Afghanistan Envoy Holbrooke Dies

By Dan Friedman

Richard Holbrooke, a veteran U.S. diplomat whose long career included brokering the Dayton Peace Accords among warring factions in Bosnia in 1995 and serving as the nation's top envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, has died, according to news reports.


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Holbrooke, 69, passed away after emergency surgery at George Washington University Hospital to repair a torn aorta. He collapsed Friday during a meeting at the State Department.

As special U.S. representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Holbrooke was the top U.S. civilian involved in the war effort in Afghanistan. He began his career in 1963 as junior Foreign Service officer in the early days of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Holbrooke rose through the foreign policy ranks, gaining a reputation as a tough negotiator and an arrogant, sharp-elbowed in-fighter who some found hard to work with. Many observers thought he should have won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work devising the complicated Dayton Peace deal following an ethic conflict resulting from the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

President George H. W. Bush once called Holbrooke "the most persistent advocate I've ever run into."

Holbrooke was perhaps the best-know member of the Democratic Party's foreign policy establishment. Twice, he just missed becoming Secretary of State. In 1997, President Bill Clinton considered Holbrooke to replace outgoing Secretary Warren Christopher, but ultimately chose Madeline Albright. In 2000, many considered Holbrooke a likely choice for the post if Vice President Al Gore won the presidency.

In a varied career, Holbrooke served as U.S. Ambassador to Germany and was the only person to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for both Asia, from 1977 to 1981 and Europe, from 1994 to 1996. He worked as a magazine editor, a Peace Corps official, an investment banker, and a professor and authored numerous articles and books.

But Holbrooke was a mostly a diplomat. Born in New York to non-practicing Jewish parents, he entered the Foreign Service in 1962 after graduating from Brown University. He has said his decision reflected advice from Dean Rusk, later secretary of state under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, whose son attended high school with Holbrooke in Scarsdale, N.Y.

After learning the language, Holbrooke went to Vietnam. He worked in the Mekong Delta for the Agency for International Development before joining the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. There, he was part of a group of young diplomats who later gained senior positions, including John Negroponte, Anthony Lake and Les Aspin.

Holbrooke later worked with a team of Vietnam experts in the Johnson White House. He was part of the U.S. delegation to the 1968 Paris Peace talks and helped write a volume of the secret Pentagon describing U.S. decisions in Vietnam, which were later leaked.
In the 1970s Holbrooke worked in Morocco before leaving government to work as managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine.

In 1976, he moved into Democratic Party politics, working as a national security adviser to Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign. After Carter's win, Holbrooke became assistant secretary of State for East Asian and pacific affairs, the top U.S. official overseeing diplomacy in Asia.
Holbrooke's first European job was ambassador to Germany in 1993, a key post a few years after East and West Germany unified. Promoted to assistant secretary for European and Canadian affairs, in 1994, Holbrooke was soon overseeing U.S. efforts to negotiate a peace deal in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Dayton Accords, which Holbrooke was widely credited with devising, involved a highly specific division of the territory of the former Bosnia and Herzegovina between Bosnians and ethnic Serbians and Croatian who had battled in a bloody and ethnically-based conflict that ended following a successful offensive by the Croats and NATO intervention.

Holbrooke became ambassador to the United Nations in 1999. After Gore's defeat, Holbrooke left government again, but advised the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Holbrooke, a longtime confidant of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was given the job as special adviser on Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2009, a difficult position in which he reportedly struggled to work top U.S. military officials and with Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

When Republicans held the White House, Holbrooke had stints on Wall Street and government consulting. He was a senior advisor to Lehman Brothers  in the 1980s and founded a Washington D.C. consulting firm. From 2001 to 2008, Holbrooke was the vice chairman of Perseus LLC, a private equity firm.

He co-authored the memoirs of Clark Clifford, former Defense Secretary and advisor to several Democratic presidents, which was published in 1991.

Holbrooke leaves a wife, Kati Marton, whom he married in 1995, and two sons.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/12/afghanistan-envoy-holbrooke-dies/67967/