Richard Holbrooke, R.I.P.

December 14, 2010

Richard Holbrooke, R.I.P.

Rick Moran


In this Jan. 17 photo, diplomat Richard Holbrooke listens to questions in Kabul.

Our special ambassador to the Af-Pak theater, Richard Holbrooke, has died:

Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2009 and a diplomatic troubleshooter who worked for every Democratic president since the late 1960s and oversaw the negotiations that ended the war in Bosnia, died Monday evening in Washington. He was 69 and lived in Manhattan.

His death was confirmed by an Obama administration official.

Mr. Holbrooke was hospitalized on Friday afternoon after becoming ill while meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in her Washington office. Doctors found a tear to his aorta, and he underwent a 21-hour operation. Mr. Holbrooke had additional surgery on Sunday and remained in very critical condition until his death.

Mr. Holbrooke’s signal accomplishment in a distinguished career that involved diplomacy in Asia, Europe and the Middle East was his role as chief architect of the 1995 Dayton peace accords, which ended the war in Bosnia. It was a coup preceded and followed by his peacekeeping missions to the tinderbox of ethnic, religious and regional conflicts that was formerly Yugoslavia.

Holbrooke was a blunt, gruff, no-nonsense diplomat with few illusions about our enemies and little patience with our friends. Honest to a fault, a true public servant in the old fashioned sense of the word, Holbrooke was constantly at odds with lesser men at the State Department because he sometimes refused to play by their rules. His methods were, to say the least, unorthodox.

During the Bosnia negotiations, he verbally banged heads together in order to get both sides to listen to each other.  Another reason for his success in those talks was that both sides trusted him – and through him, the United States. It was a singular accomplishment to bring peace to Bosnia with both sides so far apart when the talks began.

He took on the thankless task of Af-Pak representative – a job that was probably doomed from the start – and tried dealing with the confusing factions in Pakistan while trying to keep President Karzai in line. In the end, he didn’t make much progress, although it wasn’t for lack of trying.

His politics were left but that didn’t stop him from representing the US with honor for more than 40 years. Holbrooke’s bluntness will be sorely missed in an area of the world where reporting the situation honestly is vital to policy makers and the decisions they must make.

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