Foreign Policy Digital

Once Upon a Time, Americans Believed in America

A new biography of Richard Holbrooke is a portrait of an era when the United States was at the center of the world—and assumed it should be.

It is impossible to read George Packer’s new biography of Richard Holbrooke without a piercing sense of melancholy, not only that a man so supremely alive should be dead, but also because such people—Our Man, in Packer’s title, the incarnation of vanished glory, imperial hubris, exceptional Americanism—no longer walk the earth. Thus Packer’s subtitle: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century. This extraordinary book forces a question: What, exactly, was the virus of which Richard Holbrooke was the last host body?

We think of Holbrooke, the U.S. diplomat who died in 2010, as a product of Vietnam, because that is where his extraordinary diplomatic career was born. But the genealogy is wrong; it applies not to children of World War II like Holbrooke, born in 1941, but to people like me, born in 1954. In a letter written from Princeton University

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Foreign Policy Digital

Foreign Policy Digital7 min readPolitics
Indonesia’s Activists Are Ready to Fight Together
Since the fall of the Indonesian dictator Suharto in 1998, civil society has flourished under the country’s burgeoning democracy. Observers even began calling Indonesia the most democratic nation in Southeast Asia. Yet at the same time, movements hav
Foreign Policy Digital8 min read
Assad Is Now Syria’s Best-Case Scenario
The ruthless Syrian dictator is guilty of countless war crimes—and regrettably represents his country’s least bad remaining option.
Foreign Policy Digital5 min read
Tentative Syria Cease-Fire Is a Major Win for Turkey
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence negotiated a pause in the violence, but the Kurds got a bad deal.