The Unquiet American edited by Derek Chollet and Samantha Power | Books in Review

Richard Holbrooke, who died in December of 2010, served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, and as the chief architect of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war in Bosnia—among many other foreign policy accomplishments.

That includes a long involvement in the Vietnam War. After joining the Foreign Service in 1962, Holbrooke served in Vietnam from 1963-66. Among other duties in Vietnam, Holbrooke worked for the rural affairs division of the State Department’s U.S. Operations Mission, for AID in the Mekong Delta, and in Saigon as an aide to U.S. Ambassadors Maxwell Taylor and Henry Cabot Lodge.

After coming home, Holbrooke went to work at the Johnson White House as a Vietnam War specialist on pacification issues for two years. He also wrote one volume (on counterinsurgency) of The Pentagon Papers and served as the youngest member of the American delegation at the Paris Peace Talks in 1968-69.

There’s a meaty chapter on Holbrooke and the Vietnam War in The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrooke in the World (PublicAffairs, 400 pp., $29.99), a group of essays on different aspects of Holbrooke’s career, accompanied by Holbrooke’s own writings on the same subjects.

The introduction to the chapter on the Vietnam War is written by Gordon Goldstein, the author of Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam . In it, Goldstein goes over Holbrooke’s various Vietnam War assignments, and offers a summary of the war’s impact on Holbrooke’s career.

“For Holbrooke, Vietnam became a cautionary narrative of the risk of strategic overextention, ” Goldstein says. “In a way, the war haunted him, and it certainly followed him through the different chapters of his career.”

The Vietnam War section of the book also contains an assortment of Holbrooke’s writings. That includes articles he wrote that appeared in The Washington Post,  The New York Times , and The New Republic , as well as his forward to Rufus Phillips’s book Why Vietnam Matters .

—Marc Leepson

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