An old diplomatic dream


Back in middle and high school, my dream was to be an American diplomat, one day the U.S. Ambassador to India. I spent years 16-22 studying up on every piece of modern foreign policy I could consume. I finished two years of college history in high school. I never changed my major in college. This dream carried me all the way to graduate studies, where I had the unique opportunity to focus on my country of specialty and meet some of the most decorated ambassadors since the end of World War II, such as Richard Holbrooke. Along the way, while I idealized men of Holbrooke’s stature and chisel, I grew a bit disillusioned with the modern-day process of how ambassadors got their gigs. Back in the days of JFK, ambassadors were largely chosen by virtue of their knowledge and command of the country in question. Today, the Obama administration filled nearly a third of its appointments by handpicking big campaign donors. Obama also sent one a great GOP hopeful (Huntsman) to China. I began to think that going the route of the likes of Christopher Hill was nearly an impossible slog, covering many million airline miles and decades, personal upheaval, and worse. I doubted my own ability to handle that kind of path, my ability to pay those kind of dues for nothing better than a 50/50 chance. Why not “back into” the position later in life? To be honest, that was the calculation I made quickly in my head, and I gave up my dream of joining the Foreign Service. So today, as Amb. Richard Holbrooke passes away, I can’t help but think this man was a breed of diplomat that we may never see again. In the age of Cablegate and Wikileaks, Holbrooke represents a steady, post-WWII diplomatic guard that knows the world entirely better than any of us, combined. Having watched him address a big crowd and then follow it up with a small roundtable, I saw first-hand the range of verbal plays and gestures he used to get his point across. The did the little things in the few moments I saw him, like hold the door open. Then he would talk about risks in South Asia, jamming into 60 minutes what I couldn’t learn in two years. Reading David Sanger’s biopsy in today’s NYT made all these memories flood back — and made me feel cheap for giving up this personal dream of mine, yet simultaneously feel grateful that a person of such skill protected our interests in the scariest, most unstable region in the world. Thank you, Amb. Holbrooke.