When Richard Holbrooke died suddenly three years ago this week, the start of the Arab Spring was just days away. Death kept one of the legendary figures of the Democratic foreign-policy establishment from any part in the debates that have come to define the diplomacy of the Obama administration—how to stop mass killing in Libya and Syria; how to influence Egypt's post-authoritarian politics; and, most recently, how to constrain Iran's nuclear program.
Holbrooke's influence has not been wholly lost. Nothing makes Obama's advisers wince more than being asked: What do you think Holbrooke would be saying about all this? If the subject is genocide, the man who brokered an end to the war in Bosnia is obviously the administration's guilty conscience. And with new rounds of talks about to begin on both Syria and Iran, his record makes him the inevitable standard for measuring success. Decades before people started calling John Kerry an "energizer bunny," Holbrooke was the guy who knew everybody, had been everywhere, and had a plan for every problem.