WWHD = What Would Holbrook Do?

We still look for leadership when major security crises beg for diplomatic prowess–and Richard Holbrooke cannot be forgotten. Stephen Sestanovich suggests the following lessons:

  1. America should never be on the sidelines
  2. Paint a big canvas
  3. Dont’ shy away from nation-building
  4. Diplomacy reflects facts on the ground — change them if you have to
  5. Muscle your friends as well as your enemies
  6. You get one bite at the apple — so take a big one

How do you deal with difficult people–even the “devil“?  Holbrook was especially good at this conundrum, as noted in no. 5:

The Clinton administration’s star negotiator knew that getting to yes involved a lot of cajolery, a lot of charm—and a lot of confrontation. He could be shameless when it came to buddying up to the bad guys. His principle seemed to be that there was nobody you couldn’t do a deal with, and he included criminals like Slobodan Milosevic. The good guys were surprised by how rough he was prepared to be with them. The Dayton peace talks ended well because Holbrooke gave the Bosnian Muslims an ultimatum: If you don’t sign the agreement in one hour, we close the talks down for good. His handling of the Pakistanis was equally unsentimental. An aide compared his treatment of difficult allies to therapy for psychologically abused children: “You don’t focus on the screaming and the violence—you just hug them tighter.”

via What Would Richard Holbrooke Do? – Stephen Sestanovich – POLITICO Magazine.

Read more from Sestanovich–who is the main speaker in today’s Kennedy Center CFR Conference Call on US foreign policy:

  1. Stephen Sestanovich, “Maximalist,” Alfred A. Knopf, February 2014.
  2. Stephen Sestanovich, “The Price of Pulling Back From the World,” New York Times, February 9, 2014.
  3. Stephen Sestanovich, “What Would Richard Holbrooke Do?” Politico, December 9, 2013.
  4. Stephen G. Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth, “Lean Forward: In Defense of American Engagement,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2013.
  5. Barry R. Posen, “Pull Back: The Case for a Less Activist Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2013.



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