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

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