This column, an encomium to the late Richard Holbrooke, yields some insight into Roger Cohen. He still cherishes an early-1990s idea of the U.S. as, potentially, the benign sole superpower: a nation entrusted with the moral task of executing humanitarian wars and interventions worldwide–informed by the wisdom of men like Holbrooke.
[T]his untimely death is a clarion call to America to set aside smallness in the name of values that can still inspire. Holbrooke was a fierce believer in the U.S. capacity for good. Here stood the nexus of his multiple beings. It is what made him so consequential in so many places and saved so many lives.
Wilsonian idealist? Ruthless realpolitiker? He was both rolled into one dreamer-doer.As he once told me, “We cannot choose between the two; we have to blend the two.” How could Americans forsake their idealism if they had become Americans precisely in defiance of the hateful ideologies that drove Holbrooke’s Jewish parents from Europe and ooze from Waziristan caves today?
Archibald Macleish wrote that if we had not believed all humankind is endowed “with certain inalienable rights, we would never have become America, whatever else we might have become.” That was the America Holbrooke took out to the world, even post-Iraq, with “interventionism” a dirty word.
The history of East Timor, the prehistory and the aftermath of the 1999 NATO bombings (i.e. that there never was a pretext of genocide) are either unknown by him or forgotten. His is roughly the view of the world offered by Barack Obama in his Nobel Prize Speech. Cohen’s defiance of the center-right consensus on Israel/Palestine and to some extent on Iran too, stands isolated in his understanding. Like a view of the Boer War that concentrated its anger against Cecil Rhodes without a word about Whitehall.