Holbrooke than a biography, let alone an obituary. Only a novel could render his mythic contradictions--his stunning ability to see into the hearts and minds of others, but his blindness to how they saw him; his unrivaled gift for knocking down doors and walking smack into them; his infuriating qualities and his enormous charm and generosity; his capacity to sit and consume books or movies and his titanic energy to go anywhere and do anything; his bullying qualities and willpower coupled with his thin skin, neediness, and fragility; his almost childlike ego and his fiery commitments to great causes, indeed his fusion of self and mission. When not obsessing about adversaries and transforming them into monsters so he could slay them, he was incomparably interesting and fun.

His life and mine have been so intertwined for 45 years that he swims in my head--as unfinished music about the man I grew up with in the cauldron of foreign affairs and in life. For me, this music conjures his surpassing diplomatic skills, his gift for Homeric friendship--and his promise, lost.

I don't want the obituaries to swallow him up as a brilliant star who never made it to the top. I want people to understand why his death is being treated like the passage of a great secretary of State, the position he dearly coveted, never attained, and so clearly deserved.

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