The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘Richard Holbrooke’ tag

Book Review: War On Peace

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The UK paperback edition I purchased in Dubai after leaving Iraq.

Pai- I’ve recently finished reading Ronan Farrow’s death of American diplomacy narrative War On Peace. I picked up the UK paperback edition at Kunokiniya Books at the Dubai Mall–meaning it had finally passed the UAE’s thought censors to be able to be sold. This process can take many months I’ve been told. I needed something to read while traveling across Sri Lanka and this looked like a good companion.

It is sort of two books in one volume. The first an homage of sorts with necessary criticism of the late Richard Holbrooke. The second half is a series of vignettes of high risk foreign policy successes and blunders through the prism of the Department of State. Having once worked as an editor in Washington, I read reflexively with a critical eye perhaps more than is necessary. I was put off within minutes when on the first page Abdoun is described as a neighborhood of Jordan rather than its capital Amman. Countries don’t have neighbourhoods, cities do, in geographic semantics. I put that aside an delved in to what is overall a quite enjoyable read about what is in reality a depressing subject-the decline of American influence in the world and the militarisation of US foreign policy.

Part of why I found Farrow’s work entertaining was quite personal. I’d intersected with nearly every character in the book in some circumstantial way. The time I encountered Holbrooke, along with Madeline Albright, while working a temp job at the Council on Foreign Relations over a decade ago. The time Stan McChrystal’s Italian carbinieri bodyguards nearly knocked me of while trying to photograph him. The time I waited at Abdul Rashid Dostum’s house in Kabul when he returned from an exile episode. When I went to dinner with General Michael Hayden at a posh midtown Manhattan university club where tipping the staff was forbidden. When I drove through Jowjan province on the way to Turkmenistan exactly as the massacre of Taliban prisoners was taking place in Dasht-i-Leili. This book appealed to me in part because of all the memories it brought back. At the very end one of the last people mentioned in the acknowledgments, a former Obama era foreign policy wunderkind, is the sister of someone who follows me on Instagram. It’s a string of degrees of separation.

ISAF Commander General Stanley McChyrstal hurries past reporters to asses the damage and casualties in front of his office after this morning suicide attack believed to be carried out by the Afghan Taliban.©2009 Derek Henry Flood

Much of what is described in the book is a litany of lost or squandered opportunities where good ideas were put forth that were undercut by a lack of political will or foresight or in the case of Holbrooke, death. There’s one really glaring error where in page 61 he describes Moqtada al-Sadr as an al-Qaeda lader, which could not be more wrong. Al-Sadr was the leader of the eschatological Shia sectarian Jaish al-Mahdi, about as opposite ideologically as AQ as you can get. How that made it through fact checking I’ll never understand. There were some other minor editing issues but this was the only really egregious factual error that I can recall.

Overall, I found War On Peace thoroughly relatable and entertaining, a good travel read. I’ll be leaving it behind in the used book pile at my hotel here in Thailand hoping someone else will pick it up and enjoy it equally.

Written by derekhenryflood

May 2nd, 2019 at 4:28 am

No Dayton For AfPak

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New York- With the death of Richard Holbrooke, will the idea of a Dayton-style negotiated settlement die with him? Last Wednesday when I arrived on the Acela in D.C. from New York I was talking with a colleague (the day before the Jamestown Foundation terrorism conference where Amrullah Saleh would be speaking the next day) and he mentioned that somebody from Holbrooke’s office at State had wanted to set up a time to meet with Saleh while he was in town. I tried to suggest that he tell Holbrooke’s underling to tell the man himself to come and crash our conference if he wanted to see Mr. Saleh badly enough. I’m quite sure my message never filtered up the chain and got to Holbrooke. I did keep an eye out for him throughout the day as I paced up and down the hallway of the National Press Club outside the Grand Ballroom half expecting the see the “bulldozer” barge in with a young-ish entourage from the office he set up. Obviously he never showed and I doubt he even knew about the event (though I’m sure he would have liked to have).

Looking back on it all with a bit of perspective, Saleh and Holbrooke’s positions are and were diametrically opposed vis-a-vis the Taleban. Holbrooke was a man of negotiated settlements beginning with the Paris Peace Accords formally ending American involvement in the war in Viet Nam and most notably the 1995 Dayton [Ohio] Accords which brought a tripartite peace to the three Yugoslav successor states that had fought so bitterly since 1992. But Mullah Muhammed Omar is no Slobodan Mliosevic (though Gulbuddin Hekmatyar could be?) and the idea of a negotiated settlement via a “retail” peace agreement with “moderate” Taleban is an anathema to men like Saleh who were fighting against the Taleban as they struggled-and because of Ahmad Shah Massoud’s forces-and failed to control 100% of Afghanistan’s territory. Perhaps there are some in the Pashtun belt (aka AfPak) that believe a settlement or concessions to the Taleban are a worthwhile idea but for many Pashtuns and to the rest of those peoples who compose Afghanistan’s ethnic and religious mosaic, there will be more war before such a peace, Western troops or no Western troops.

If Holbrooke had come to my event it would have been the last of his professional career unbeknownst to me the day before.  The quote in The Washington Post journalist Rajiv Chandersekaran’s article about Holbrooke’s death, that he was being operated on by a Pakistani surgeon at George Washington University Hospital and said as (what may have been) his last words while on his literal death bed: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan”, was almost a caricature of poignancy. Except that is was not a caricature, he was someone who was genuinely and immensely interested in ending the “long war” in Central and South Asia’s perennially troubled Pashtun belt. It was not an act, he died doing it. And though he certainly had his critics regarding his approach and ideas for negotiations, with his disappearance from the political landscape, now, there will assuredly be no Dayton for AfPak.

Written by derekhenryflood

December 15th, 2010 at 12:54 pm