Holbrooke on Biden

I like accounts of a President long before he ran for office. Once in office, partisan bias can become too great to expect candid assessments. That’s why I like Richard Holbrooke’s take on Joe Biden almost thirty years ago. It’s preserved in George Packer’s Our Man, a biography of the late foreign policy hand.

This book draws on Holbrooke’s diary, personal letters, and other papers, often quoting them in full. Holbrooke’s diary entry covering his confirmation hearing to become the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a timeless observation of then Senator Joe Biden:

YESTERDAY I HAD confirmation hearings in front of Senator Biden and Senator Lugar, which lasted an hour and were rather pleasant, the senators both being very complimentary. Biden, however, sought to portray me as being in opposition to Christopher and the administration on Bosnia and predicted that I would come to blows with them over the policy. I tried to suggest that I was comfortable with the policy, although in fact Biden knew that he was right. Earlier, I had met with Biden privately in an attempt to create an intellectual and moral base. This meeting took place in the vice president’s beautiful and ornate office off the Senate floor during the health debate and was preceded by brief chats with about ten or fifteen senators, most of whom were old friends like Sam Nunn, John Danforth, and Paul Simon. My private conversation with Biden was difficult. His ego and the difficulty he has in listening to other people made it uncomfortable, but useful.

If this were written today, it would have less sting, but this account, from a partisan Democrat, was written in 1994.

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.