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Tuesday, December 14

The last words of Richard Holbrooke

At 7:50 PM The Washington Post published something close to a retraction regarding their report last night that mentioned Holbrooke's last words:
[...] After Holbrooke's death Monday, The Washington Post, citing his family members, reported that the veteran diplomat had told his physician just before surgery Friday to "stop this war."

But Tuesday, a fuller account of the tone and contents of his remarks emerged.

As physician Jehan El-Bayoumi was attending to Holbrooke in the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital, she told him to relax and asked what she could do to comfort him, according to an aide who was present.

Holbrooke, who was in severe pain, said jokingly that it was hard to relax because he had to worry about the difficult situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

El-Bayoumi, an Egyptian American internist who is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's physician, replied that she would worry for him. Holbrooke responded by telling her to end the war, the aide said.

The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke's exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy.

Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent. [...]
The report goes on to mention that the first version of his words was interpreted differently by different critics of the war.

However, we here in Punditaland were cagey about what he might have meant; rather than ruminate about the unknown we chose to discuss a point that was well-established. Now on to the original post:
As Mr. Holbrooke was sedated for surgery, family members said, his final words were to his Pakistani surgeon: "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan."
The quote is from The Washington's Post's obituary for Richard Holbrooke, who took to his grave exactly what he meant by his last words, which could be read in different ways.

What is known for certain is that he pursued a fallacy in that he believed U.S. aid to Pakistan, correctly applied, would give the United States significant leverage with Pakistan's regime. This is a very Western view and one that shows no understanding of the thinking of Pakistan's rulers. Amrullah Saleh does understand the thinking, which is why he has pointed out that the aid only reinforces the regime's bad behavior.

Why is this point so hard for Westerners to understand? Because they can't conceive of a mindset in which the qualities the West considers those of a good leader, such as honesty and truthfulness, are considered in Pakistan to be the qualities of a good house servant.

The larger point is not rooted in culture or history but in the shrewdness of human nature: If you think my behavior is so wrong, why do you keep giving to me?

By all accounts Richard Holbrooke could not be bullied or bought and he was a genuinely good man, as this passage from The New York Times obituary for him underscores:
Foreign policy was his life. Even during Republican administrations, when he was not in government, he was deeply engaged, undertaking missions as a private citizen traveling through the war-weary Balkans and the backwaters of Africa and Asia to see firsthand the damage and devastating human costs of genocide, civil wars and H.I.V. and AIDS epidemics.
Yet it is a baseline fact of human existence that in the short term -- and all humans live in the short term -- life rewards wisdom more than goodness, perhaps on the theory that few things are more dangerous than a good-hearted fool.

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