I was among a delegation of U.S. business leaders, government officials and journalists visiting with their counterparts in Berlin, Germany, last week when Richard Holbrooke died. Holbrooke died December 13 of an aortic tear, leaving a long legacy of diplomatic work for the U.S. — his latest mission as President Obama’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Our delegation – organized by the American Council on Germany – visited with several diplomats with long experience in trans-Atlantic relations. Many of them had worked with Holbrooke, including William M. Drozdiak, president of the American Council on Germany, who called Holbrooke both a colleague and a friend.
Drozdiak had played tennis Holbrooke in Manhattan just 10 days before his death. The 69-year-old looked pale, said Drozdiak, so he asked Holbrooke if he was pushing himself too hard. Holbrooke answered the question with a shrug. Holbrooke, who had served as U.S. ambassador to Germany, was relentless in both is personal and work life.
Drozdiak and others lamented the loss of Holbrooke and said his death comes at a time when international diplomacy is absolutely vital. The threat of instability is real as nations teeter on economic recovery and the mounting crisis of national security, climate and energy. Yet many diplomats feel under attack — specifically from Wikileaks. Diplomats from the U.S., Germany and the European Union seemed to agree that 99 percent of what came out in the latest Wikileaks purge came as no surprise, but it was a source of great embarrassment. Getting beyond such tensions is exactly what diplomats are supposed to do.
“We will continue the best work we can do,” said Bastian Hermisson, head of the European Union/North American Department of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
The Heinrich Böll Foundation is among many German and European Union organizations calling for a renewed trans-Atlantic relationship, fearing that the United States seems to have shifted focus toward the Pacific where China is the rising power. They see a strengthened trans-Atlantic relationship as key to bolstering western democracy and dealing with the international challenges of the economic crisis, climate and energy.
Hans Ulrich Klose, member of the German Social Democratic Party and coordinator of German-American Cooperation for the German Bundestag, said the U.S. and European Union have to invent a new western narrative.
“Democracy is a complicated system and a lot of people don’t like it,” said Klose. “Will democracy be the leading political system of the world?”
Contact Dustin Bleizeffer at 307-577-6069 or [email protected]