Ghosts of Vietnam

George Packer’s profile of Richard Holbrooke, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, provides some interesting material to chew on. Packer’s two main themes are Holbrooke’s force of character – he has a large ego and big personality, and overwhelms everything he does with sheer will and determination – and the lessons of Vietnam. Interestingly, Vietnam is where Holbrooke first cut his diplomatic teeth in the early 1960s;  but it hasn’t been that long since Dayton and Bosnia, historical events that have more direct bearing on my own life  and with which I more directly associate Holbrooke. It’s Vietnam, not Bosnia, though, that appears to be shaping everything Holbrooke is now doing – or rather,  that’s what informs how he thinks about what he’s doing now. At least that’s how he sees things, as Packer describes it. Holbrooke is not and refuses to be shackled by the ghosts of Vietnam; there’s a blatant irony in the pervasiveness of that refusal…  not that Holbrooke is actually in denial about it. More that it’s such a large part of why and how he does things, that it can’t help but shape who he is and what he does.

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