Goodbye Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke (1941-2010)

Via the NYT:

Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2009 and a diplomatic troubleshooter in Asia, Europe and the Middle East who worked for every Democratic president since the late 1960s, died on Monday evening at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
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.

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard C. Holbrooke
with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmud Qureshi visit the Shah Rukn-e-Alam shrine
in Multan, Pakistan, on September 16, 2010.
[State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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.
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.


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.

Read more here.

From the State Department:

Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke passed away this evening, surrounded by his wife, Kati, his sons David and Anthony, his step-children Elizabeth and Chris Jennings, his daughter-in-law Sarah, and the rest of their family.

Secretary Clinton released the following statement on his passing:

Tonight America has lost one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants. Richard Holbrooke served the country he loved for nearly half a century, representing the United States in far-flung war-zones and high-level peace talks, always with distinctive brilliance and unmatched determination. He was one of a kind — a true statesman — and that makes his passing all the more painful.

From his early days in Vietnam to his historic role bringing peace to the Balkans to his last mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard helped shape our history, manage our perilous present, and secure our future. He was the consummate diplomat, able to stare down dictators and stand up for America’s interests and values even under the most difficult circumstances. He served at every level of the Foreign Service and beyond, helping mentor generations of talented officers and future ambassadors. Few people have ever left a larger mark on the State Department or our country. From Southeast Asia to post-Cold War Europe and around the globe, people have a better chance of a peaceful future because of Richard’s lifetime of service.
I had the privilege to know Richard for many years and to call him a friend, colleague and confidante. As Secretary of State, I have counted on his advice and relied on his leadership. This is a sad day for me, for the State Department and for the United States of America.

True to form, Richard was a fighter to the end. His doctors marveled at his strength and his willpower, but to his friends, that was just Richard being Richard. I am grateful for the tireless efforts of all the medical staff, and to everyone who sat by his side or wished him well in these final days.

Tonight my thoughts and prayers are with Richard’s beloved wife Kati, his sons David and Anthony, his step-children Elizabeth and Chris Jennings, his daughter-in-law Sarah, and all of his countless friends and colleagues.

Lots of things have been written since his passing.

Here is David Rothkopf | Foreign Policy:
“And of course, as is always the case, while the focus of the eulogies will be the great achievements, what breaks the heart are the tiny fragments of the man that continue to shine on in our memories. Incongruous and unexpected bits and pieces of a life.  Mischievousness and warmth. Bursts of irresistible enthusiasm. insights so sharp you could cut yourself on them. Those things don’t translate so well. They’re a bit too personal. But with a guy who touched as many lives as did Holbrooke, they are the reason today that so many eulogies will be written or spoken or just quietly considered. Some tinged with regret, some with the phantom pain of old wounds.  Some with glittering memories or gratitude. But all with an unmistakable sense of the loss of a great, wise man who will be sorely missed and who by departing with uncharacteristically bad timing has made the work of the world more than a little bit harder.”

And James Fallows | The Atlantic:
“Everyone who knows him will find tactful ways of saying that Dick Holbrooke could be an outrageous, scheming, quintuple-chess-game-playing, highly self-regarding figure. But he was also unquestionably talented enough, public spirited enough, dedicated enough, and passionate enough to have people willingly embrace the whole package of his room-filling self.”

The one that we like the most, Nicholas Kristof | in NYT: 
“The news reports say that his aorta gave out, but don’t believe that. His heart couldn’t possibly have failed him. This was a man, larger than life, with brain and energy and vast ability, yes, but above all this was a man of heart.”

A priest in Mexico once told William T. Vollman in A Good Death that “the best way to die well is to die living.”  We’d like to think that Richard Holbrooke died, living full.

But we can’t help thinking, he left too soon. 

Related post:
Richard Holbrooke: Our AfPak Man and Diplomatic H-bomb | Feb 09, 2009