Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

Richard Holbrooke

In late summer, 1995, Richard Holbrooke — my friend and mentor for 30 years — invited me to ride along on his shuttle-diplomacy mission to achieve a cease-fire in Bosnia. What a privilege watching a master diplomat in full flight! Holbrooke was relentless, as advertised, but the big surprise was his creative spontaneity as we dashed from Croatia to Bosnia to Serbia and back in a breathless series of 20-hour days. "He's a jazz musician," said General Wesley Clark, his nonplussed military adviser on the mission. "He doesn't need a script. He improvises. Somehow it works."

Holbrooke's style was so perfectly American. He was a pushy romantic with a grand sense of his nation's purpose and power, a driving desire to use that power — peacefully, through diplomacy, to make a better world. He lived in history, always conscious of the grander scheme. "This is where the history of the 20th century began," he said as we walked through Sarajevo, cease-fire in hand, past the spot where an assassination had launched World War I. It was a sunny day; amazed children were giddy in the streets that Richard Holbrooke's inspired negotiating had suddenly made safe.

Joe Klein

Klein is TIME's political columnist