Richard Holbrooke: The Death of a Peacemaker

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

President George H.W. Bush once described him as the “most persistent advocate I’ve ever run into.” President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, died earlier today after complications from heart surgery. He was a gifted diplomat and a tough negotiator who was considered one of the superstars of international diplomacy. Richard Holbrooke died Monday evening at George Washington University Hospital after doctors had performed emergency surgery Saturday to repair a tear in his aorta, the largest artery in the human body responsible for carrying blood from the heart to all parts of the body.

Described only days ago by President Obama as a “towering figure in American diplomacy,” Holbrooke was a career diplomat who started his career in 1962 as an officer during the Vietnam War where he initially worked at the US Agency of International Development. He continued to work on Vietnam issues during the war under President Lyndon B. Johnson and was a part of the delegation that presided in Paris for the peace negotiations to end the war. He also served as the director of the Peace Corps in Morocco in the early 1970’s as well as the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Carter administration. He was in charge of US ties with China when relations between the two countries were “normalized” in late 1978.

Later in his career, he also held senior positions at a few prestigious Wall Street firms before returning to diplomacy under the Clinton administration. During this time he was credited with his most illustrious achievement to date when he helped orchestrate the Dayton peace agreement which ended the horrific war and genocide in Bosnia. He later went on to write a memoir titled “To End a War” and become somewhat of a celebrity in the Balkans, and is widely believed to have become the Secretary of State under Hillary Clinton if she had won. He also went on to serve as the US ambassador to Germany as well as the United Nations under President Bill Clinton before being tapped by the incoming Obama administration with the herculean task of being the special envoy of the United States to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

His last assignment was arguably his most difficult as he himself stated that “There’s no Slobodan Milosevic. There’s no Palestinian Authority. There is a widely dispersed group of people that we roughly call the enemy. There’s also al Qaeda, with which there’s no possibility of any discussion at all.” He mentioned that in the AfPak region, (a term he is credited with having coined), there are a range of militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and that “an expert could add another 30.”

Such was the difficulty of his last assignment that some close to him are speculating whether the high level of stress and travels associated with shuttling between Washington, Kabul and Islamabad might have been a factor in causing a tear in his aorta. Certainly the complex and high strung meetings with Karzai and Zardari as well as the delicate balancing acts of diplomacy along with military operations in a region of the world described as “the most dangerous in the world” possibly took a toll on his health.

But to those that knew Richard Holbrooke, he was a man capable of taking on and winning the challenges of this and any difficult assignment as he had done so many times in his career. A New York Times reporter once wrote “if you want somebody to pull the trigger, or close a deal, think Holbrooke.”

Tonight in Washington DC, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and the thousands of employees of the US State Department mourn the death of this icon of American diplomacy and celebrate his lifelong service to the United States and the American people in search of peace in troubled spots the world over. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, a job vacancy has sadly opened up in the dangerous AfPak region of the world for an assignment that no one is capable of fulfilling quite like Mr Holbrooke. For the sake of the success in the Afghan war, peace and stability in Pakistan and securing America’s vital national interests in the region and around the world, let us hope that his successor will be half as capable a diplomat and negotiator as the late Richard C. Holbrooke, truly a giant of American diplomacy.

Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

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