Atlantic staff writer George Packer is making the rounds for his biography of larger-than-life US diplomat Richard Holbrooke, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century. On May 7th, Packer hit up the Asia Society, where he talked to PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel about his nicely reviewed tour de diplomat.
The below-linked video has it all, including Nossel going a smidge breathless about her résumé, which includes the world’s most infamous turd-polishing shop, McKinsey—where fellow self-congratulator Pete Buttigieg is also an alum—as well as the United Nations. Who are these people who inherit the C-suites and haunt the deskpens of our cultural institutions? Why are they all alums of these weird places like McKinsey? I must clarify I’m not some illuminati nut, but what your average conspiracy theorist hilljack believes is usually more or less right in the broad strokes and deliciously wrong in a literal 100/100 percent of the details.
Anyway, don’t miss Nossel’s objectively awesome behind-the-scenes coverage of Holbrooke’s General Assembly ploy, in which he plants a New York Times article saying the General Assembly—that is the rest of the world—had already accepted concessions benefiting the US on a debt negotiation. It’s some ol’ boys club, bull-in-China-shop diplomacy at its finest, and it extrapolates out pretty nicely to a lesson on the effectiveness (if not the moral appropriateness) of that type of cocksure US diplomacy that picks at the neatly pleated pant leg of a colonel just for kicks (per Packer’s 2009 New Yorker profile of Holbrooke).
Other highlights include Obama’s withering response to Holbrooke’s “great man” theatrics, a quick gloss on Holbrooke’s inherited “Liberal Internationalism,” and a weird little back-and-forth where Packer insists he has no interest in psychoanalyzing his subject. I’m not sure I buy that for a book whose central thesis is figuring out which of Holbrooke’s personal flaws had held him back from greatness, but okay.
Indeed, if you check out the excerpt over at the Penguin Random House site, you can see Packer’s not shy at all about dropping subtle little psychoanalytic heart-tuggers about Holbrooke. Take for example:
He loved America. Not in a chest-beating way—he didn’t wear a flag pin on his lapel—but without having to try, because he was the child of parents who had given everything to become American, and he grew up after the war amid the overwhelming evidence that this was a great and generous country.
It’s a self-servingly rosy view of American moral leadership—duh—but it’s one that’s more or less earnestly shared by some of these “Cosmopolitan Elites,” including perhaps a couple of Atlantic readers and seemingly the last 60 years of the Democratic foreign policy hippodrome. It is this author’s supposition that regardless of who you are—whether you’re trying to change society or whether you’re just living in it—it is worth understanding the belief systems of the people who steer our society, without caricature or hyperbole or internet sadism or batshit intellectual dart-throwing. It’s worth running the little thought experiment where you see where your opponent is coming from.
I don’t know who in the audience needs to hear this, but Richard Holbrooke didn’t think of you as his opponent. I don’t know what that’s worth.
Right, so. Run this video at double speed and listen while you clear that nasty dish pile out of your sink. Your parents gave everything to become American, you little ingrate.