Award-winning editor, war correspondent, and best-selling author Arnaud de Borchgrave, hailed as one of the most noteworthy journalists of the modern era, died Sunday after an extended illness. He was 88.
De Borchgrave served as executive director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, D.C. He was a founding board member of Newsmax Media, as well as editor-at-large for United Press International. He served as Newsweek's senior editor and chief foreign correspondent for 25 years.
Longtime colleague and network TV correspondent Marvin Kalb commented on his passing: "He was priceless, his contributions to journalism immeasurable."
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski said of de Borchgrave that "throughout his career he showed courage and intense involvement."
He added that de Borchgrave "stood out among newspaper and radio reporters in that he understood history and had a keen insight into the strategic conflicts that have been dominating the world over the last several decades."
Among the highlights of his storied life: At the age of 14 he and his family fled Nazi occupied Belgium for England; as a young man serving in the Britain's Royal Navy he was wounded storming Juno Beach on D-Day; he rose to become Newsweek's No. 1 foreign correspondent, and befriended and interviewed a roster of personages including Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Gamal Nasser, Anwar Sadat, Golda Meir, and Ronald Reagan, among many others.
In July, de Borchgrave received the Legion of Honor, the French government's highest civilian distinction. In making the presentation, French Ambassador François Delattre called de Borchgrave "a World War II hero to whom France is eternally grateful, and one of the most remarkable journalists of our lifetime who is also a great friend of France and an exceptional individual."
After leaving Newsweek, de Borchgrave took over as editor-in-chief of The Washington Times in March 1985, and is widely credited with transforming it into a relevant competitor to his former employer, The Washington Post Co.
In December 1998, he was named President and CEO of United Press International. There he gave the waning wire service a digital-age makeover.
Kalb, the longtime network news correspondent and protégé of Edward R. Murrow, extolled de Borchgrave on Monday as "the most generous reporter I ever knew."
Kalb told Newsmax via email that he met de Borchgrave in 1964 as a "very young CBS diplomatic correspondent" covering a summit in Brussels.
"My brother [Bernard] had told me of Arnaud's goodness and friendship in Vietnam," Kalb added. "I approached Arnaud, introduced myself, and asked, in very general terms, 'What's up?' He immediately invited me to join him and a few others at a private briefing by the French foreign minister.
"He didn't have to — he just did. That was followed over the years by many other acts of friendship."
The late Newsweek editor-in-chief Osborn Elliott once said de Borchgrave "has played a role in world affairs known to no other journalist." Theodore H. White, the late author of the "Making of a President" series, called him "one of America's great foreign correspondents."
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De Borchgrave was born into Belgium aristocracy in 1926, the son of a British Army general's daughter and a Belgian count, Baudouin de Borchgrave d'Altena, head of Belgium's military intelligence operations.
After Hitler's blitzkrieg stormed through Belgium in 18 days in 1940, many Belgians took refuge in the United Kingdom. It was there at age 15 that de Borchgrave lied about his age so he could join the British Royal Navy.
De Borchgrave was assigned to serve on British corvettes patrolling the North Atlantic, the small, hastily built warships thrown into service to stave off the German U-Boats terrorizing shipping during the Battle of the Atlantic. He would later credit his naval service with teaching him how to function on only four hours sleep a night — a capacity that would serve him well on some of his daunting journalistic assignments.
Just a few years later, he would find himself aboard a landing craft bobbing toward the shore under heavy fire during the amphibious assault on Juno Beach, one of the five beaches in the Normandy landing on June 6, 1944.
De Borchgrave's experience on D-Day was chaotic, parlous, and brief. As the landing craft approached the shore the vessel's ramp jammed. In a bid to fix it, de Borchgrave leaped off the vessel. When he turned back to free the ramp, he was wounded in the knee and immobilized.
Years later, de Borchgrave would recall that another sailor helped him to another vessel that ferried him back to the mother ship. "I was in a hospital in Southampton [England] the next day," de Borchgrave told Newsmax.
When WWII ended, de Borchgrave was able to parlay his international experience into a job as Brussels bureau manager for the United Press at the tender age of 21. By 24, he landed a coveted job as Newsweek's bureau chief in Paris. De Borchgrave would eventually leave Paris to focus on covering global hostilities.
By age 27 he was elevated to become senior editor at Newsweek, a job he would hold for a quarter of a century. His successor in Paris was none other than Benjamin Bradlee of Washington Post and Watergate fame.
It was in Paris that de Borchgrave met the love of his life, Alexandra Villard. He married the young socialite, the great-granddaughter of the 19th century railroad tycoon Henry Villard, and the pair eventually settled in Washington, D.C.
Alexandra de Borchgrave, who survives him, became an author and heads the Light of Healing Hope Foundation.
During his Newsweek days in Paris, de Borchgrave constantly volunteered for a series of risky assignments that would take him the world over. He covered 18 conflicts in all, usually from the front lines, visiting over 90 countries in the process. He was wounded in battle at least three times.
He was in the garrison of Dien Bien Phu in Indochina with French paratroopers before the redoubt fell to the Vietnamese Communist guerrillas in the spring of 1954. According to a report in New York Magazine, he also was seen "wearing Israeli army fatigues and riding in the lead Israeli tank through the West Bank during the Six Day War."
De Borchgrave considered himself a friend of the historic Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat. He covered so many conflicts, acquiring a new uniform on each occasion, that he told Esquire Magazine in 1981 he had the "starched combat fatigues of 12 different nations" hanging in his closet ready to go.
De Borchgrave would return to Southeast Asia to cover America's ill-fated involvement in the Vietnam War. He visited Vietnam on seven occasions, including a 1972 trip to interview North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong. It was during the Vietnam War that his skepticism regarding the efficacy of U.S. intelligence and foreign policy grew more intense.
He would blame America's debacle in Vietnam on "clever disinformation by the enemy turning an American victory into defeat." He also became critical of the ability of the political establishment and the mainstream media to scrutinize story lines and information they were ideologically inclined to believe. It was a theme he would explore again and again in the years ahead.
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In 1980, de Borchgrave co-wrote with Robert Moss the international best-selling novel "The Spike," a political thriller involving an American journalist whose exposés on the KGB are mysteriously spiked by editors who have become agents of influence under sway of the KGB.
The best-selling book and Ronald Reagan's election victory combined to bolster de Borchgrave's standing in journalistic circles. Sensing a fellow staunch anti-Communist, the president reportedly tried to appoint de Borchgrave to two ambassadorships, one to Tunisia and one to France. But de Borchgrave politely declined both appointments to focus on his journalistic endeavors. According to his biography, he resigned from Newsweek in 1980.
When de Borchgrave took over the newsroom of The Washington Times in 1985, Reagan called to offer his congratulations. At the Times, de Borchgrave's tireless work ethic was soon on full display. He knew his mammoth competitor The Post, his former employer at Newsweek, could outspend his newsroom many times over. To compensate, he labored tirelessly to single-handedly reverse the newspaper's fortunes, often sleeping overnight on the convertible sofa in his office.
In an effort to motivate the Times staff, shortly after taking the helm he recounted his experiences in the Royal Navy. "My skippers seldom left the bridge," he told them. "I see myself as your new captain on the bridge."
By 8 a.m., according to New York Magazine, he would clip his way through five newspapers, and a staff member would sift through a dozen other publications for him as well. The New York Magazine article on his arrival at the Times referred to him as "the last of the world-class reporters."
In 1991, de Borchgrave joined the CSIS think tank as its senior adviser and director of the Global Organized Crime Project. After 9/11, that enterprise was rechristened the Transnational Threats Project. De Borchgrave's co-director of the Project, Thomas Sanderson, said his close friend was "a relentless foe of tyranny and a ceaseless champion of liberty."
"I consider myself one of the luckiest of people to have spent everyday with him for the past 13 years," he said.
De Borchgrave also served as the president and CEO of United Press International from 1999 to 2001.
Among his many awards: The George Washington Medal of Honor for Excellence in Published Works (1985), Best Magazine Reporting from Abroad (Foreign Affairs), three New York Newspaper Guild Page One Awards for foreign reporting, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Phillips Foundation (2007).
In 1998, Newsmax Media founder and CEO Christopher Ruddy asked de Borchgrave to join the board of directors for his fledgling enterprise.
"He agreed immediately, there was no hesitation," Ruddy remembers. "He immediately grasped the immense importance and opportunity the internet offered.
"He was a great mentor to me. I don't think I ever met anyone with the breadth of global knowledge this man held. One thing really comes through to me about him. He only had two loves, his beautiful wife Alexandra and his adopted country America. He always reminded me he was an American by choice, a decision he was very proud to have made."
De Borchgrave, a regular contributor to the Newsmax Insiders blog roll, was a pragmatist on foreign policy who constantly warned of the unintended consequences of U.S. military intervention abroad. He saved a special place in his heart for condemnation of the war in Iraq, which he predicted would prove "catastrophic."
De Borchgrave continued writing columns through December. In his more recent commentaries he warned that there was "no possibility" of defeating ISIS without putting U.S. boots on the ground.
He also recommended a temporary alliance of convenience with Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, a tactic that the Obama administration has signaled of late it would like to adopt if it can do so without alienating America's powerful Sunni allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey.
In one November jeremiad, he warned America's superpower status was being challenged.
"Global disarray coupled with the decline of superpower U.S. are flip sides of the same coin," he wrote.
In his last column, the long-time war correspondent urged America's leaders to stop getting sucked into conflicts in the Middle East, and turn their attention instead to restoring the standing of the U.S. middle class and repairing America's crumbling infrastructure at home.
"The bottom line," he wrote, "is that the U.S. is now faced with a historical choice. It is high time to regroup on the home front while shedding a dysfunctional political system still posing as a functioning democracy."
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