Dick Holbrooke Heads to U.N.; Do His Bosses Care?

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It took Dick Holbrooke a year to be confirmed as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations -- and now he may find he has a job that his bosses back in Washington don't really care about. Holbrooke, who was nomination cleared the Senate Thursday, certainly has his work cut out for him –- and dousing the raging diplomatic brushfires at the United Nations will be nothing compared with getting Washington to take the world body seriously. He takes his seat at a time when international diplomats are expressing unprecedented frustration with Washington’s performance in the international body. "Although Holbrooke will have to do a lot of repair work at the U.N., he’ll have even more work to do in Washington," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "Right now the U.S. is perceived as having little focus or direction in its foreign policy, and its tendency to avoid dealing with crises in international forums for fear of being hamstrung has led to a situation where we’re perceived to simply not be listening to anybody else."

The 58-year-old Holbrooke will have to use his new cabinet-level position to make a case for a more consistent foreign policy focus in the Clinton administration. "That’s a substantial challenge, since the President doesn’t pay much attention to foreign policy and Secretary of State Albright has been widely criticized for failing to develop a foreign policy driven by clear, long-term goals," says Dowell. "Ultimately, Holbrooke may -- like Albright herself -- use the posting as a springboard to the Secretary of State job if Gore wins in 2000."