Buried in the back pages of our major newspapers during the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton was the announcement that Clinton still intends to nominate an apparent lawbreaker to a top diplomatic post. Back on page 18 of the Washington Post was a story that Richard Holbrooke, Clinton?s nominee as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., has his lawyers negotiating a settlement with the Justice Department over charges that he violated federal conflict-of-interest laws. At the same time, Clinton announced that he remains “lock, stock and barrel” behind Holbrooke?s nomination.
Holbrooke?s nomination has been bogged down for about seven months over a variety of allegations that have attracted the interest of the Justice Department. The charges include failing to report free rent, taking advantage of diplomatic perks beyond his area of official responsibilities, using his diplomatic influence to help foreign companies, and improper contacts with government officials after he left government service.
One of the most sensational allegations was that while he was serving in the government in 1995, he interceded on behalf of a foreign-owned bank, Credit Suisse First Boston, to help it get a contract with the Hungarian government. At the time, a U.S. company was competing for the same contract. Credit Suisse First Boston hired Holbrooke as a vice chairman after he left government service in February 1996. George Gedda of Associated Press confirmed with the then-U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, Donald Blinken, that Holbrooke had urged him to withdraw the U.S. Government?s support for the American firm.
Now the issue is whether Holbrooke?s contacts with the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, James Laney, were improper and illegal. Holbrooke wanted Laney to set up a luncheon in his, Holbrooke?s, honor, and he wanted the South Korean foreign minister to attend. Later, Laney attended a ceremonial opening of a local office of Credit Suisse First Boston. Laney denies that he did anything to promote Holbrooke?s business interests in South Korea.
The lack of media outrage over this bungled nomination stems in part from a media love affair with Holbrooke. He is still portrayed as the peacemaker who ended the war in Bosnia. Indeed, he wrote his own book entitled “To End a War,” featuring a cover endorsement from Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who labeled Holbrooke “brilliant” and “remarkable.” The truth is something else. A recent cartoon captured the true situation when it showed an adviser telling President Clinton that the Dayton agreement which supposedly ended the fighting in Bosnia is only being observed in Dayton, Ohio, where it was signed. Gary Dempsey of the Cato Institute points out that the three different ethnic groups in the country are still at odds and refuse to integrate into one multiethnic state. The presence of American and other groups is the only factor that prevents things from blowing apart.
So how long should U.S. troops remain in Bosnia? That?s one of the questions that Holbrooke has not answered during his multiple media appearances. Dempsey says American troops could be withdrawn if Bosnia were divided into three separate areas, overseen by a European-run transition force. Otherwise, U.S. troops could be there for years, if not decades.