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  • Writer's pictureJonathan E. Pearl

Great Mediators in History #3. Richard Holbrooke

Updated: Jul 8, 2019

· April 24, 1941 – December 13, 2010

· U.S. Diplomat

· Magazine editor, author, professor, Peace Corps official

· Investment banker

Holbrooke had a rich career: helping the U.S. government contend with some of its most vexing international political challenges, and as a private individual, he had several high-profile forays into business, journalism and humanitarian work. But colleagues and adversaries alike found him abrasive, to put it modestly, and his domineering personality may have cost him the opportunity to hold the one job he wanted most but never attained – secretary of state.

Holbrooke was a diplomatic giant, whose service ranged from Foreign Service officer in Vietnam, to brokering peace in Bosnia in 1995. His eruptions of temper were legendary, but he would just as often go still, dropping his voice to a near whisper. He deployed both tactics in a singular negotiating style he compared to “a combination of chess and mountain climbing”—flattering, bullying, charming and intimidating his way to persuasion. He was oblivious to social graces in the pursuit of his goals. While making an impassioned point, he once followed Hillary Clinton into a women’s toilet —in Pakistan.

Henry Kissinger said of Holbrooke: “If Richard calls you and asks you for something, just say yes….…If you say no, you’ll eventually get to yes, but the journey will be very painful.”

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