Ladies and gentlemen, welcome again and thank you very much for coming tonight. Because I would have understood if you’d stayed home. If you would have stuck glued to the television-set to watch the drama unfolding on Capitol Hill with the impeachment-hearings.
But you’ve been wise to come. For what a moment in time it is to discuss American foreign policy. Or maybe I should say: the thing we used to call a foreign policy. Because what is unfolding in the Trump-Ukraine-saga is of course an extreme form of a foreign policy not being a foreign policy but the blind personal ambition of one political actor, in this case the president of the United States. Yes, I know, things have to be proven, but it would seem to me that we have had some indications that indeed this is the case: something we used to call foreign policy taken over by the personal and political interests of Donald J. Trump
However outrageous that may seem and may be, and I promise we will come to speak about it, it shouldn’t surprise us. That is: not if we’ve read the book that is the reason for our deliberations here tonight: ‘Our Man’, George Packers biography of Richard Holbrooke, the giant-like, both literally and metaphorically, American diplomat who was part and parcel to the last half century of American foreign policy, from Vietnam to Bosnia and from Bosnia to Afghanistan.
Because if mr. Packer makes one thing very clear in his must-read and magnificent book, it is that there is no such thing as a foreign policy. There only is this murky amalgam of political interests, personal ambitions, power hunger and yes, idealism, that in the end results in something that is sold to us as a foreign policy.
Every element in that amalgam was part of Richard Holbrooke’s personality. And so it becomes chrystal clear why mr. Packer chose Richard Holbrooke to describe not only his fascinating life and personality but through that to analyse that American Century, that period since World War II up to, as he states in the book, ‘the day before yesterday’, in which the USA was the biggest ape on the rock. An ape that had ambitions, both selfish and benevolent and brought these ambitions tot the world in an attempt to serve its own interest but also to improve conditions for the whole troop.
Richard Holbrooke, excuse my metaphor, but as you’ll understand from reading the book, it’s hardly a metaphor, was that ape. And in describing his life mr. Packer does what he did in his briljant book before this, ‘The Unwinding’, for the internal state of affairs in the US: taking the life-stories of real existing people as a vehicle for the story of the country; in ‘Our Man’ he does it for the changing place and role of the USA in the world, by describing the life of Richard Holbrooke.
Because – and that, if I understood correctly, is the real topic of the book and I hope, of tonights deliberations – with Richard Holbrooke, who died almost nine years ago, on the 13th of december 2010, that American Century came to an end. And that is not because of Donald J. Trump, but he certainly seems to be the most extreme expression so far of that new position of the USA in the world. Not only that of one great power among others, but also that of a country that , it seems, doesn’t even try to be an example of liberal democracy anymore. In Mr. Packers own words: ‘To adapt with grace to a cut in power is wisdom. It’s folly to throw away the pearl of our real greatness.’
To conclude and if necessary: George Packer with a career of both internal an foreign desk reporting for Foreign Affairs, The New Tork Times, The New Yorker en The Atlantic and apart from the books mentioned above the writer of one of the most insightful books on the war in Iraq, was the man for this job. Tonight he is our man and our distinguished guest, please welcome mr. George Packer.