Pauline Neville-Jones clashed with Richard Holbrooke at Dayton but finds his book a gripping, albeit anti-European, account of the Bosnian débacleby Pauline Neville-Jones / November 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
To End a War is a good book, well-written and very readable. Personalities are graphically drawn and Dick Holbrooke conveys the atmosphere of anxiety and tension around the culmination of the Bosnian conflict and the ensuing negotiations at Dayton, Ohio in late 1995. It is invaluable to have such a substantial contribution to the public record written by a principal player so soon after the events. It is also quite a bold book for him to have written at this stage in his career.
Holbrooke picks up the story at the moment of his own central involvement, which was precipitated by the death in August 1995 of his much respected colleague, US Ambassador Bob Frasure. He takes the story through to the end of the Dayton negotiations and their immediate aftermath; at the end of the book there are reflections on the lessons of Bosnia for US foreign policy generally and for US-European relations in particular.
In the US, reviewers have focused on what the book reveals about decision-making within the administration, notably between the State Department, the White House and the Pentagon, as well as the interplay of personalities. Tensions abounded. Holbrooke positions himself in the narrative as the pole around which all else revolved. This was certainly accurate by the time of the run-up to Dayton. The fact that Tony Lake, then national security adviser, was a rival for this role created stresses that went beyond policy differences. There were also sharp differences with the Pentagon. Holbrooke in effect accuses the Pentagon of having its own agenda which it kept from him. Certainly, the US military had their own views about the proper definition of their mission in Bosnia which was more restrictive than Holbrooke’s. His lack of trust in the military also carried over into somewhat abrasive dealings with soldiers of other nationalities.
The story of the three weeks at Dayton is especially well told. The reader gets a good picture of the uneven pace of events: the slippery behaviour of the Balkan leaders that required someone as forceful as Holbrooke to get them in line; the on-the-hoof negotiating outcomes, and how near it all came to failure. In the very last stages, Alija Izetbegovic, the Bosnian Muslim leader for whom continuing the war became preferable to making any further compromises, rejected the territorial settlement around the key town of Brcko in the expectation that the…