Q&A with Holbrooke

By
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On Monday morning, former Herald Editor-in-Chief Richard Holbrooke ’62, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and now a professor-at-large based at the Watson Institute for International Studies, returned to The Herald’s offices at 195 Angell St. to discuss Iraq, his time at Brown and his future plans.

What did you learn at The Herald and at Brown that helped you in your career?

I spent a lot more time here than I did in my classes. The Brown Daily Herald is what I really did at Brown.

That trip to Paris that the editors sent me on to cover the 1960 Paris summit (between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President Eisenhower) was unbelievable. I met the greatest journalists of that age, and I saw world leaders when I was 19. Meanwhile, back here on the campus, I was sitting next to (the Rev.) Martin Luther King, Jr., at a luncheon and having this incredible drama with Malcolm X. (The Herald brought Malcolm X to speak on campus in May 1961.)

How should the nation’s leaders proceed in Iraq?

We’re going to have to withdraw from Iraq but how we’re going to do it is quite tricky. You don’t want to leave behind something even worse than what we’ve created. Figuring out how to do that is terribly complicated.

How is the situation in Iraq different from anything you experienced in your foreign service?

Having spent three-and-a-half years in Vietnam, I never thought I would say this, but Iraq is a lot worse than Vietnam. I never thought I’d say that, but it is.

Why?

In Vietnam we were supporting one side, the Russians were supporting the other. It was a war in the shadows … but politically it was clean-cut – you knew who ran the other side.

Who are we fighting in Iraq? Are we fighting the Sunnis? We were a year ago, but now they’re our best friends, but only on the theory that the enemy of our enemy is our friend, because they don’t really like us. We’re the ones who overthrew Sunni power after 400 years of Sunni domination.

President Nixon could bomb Hanoi and say he’s bombing the enemy. Who would Bush bomb? If he wanted to drop bombs, there’s not a city.

You couldn’t design a bigger mess if you tried.

Given that you support Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., for the Democratic nomination for president, would you work for her administration if she were elected?

I’ve been in and out of the government four times since I left Brown. It’d be fun to have one last shot at public service, and I’d like to do that.

But that’s not at issue right now. All that’s at issue right now is helping Hillary get elected and getting this country pointed in the right direction again.