By MICHAEL HARRIS, OTTAWA SUN
This week, the Globe and Mail asked General Lewis McKenzie (Retired) to write the obituary of American diplomat Richard Holbrooke.
It was a good idea. The two men had crossed paths more than once on the global stage of the Great Game.
McKenzie declined. Holbrooke had just died and the general knew that what he had to say would hardly produce the standard panegyric.
When I caught up with McKenzie, he was shoveling snow after a spell away from home. I asked for an interview and to my surprise, he agreed.
“I’m just going to tell you what I thought of him through my own prism. All of my experiences with Holbrooke were all bad.” The men were both involved in Vietnam. Holbrooke was Henry Kissinger’s primary assistant at the time of the Paris Peace Accords. McKenzie was part of the International Commission of Control and Supervision. “It wasn’t an accord at all, it was just a way of getting the U.S. out of the war. They just wanted diplomatic cover to get the troops out. And of course you know what happened next.”
On Friday March 13, 1992, McKenzie arrived in Sarajevo as part of a United Nations Protection Force. Holbrooke was part of the American diplomatic effort. The Portuguese ambassador had already brokered an accord between the combatants which would have seen the “canonization” of Bosnia. But U.S. Ambassador Warren Zimmerman advised Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic to turn the plan down. Three years later, virtually the same plan was adopted with thousands killed in the interim.
“The war was for nothing. The Serbs had already committed to Dayton after the Croatian offensive in southwest Bosnia. Clearly the bombing was unwarranted. And that is the real history not the myth. I don’t think Holbrooke had a positive influence on the Balkans.” And then, in 1999, there was Kosovo, where Holbrooke played a role.
“We had NATO bombing a sovereign country on behalf of the Kosovo Liberation Army, (KLA) a listed terrorist group. Now we have the president of Kosovo mixed up in an organ-harvesting ring. Unfortunately, Canada is one of the 72 countries at the UN that recognized Kosovo.” Diplomat Richard Holbrooke and soldier Lewis McKenzie met face-to-face on U.S. network television in the wake of 9/11. With millions of furious Americans watching, Holbrooke leveled an accusation that has “peed off” the general ever since.
“We were on Ted Koppel’s Nightline. Holbrooke said ‘General McKenzie, it is my understanding that all the terrorists who flew planes into the Twin Towers came on a ferry from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to Bar Harbor Maine.’ ” The general’s cousin, owner of McKenzie Security, was responsible for that ferry run and the soldier knew that the diplomat was out to lunch.
“I was absolutely livid. That was the start of the myth of how the 9/11 terrorists came through Canada and executed their attack.”
Holbrooke re-emerged when the Democrats swept to power in 2008, but General McKenzie wasn’t cheering.
“When I heard that Obama had appointed him envoy to Af-Pak, I couldn’t think of a worse personality to put in that job. Rest his soul, and yes, I admired his intellect, but the man was a bully.”
No one, not even in death, bullies the general.