Wednesday, 15th Dec 2010
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.
More recently, Mr. Holbrooke wrestled with the stunning complexity of Afghanistan and Pakistan: how to bring stability to the region while fighting a resurgent Taliban and coping with corrupt governments, rigged elections, fragile economies, a rampant narcotics trade, nuclear weapons in Pakistan, and the presence of Al Qaeda, and presumably Osama bin Laden, in the wild tribal borderlands.
One of his main tasks was to press President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to take responsibility for security in his country and to confront the corruption that imperils the American mission there. At times, Mr. Karzai refused to see him, but Mr. Holbrooke was undeterred.
“He’s an enormously tough customer,” Mr. Holbrooke said during one of the periodic breakfasts he had with reporters who covered his diplomatic exploits. “As you’ve heard,” he added with a smile, “so am I.”
He helped his boss, Mrs. Clinton, whom he had supported in her presidential bid, to persuade President Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan, while pressing for more aid and development projects to improve the United States’ image there. But he died before anyone knew if the experiment would succeed.
A brilliant, sometimes abrasive infighter, he used a formidable arsenal of facts, bluffs, whispers, implied threats and, when necessary, pyrotechnic fits of anger to press his positions. Mr. Obama, who praised Mr. Holbrooke on Monday afternoon at the State Department as “simply one of the giants of American foreign policy,” was sometimes driven to distraction by his lectures.
But Mr. Holbrooke dazzled and often intimidated opponents and colleagues around a negotiating table. Some called him a bully, and he looked the part: the big chin thrust out, the broad shoulders, the tight smile that might mean anything. To admirers, however, including generations of State Department protégés and the presidents he served, his peacemaking efforts were extraordinary.
When he named Mr. Holbrooke to represent the United States at the United Nations, President Bill Clinton said, “His remarkable diplomacy in Bosnia helped to stop the bloodshed, and at the talks in Dayton the force of his determination was the key to securing peace, restoring hope and saving lives.” Others said his work in Bosnia deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.
Few diplomats could boast of his career accomplishments. Early on, Mr. Holbrooke devoted six years to the Vietnam War: first in the Mekong Delta with the United States Agency for International Development, seeking the allegiance of the civilian population; then at the embassy in Saigon as an aide to Ambassadors Maxwell Taylor and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.; and finally in the American delegation to the 1968-69 Paris peace talks led by W. Averell Harriman and Cyrus R. Vance.
Mr. Holbrooke was the author of one volume of the Pentagon Papers, the secret Defense Department history of the Vietnam War that cataloged years of American duplicity in Southeast Asia. The papers were first brought to public attention by The New York Times in 1971.
As assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Carter administration, Mr. Holbrooke played a crucial role in establishing full diplomatic relations with China in 1979, a move that finessed America’s continuing commitment to China’s thorn in the side Taiwan and followed up on the historic breakthrough of President Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 visit to China.
During the Clinton presidency, Mr. Holbrooke served as ambassador to Germany in 1993-94, when he helped enlarge the North Atlantic alliance; achieved his diplomatic breakthroughs in Bosnia as assistant secretary of state for European affairs in 1994-95; and was chief representative to the United Nations, a cabinet post, for 17 months from 1999 to 2001.
At the United Nations, he forged close ties to Secretary General Kofi Annan, negotiated a settlement of America’s longstanding dues dispute, highlighted conflicts and health crises in Africa and Indonesia, and called for more peacekeeping forces. After fighting erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1999, he led a Security Council delegation on a mission to Africa. He also backed sanctions against Angolan rebels in 2000.
While he achieved prominence as a cabinet official and envoy to many of the world’s most troubled arenas, Mr. Holbrooke was frustrated in his ambition to be secretary of state; he was the runner-up to Madeleine K. Albright, Mr. Clinton’s choice in 1997, and a contender when Mr. Obama installed Mrs. Clinton in the post in 2009.
Foreign policy was his life. Even during Republican administrations, when he was not in government, he was deeply engaged, undertaking missions as a private citizen traveling through the war-weary Balkans and the backwaters of Africa and Asia to see firsthand the damage and devastating human costs of genocide, civil wars, and H.I.V. and AIDS epidemics.
And his voice on the outside remained influential — as an editor of Foreign Policy magazine from 1972 to 1977, as a writer of columns for The Washington Post and analytical articles for many other publications, and as the author of two books. He collaborated with Clark Clifford, a presidential adviser, on a best-selling Clifford memoir, “Counsel to the President” (1991), and wrote his own widely acclaimed memoir, “To End a War” (1998), about his Bosnia service.
Mr. Holbrooke also made millions as an investment banker on Wall Street. In the early 1980s, he was a co-founder of a Washington consulting firm, Public Strategies, which was later sold to Lehman Brothers. At various times he was a managing director of Lehman Brothers, vice chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston and a director of the American International Group.
Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke was born in Manhattan on April 24, 1941, to Dr. Dan Holbrooke, a physician, and the former Trudi Moos. He attended Scarsdale High School, where his best friend was David Rusk, son of Dean Rusk, the future secretary of state. Richard’s father died when he was 15, and he drew closer to the Rusk family.
At Brown University, he majored in history and was editor of the student newspaper. He intended to become a journalist, but after graduating in 1962 he was turned down by The Times and joined the State Department as a foreign service officer.
In 1964, Mr. Holbrooke married the first of his three wives, Larrine Sullivan, a lawyer. The couple had two sons, David and Anthony, and were divorced. His marriage to Blythe Babyak, a television producer, also ended in divorce. In 1995, he married Kati Marton, an author, journalist and human rights advocate who had been married to the ABC anchorman Peter Jennings until their divorce in 1993. He is survived by Ms. Marton; his two sons; his brother, Andrew; and two stepchildren, Christopher and Elizabeth Jennings.
After language training, he spent three years working in Vietnam. In 1966, he joined President Lyndon B. Johnson’s White House staff, and two years later became a junior member of the delegation at the Paris peace talks. The talks achieved no breakthrough, but the experience taught him much about the arts of negotiation.
In 1970, after a year as a fellow at Princeton, he became director of the Peace Corps in Morocco. He quit government service in 1972 and over the next five years edited the quarterly journal Foreign Policy. He was also a contributing editor of Newsweek International and a consultant on reorganizing the government’s foreign policy apparatus.
He worked on Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1976, and was rewarded with the post of assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs. When Ronald Reagan and the Republicans took over the White House in 1981, Mr. Holbrooke left the government and for more than a decade focused on writing and investment banking.
When President Clinton took office in 1993, Mr. Holbrooke was named ambassador to Germany. He helped found the American Academy in Berlin as a cultural exchange center.
He returned to Washington in 1994 as assistant secretary of state for European affairs. His top priority soon became the horrendous civil war in the former Yugoslavia, a conflict precipitated by the secession of Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Bosnia. Massacres, mass rapes and displaced populations, among other atrocities, were part of campaigns of “ethnic cleansing” against Muslims.
After months of shuttle diplomacy, Mr. Holbrooke in 1995 achieved a breakthrough cease-fire and a framework for dividing Bosnia into two entities, one of Bosnian Serbs and another of Croatians and Muslims. The endgame negotiations, involving the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia, unfolded in Dayton, Ohio, where a peace agreement was reached after months of hard bargaining led by Mr. Holbrooke.
It was the high-water mark of a career punctuated with awards, honorary degrees and prestigious seats on the boards of the Asia Society, the American Museum of Natural History, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Council on Foreign Relations, Refugees International and other organizations. He was 59 when he left the United Nations as the Clinton administration drew to a close.
But there was to be one more task. As Mr. Obama assumed office and attention shifted to Afghanistan, Mr. Holbrooke took on his last assignment. He began by trying to lower expectations, moving away from the grand, transformative goals of President George W. Bush toward something more readily achievable.
But his boss and old friend, Mrs. Clinton, expressed absolute confidence in him. “Richard represents the kind of robust, persistent, determined diplomacy the president intends to pursue,” she said. “I admire deeply his ability to shoulder the most vexing and difficult challenges.”
Original article was published in New York Times
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