Jumping into the fire
Richard Holbrooke finally takes his seat at the U.N.--and tackles
Kosovo's growing chaos
By Douglas Waller/Pristina
August 30, 1999
Web posted at: 12:00 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT)
No one has ever accused Richard Holbrooke of avoiding risks. And
there's something fascinating about watching a man who has so
much to lose--he's tabbed as a possible future Secretary of
State--making big, risky bets with his reputation. It's like
watching NASCAR for the wrecks, not the finish. Last week
Holbrooke jetted into Kosovo to try to jump-start a U.N. relief
effort in danger of deteriorating. "The future of the United
Nations is being tested here," Holbrooke said as he bounced
along the road to Cikatovo, a Kosovar village where Serbian
forces executed at least 100 ethnic Albanians and pushed their
bodies over a cliff. "We have to remember why we're here,"
Holbrooke said as he looked at the gravesite.
There is not much upside for Holbrooke in Kosovo: a failure here
could cost him credibility. Since the war's end, the province has
descended into a bureaucratic hell where everyone claims to be in
charge of everything, but no one takes responsibility for
anything. The slow-moving U.N., instead of providing solutions,
serves mostly as an excuse, as in, "The U.N. was supposed to do
that." "Things aren't going well at all," says a U.N. adviser
based in Pristina. "We're at the point of a make-or-break,
Rolling the Dice
Holbrooke is betting he can shore up the U.N.'s efforts in Kosovo
ARM-TWISTING THE K.L.A.
Kosovo's former guerrillas haven't been cooperating with the U.N.
Holbrooke hopes to muscle them into a real alliance
PASSING THE CUP
Holbrooke will press other nations to contribute long-promised
aid that is badly needed before winter arrives
CUTTING RED TAPE
The U.N.'s Kosovo operation is a bureaucratic zoo. Holbrooke will
try to push the Pristina-based effort to move faster
Holbrooke arrived in Pristina just days after being sworn in as
U.N. ambassador. He had been in danger of setting an unenviable
record: being held up for a job longer than the time he'd have to
serve in it. Bill Clinton chose him 14 months ago, but
congressional roadblocks, including an investigation into his
financial dealings, delayed confirmation.
He will begin the task in Pristina. In particular, he is hoping
he can get the Kosovo Liberation Army to cooperate with the U.N.
That may be tough. K.L.A. insiders say Holbrooke's word doesn't
mean as much as that of State Department spokesman James Rubin,
who helped broker the deal that gave the K.L.A. a political
boost. U.S. intelligence officials in Pristina are openly
questioning the wisdom of cooperating with the K.L.A., which so
far has delivered little more than revenge killings, rapes and
headaches for the U.N.
Holbrooke may be more successful in persuading European countries
to step up their aid to Kosovo, including some of the promised
donations that have not yet arrived. Scores of villages have
received no help, hundreds of factories sit idle, and more than
70,000 roofs need repair. "The clock," says a European aid
official, "is ticking faster than we can move." And with
Pristina's air already carrying a hint of winter nip, it is clear
there won't be much room for error. Between sessions with U.N.
workers, Holbrooke planned to drop in for a visit at Tricky
Dick's, a Pristina gin joint named for him. It may prove a
dubious honor, especially if Holbrooke's diplomatic tricks cannot
save this troubled province.
--With reporting by Anthee
MORE TIME STORIES:
Cover Date: September 6, 1999