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Posted at 10:17 PM ET, 12/13/2010

Holbrooke: An extraordinary man

By Richard Cohen

It could be Quincy Jones. It could be Brian Stokes Mitchell. It could be Glenn Close. And, of course, it could be Hillary and Bill Clinton. I am talking about the people you could meet at Richard Holbrooke's place. He was a diplomat and a journalist and an editor and a writer and an amateur historian, the husband of Kati Marton, an author herself, and he was, in essence, a one-man salon. He had a thousand friends, and he deserved every one of them.

I was one of those friends -- not all that close, but close enough. We had met, as best as I can recall, in a typical Holbrooke fashion, at the screening of a movie. It was George Stevens Jr's film about his father, the Hollywood director George Stevens, and Holbrooke and I had been asked by Stevens to see an early print of the movie. I remember the movie -- it is a fine work of art -- but what stays with me from that day is Holbrooke's voluminous knowledge of film. He seemed to have seen every film ever made and learned something from each one.

I had heard of Holbrooke, of course. By his late 20s, he was already a mythical figure. He had been in Vietnam. He has been the Peace Corps chief in Morocco. He has been on the White House staff and had edited Foreign Policy magazine. Holbrooke was not a mere man. He was some sort of human key: if you knew him, he could unlock much of the world for you.

"Have you read Rebecca West's "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon??" Holbrooke once asked me. I was writing about the war in the former Yugoslavia, and the Balkans was the subject of the West book. I went out and got the thing. In paperback it is 1181 pages long -- to this day not a single one of then read by me. I am sure Holbrooke read them all. What's more, if I asked him, I'm sure he could quote a passage or two. He was brilliant. In fact, he was that brilliant.

Holbrooke was omnivorous in his associations, his reading and his appreciation of life. His friends all had "Holbrooke stories" about his excesses, his vanities, his jealousies and his enormous capacity to keep their friendship and, just as important, his own sense of humor. Whatever else he was -- and he was a writer, diplomat, editor, banker, publisher and impresario of numerous organizations -- he was a deeply serious man engaged always in the serious business of saving lives -- in Vietnam, in Afghanistan, in Bosnia.

He had a monumental intellect that matched his capacity for work. Once he and I flew to Munich with a congressional delegation, and after a long flight, he hit the ground, got an hour or two of sleep, and delivered a flawless, spectacular briefing to the assembled Americans -- the political situation in Germany, the state of German-American relations, etc. He was riveting, the result you might think of spending hours on the flight preparing. Not so. The two of us used the time to catch up on gossip. He was brilliant at that, too.

From time to time, we talked a bit about Afghanistan and Pakistan. I could see the situation drained him. America was supposed to win, but what did that mean? The corruption was epic -- Vietnam all over again and maybe the same outcome. The flights back and forth were long and wearying.

In the summer, he came over to my place at the beach. My wife had been diagnosed with cancer -- yet again. We talked about life, about mortality. He was 69 -- not old, but not young, either. I told him what I believed. He mattered. He had saved lives in Bosnia and elsewhere. He had founded the American Academy in Berlin so that American values would always have a presence in Germany.

Last week, we talked briefly at an event in New York. I thought he looked tired. "What city do you think you're in?" I asked him. He smiled. He had a lovely smile. "Kabul, Islamabad, Washington, New York," he said. Two days later, his aorta shredded and within days he was dead. Others will tell you that he was a great diplomat. No doubt. I will simply say he was an extraordinary man.

By Richard Cohen  | December 13, 2010; 10:17 PM ET
Categories:  Cohen  | Tags:  Richard Cohen  
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Next: Richard Holbrooke, a force of personality

Comments

thank you. may his memory be a blessing.

Posted by: esthermiriam | December 13, 2010 11:17 PM | Report abuse

Richard Holbrooke was indeed an extraordinary man! He was driven by a sense of fairness and justice for all regardless of race, creed, religion and color. He stood up to the xenophobic murderous clan of Milosevic and bombed them to sense when the whole of Europe was a merely bystanders watching the genocide of Muslims in the Balkans. To me he is a true hero of the humanitarian cause, and probably the greatest Christian ever to save the lives of millions of Muslims a fact should be acknowledged in the Islamic history books taught in every Muslim country.

Posted by: mike_hussain | December 14, 2010 12:51 AM | Report abuse

A giant has died.

Your comment about Holbrooke being a human key is spot on, and his intelligence was apparent to anyone who would listen. Thank you for this remembrance. The entire world is much poorer for his passing.

Posted by: LincolnX | December 14, 2010 1:01 AM | Report abuse

Thank you, Richard, for your heartfelt remembrance of a truly extraordinary man.

I am worried about how we can replace a guy like him.

Posted by: binkynh | December 14, 2010 1:04 AM | Report abuse

I am sorry for your loss. I am also sorry at the world's loss. We all need people like him.

Posted by: Nymous | December 14, 2010 3:20 AM | Report abuse

I for one hated this man for his putrid discrimination against Serbs and his favoritism for any policy that would steal land from Serbia. It's one thing to make honest policies; it is a whole other thing to invent issues to pursue your own deceitful aims. At least we know he as a warm place in the underworld waiting for him. When's it Albright's turn to go?

Posted by: aztecterp | December 14, 2010 5:35 AM | Report abuse

If he was so amazing, how come so many soldiers are still dying?

What do these people actually DO?

Posted by: sufi66 | December 14, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Wow--Little Dick Cohen wrote an article that didn't include the word "Palin".

Posted by: kbarker302 | December 14, 2010 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Yes, he traveled the world, had many well-known friends, and impressed people like Richard Cohen. But, as the above poster asked, what did he actually do?

Posted by: ShovelPlease | December 14, 2010 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Holbrooke favored the wrong side in the Balkans

The KLA use the same arm patch as a German SS division...which was made up of Balkan muslims fighting FOR the Nazi in WW2

Holbrooke was an appeaser....diplomacy to a democrat is a surrender exercise

Muslims were on the wrong side of WW1 and WW2...and today as well

Like the current proMuslim push against Israel by Obama's lacky Mitchell.....the Balkans and Afghanistan are a display of democrat appeasement and weakness in action

Mitchell needs to see Holbrooke's doctor

Posted by: georgedixon1 | December 14, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

If he was so amazing, how come so many soldiers are still dying?

What do these people actually DO?

Posted by: sufi66
-----------------------

The answer is simple. Because the mess your God Dick Cheney and his minion GW Bush got us into were more than one man can fix. And you and your fellow Teahasist continue to thwart any progress. So, just look in the mirror and the answer to your question will be staring you in the face.

Posted by: rcc_2000 | December 14, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Holbrooke favored the wrong side in the Balkans

The KLA use the same arm patch as a German SS division...which was made up of Balkan muslims fighting FOR the Nazi in WW2

Holbrooke was an appeaser....diplomacy to a democrat is a surrender exercise

Muslims were on the wrong side of WW1 and WW2...and today as well

Like the current proMuslim push against Israel by Obama's lacky Mitchell.....the Balkans and Afghanistan are a display of democrat appeasement and weakness in action

Mitchell needs to see Holbrooke's doctor

Posted by: georgedixon

------

Once again, a Teahadist, who backs the side of genocide as a political and "final" solution.

Posted by: rcc_2000 | December 14, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

ANOTHER WARRIOR KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY.

Posted by: DANSHANTEAL1 | December 14, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

How could you have written a book about the was in Yugoslavia and not have read the book by Rebecca West. If you had, you might have better understood the ancient historical background to the conflicts of the 1990s. Holbrook new enough to give you good advice which you chose not to follow.

Posted by: dojemc | December 14, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

"an extraordinary man

Well said!

RIP Ambassador Holbrooke

Posted by: boog44 | December 14, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

The critical condition Holbrooke had prayed for Barack Obama, the Afghan and Pakistani President desired a speedy recovery. Richard Holbrooke, who died on Monday, was named the giant of the American foreign policy president. Kati Marton http://usspost.com/kati-marton-24343/

Posted by: susan166 | December 14, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Cohen naturally cannot restrain himself from exhibiting his constant, 100% self-serving narcissism. Check out how many sentences contain the word “I”, “me” or “my”. The guy has no class whatsoever. Holbrooke, to his credit, always recognized Cohen for what Cohen is. That’s the only reason Cohen can get away with writing this stuff now, and now only in a “blog”. Proof again that "less gifted" people tend to think far better of themselves than does anyone of actual ability and talent.

I guess there has to be one clueless, insecure person like this at every memorial service.

Posted by: DannyPl | December 14, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

How sad that he will never write his memoirs -- if in fact he would ever have paused long enough to do so.

RIP...

Posted by: icyone | December 14, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Saving lives in Vietnam? Afghanistan, Iraq... his career seems to span quite a few wars for lies and deception and is littered with lives of kinds and persuasions.. if he and our country were trying to save any lives it must have been a losing battle. As in Aghanistan where we helped provoke the Soviets to invade so we could jump to helping save their lives... now the excuse is saving them from themselves, the part of themselves we helped create... with that kind of help we all need help... or are you helping cover up our history...

Posted by: Wildthing1 | December 14, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Cohen naturally cannot restrain himself from exhibiting his constant, 100% self-serving narcissism. Check out how many sentences contain the word “I”, “me” or “my”. The guy has no class whatsoever. Holbrooke, to his credit, always recognized Cohen for what Cohen is. That’s the only reason Cohen can get away with writing this stuff now, and now only in a “blog”. Proof again that "less gifted" people tend to think far better of themselves than does anyone of actual ability and talent.

I guess there has to be one clueless, insecure person like this at every memorial service.

Posted by: DannyPl | December 14, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse


Make that two. Cohen, maybe. You, definitely.

Posted by: Bridge3263 | December 14, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Holbrooke = a self-serving bimbo! Give us a break Cohen -- just because you are "in the cocktail circuit" with RH does not mean that he had a clue about the situation in the Balkans or elsewhere.

Posted by: KrautKiller | December 14, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

rest in peace

Posted by: thebump | December 14, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

"Holbrook will be greatly Missed"

I liked him, he was a man of "PEACE" did alot of good for alot of folks, including U.S.

..."I am proud he was on our team, proud of what he did as an American, and proud that America had him on our side."

...."Holbrook will be greatly missed."

Posted by: ztcb41 | December 14, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Excuse me, didn't you have a well reported affair with his wife when she was still married to someone else. Who are you to even speak of integrity?

Posted by: ccarey1 | December 14, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Remind me, who was Mr. Holbrooke married to at the time of his death? Anyone you know Mr. Cohen?

Posted by: moe99 | December 14, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Daer Mr. Cohen,

I also think that Richard Holbrooke is a greatest politician is a sense that he was completely insensitive to human pain and immoral.

Richard Holbrooke was responsible for demonization of the Serbs during the Balkan conflict in the world press. He contributed to the economic ruin of Serbia due to sanctions, and the bombings that were impose upon the people.

On other hand he was very supportive of KLA and personally for Hashim Thaçi - now Kosovo PM, who is a head of human organ and arms ring – EU report Two-year inquiry accuses Albanian 'mafia-like' crime network of killing Serb prisoners for their kidneys

Hashim Thaçi is identified as "the boss" of a network that began operating criminal rackets in the run-up to the 1999 Kosovo war, and has held powerful sway over the country's government since.

KLA - is drag mafia, Kosovo is a criminal state - the only propose of which is US dominance in Europe. US government has been covered Albanian mafia bosses all these time - and Richard Holbrooke is a chief architect of that.

Besides as a US envoy for Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke has completely stoped any antidrug operations in Afghanistan (responsible for 95% of heroin in Europe) – so to please local mafia barons to serve US interests – just like he did in Kosovo.

So, he just traded drug mafia support for promoting US nazi-style world domination dreams both in Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Posted by: Alexander_RF | December 15, 2010 5:36 AM | Report abuse

Richard Holbrooke was a dedicated professional diplomat who was unquestionably the quarterback of American politics for more than 15 years. In his later years he became a great statesman and he worked tirelessly for world peace and freedom for all. This is truly a sad day for all of us who love Richard and his work ethics. The early years of Richard's life were played out on Tim Russert's Sunday Meet the Press, and Mr Holbrooke was a great story. Foreign Affairs is not something for the weak minded or faint hearted and one has to walk the walk, and talk the talk to have an ounce of credibility in the international community. It is fair to say Richard Holbrooke was an ounce of gold, and a piece of gold that we shall all treasure forever.

Posted by: kingsley_ferdinands2005 | December 15, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

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