- You are here:
- › Simon Shercliff
Simon ShercliffFirst Secretary, Washington
All of us currently involved with Afghanistan and Pakistan policy have been affected by the passing of Ambassador Holbrooke – he has been a huge figure in our community, whether you are American, Afghan, Pakistani, another allied country (like us), civilian, military, government or non-government – and whether you agreed with him or not. We, in the British Embassy here in Washington, saw plenty of him over the last two years, and will miss his enormous drive, his larger-than-life personality, and his huge contribution. Our former SRAP, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, wrote a tribute to him in the Sunday Times on 19 December, and the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have made statements in his honour. As Holbrooke himself often used to make reference to in public, he had a British secondee in his immediate staff throughout his time as SRAP. Jane Marriott was the first one: she has written this personal tribute below:
Innumerable obituaries on Richard C. Holbrooke have described his formidable career, his strategic successes, towering strengths and the flaws that made him human. This is a personal recollection of a man I called ‘The Boss’: “Richard” initially seemed too informal for a man who frequently frustrated me as he simultaneously evoked loyalty.
As the UK embed into the newly formed Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) team in 2009, I threw myself into the fascinating, myopic world of US foreign policy making and The Boss soon brought me into his core team. This was a blessing and a curse.
It gave me insight into policy-making circles of which I could only dream but it also delivered a challenge of keeping two loyalties: one to HMG and the other to The Boss personally. And The Boss would often drive me mad: it could take two hours of sitting in his office to deliver arguments or points that should have taken five minutes, because he was always impatient and distracted. They were usually impressive distractions: taking ’phone calls from the equally high-powered or scribbling notes to Secretary Clinton. Getting him to listen seemed impossible and the political calculator in his brain whirred into action each time we would propose a policy shift.
Yet he did listen and, days later, one would find one’s arguments or thoughts being deployed. Or they would be ignored but, a couple of weeks later, it would be clear why it wasn’t possible for him to make that play. He once sat and took my irritated questioning about why he hadn’t taken action on an aspect of the 2009 Afghan Presidential elections, as we’d discussed, only to find out that he had attempted to do so but been over-ruled, at personal cost.
He would debrief his core team about key meetings, often at 9pm on a Friday night in the clear knowledge that we would all give up our social life to be there. He’d spend 90 minutes on atmospherics and personalities and only half an hour on the policy. That was The Boss all over: focused on the people, the motivations, the politics. At a time when no one else was looking at the Hill, The Boss would make the entire team attend briefing breakfasts for Senators. Again, we were frustrated at the apparent waste of time of having us all in there when usually only five of us spoke. But The Boss knew what he was doing: he was showcasing our work and incrementally gaining support on the Hill for the civilian effort about which he was stoically passionate.
It also reflected his care and love for us, his team. He would introduce each and every one of us at private and public events. He door-stopped Secretary Clinton to introduce me. One day, he called me into his office: he often did this with staff, only to have to wait an hour to see him. I dawdled slightly as a matter of principle, to find that The Boss was holding up the Foreign Secretary so I could say hello, before telling David Miliband that I looked a bit ill and should therefore stay at SRAP rather than go to Tehran.
He’d spend hours interrogating me about my personal life and was genuinely vexed about my permanent state of singledom (I did point out that working until 11pm every Friday didn’t help). In January 2010, during my pre-posting training, I got a text to say he was in town and he whisked me off to see The War Horse: the best seats followed by a burger in a less-than salubrious Covent Garden pub. The Boss cared about people, he cared about his people and characteristics, combined with his unerring charisma earned our respect, loyalty and love.
“Come see me” The Boss had emailed, and I was supposed to see him on 8th December, two days before he was taken ill. In the typical way in which he organised his life, I arrived to be told he’d had to dash back to New York and had left 10 minutes earlier. He sent me a text “So sorry to miss you! Next time!!!!!” A stark reminder, if one were needed, that there isn’t always a next time; even for men like Richard.