After Franklin Roosevelt died of a massive stroke on April 12, 1945, the New York Post led its daily list of "Army-Navy dead" with a simple entry: "Roosevelt, Franklin D., Commander-in-Chief." It was "a gesture which would have moved the president," historian William Manchester later wrote. Like FDR, Richard Holbrooke, who died this week, was a casualty of war who never fought on the battlefield. Whatever the proximate cause of the heart ailment that felled the famous diplomat, Holbrooke was under tremendous stress--pushing himself to negotiate a way out of what he knew could easily become a Vietnam-like quagmire in Afghanistan. His death, like his life, was all the more heroic for that reason.
The question now is whether Holbrooke's absence as President Obama's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, or SRAP, will be a devastating blow to America's Afghan strategy or whether his departure from the scene will have little more effect on the final outcome than hundreds of other heroic battlefield casualties.
Dialing It Down
How to Protect Members of Congress
The Show Must Go On
For now, Holbrooke's passing may not make much difference, at least while Gen. David Petraeus is still the point man for Afghan strategy. Petraeus's preeminence was seen on Thursday, when the president unveiled a year-long assessment that, as expected, gave the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan until the end of 2014 to complete his counterinsurgency program. It is in the long run where Holbrooke will be most keenly missed, because it will require a master negotiator to really end this war and such people are as rare as --Richard Holbrooke.