The Magazine


Apr 26, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 30 • By TUCKER CARLSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

To his credit, Holbrooke seems to be reassessing his own understanding of Milosevic. One of the more heated debates now taking place at the White House is over how to deal with Milosevic when the current bombing campaign ends. If, for instance, Milosevic were to send a message to the Contact Group indicating his willingness to cut a deal of some sort, should the United States negotiate with him? Clinton, ever flexible, has not yet decided. For his part, Holbrooke, though technically no longer a part of the administration, has taken a much harder line in White House meetings, arguing that Milosevic is a criminal and that further negotiations of any kind would serve only to legitimize his rule.

Holbrooke is also in the process of rewriting his prior perceptions of Milosevic. Literally. If his book's characterization of Milosevic seems at times close to affectionate, Holbrooke has said, it is only because he knew when he wrote it that he might have to negotiate with Milosevic again. Eager to correct what in retrospect looks like credulity, Holbrooke reportedly is writing and epilogue for the paperback edition of To End a War that will depict Milosevic as a monster.

Holbrooke's explanation for his apparent change of heart over Milosevic is convincing, but it may not be enough to help him in Congress. Holbrooke's nomination to be ambassador to the United Nations has been stalled on the Hill for months. Officially, Holbrooke is the victim of a dispute between the White House and the Foreign Relations Committee over a U.N. arrears bill sponsored by senators Jesse Helms and Joe Biden. Privately, some staffers admit that many Senate Republicans simply don't like or trust him.

They're not alone. Holbrooke has a remarkable number of enemies in Washington. Even friends concede he can be an abrasive self-promoter. Press accounts, while invariably noting his intelligence and diplomatic skills, are almost uniformly critical of his personality. (In one now-famous Vanity Fair profile, Holbrooke's second wife, Blythe Babyak, described him as "the ultimate Washington nightmare husband," a person whose "idea of heaven was watching himself being interviewed on TV.")

Holbrooke knows he has a bad reputation, and has worked to make friends on the Hill. Last month, he traveled to Belgrade for a last-ditch talk with Milosevic. After seven hours of futile negotiations, Holbrooke went to the roof of his hotel to do an interview with CNN. Before saying almost anything else, Holbrooke let viewers know he was "very grateful" to Sen. Helms, who "said this trip was all right." Back in Washington, members of Helms's staff watched Holbrooke on television and laughed. "He's a terrible kissass when he wants something," says a Helms aide.

Holbrooke might want to start sucking up to Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Shortly after Clinton nominated Holbrooke to the U.N. post, Inhofe called Helms and informed him that "under no circumstances" should he let Holbrooke's nomination out of the Foreign Relations Committee. The War in Kosovo has only hardened Inhofe's position. "We're going to oppose the nomination," says Gary Hoitsma, Inhofe's press secretary. "If they're going to push him, we're going to have a huge debate. We just don't think it is appropriate for the man who was the architect of the Balkan debacle to be representing the United States at the U.N."

Architect of the Balkan debacle? Holbrooke hasn't been in an official policy-making position for years. In title at least, he is merely an investment banker in New York. Sen. Inhofe doesn't buy it. Look at the incompetents running the war, says Gary Hoitsma. Holbrooke, he says, is the only one capable of screwing things up this badly: "He's the only one with intellect enough to be the intellectual author of the mess we're in."

Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.