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Obituary: Richard Holbrooke, a giant of U.S. diplomacy

14. December 2010. | 10:10

Source: Emg.rs

Mr. Holbrooke’s death comes at a critical time with the U.S. administration due to unveil in the coming days a key review of its troop surge in Afghanistan and campaign against the Taliban on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Richard Holbrooke was perhaps most known for forging the 1995 peace accords that ended the brutal Bosnian war, but in a career spanning five decades he had worked hard to resolve some of the world’s toughest conflicts.

“America is more secure and the world is a safer place because of the work of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke,” U.S. President Barack Obama said late Monday, just before the 69-year-old diplomat succumbed to a heart ailment.

Mr. Obama had tapped Mr. Holbrooke as his special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan shortly after his January 2009 inauguration, tasking him with one of the most difficult diplomatic dossiers confronting the United States today.

Mr. Holbrooke’s death comes at a critical time with the U.S. administration due to unveil in the coming days a key review of its troop surge in Afghanistan and campaign against the Taliban on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

A hard-nosed trouble shooter, Mr. Holbrooke is perhaps best known for brokering the 1995 Dayton peace accords managing to hammer out a treaty which many privately thought would be impossible.

Dubbed “the bulldozer” for his impatient, hard-charging style, Mr. Holbrooke alternately browbeat and cajoled the nationalist leaders of former Yugoslavia until the deal was struck between the belligerent parties in November 1995 in Dayton, Ohio, following a round of NATO air strikes against Serb forces.

The Dayton agreement, despite criticism, has held the shaky Bosnian state together despite persistent tensions among rival communities.

It was as Mr. Obama’s special U.S. envoy in the current Afghan conflict, that he faced the daunting task of pushing Kabul and Islamabad to work together against resurgent al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

Mr. Obama called him “a towering figure in American foreign policy, a critical member of my Afghanistan and Pakistan team, and a tireless public servant who has won the admiration of the American people and people around the world.”

U.S.Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid tribute to Mr. Holbrooke late Monday in an emotional statement saying he “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,” she said.

Born in April 24, 1941 in New York, Mr.Holbrooke began his diplomatic career at the age of 21 in Vietnam — another long, seemingly intractable conflict in which U.S. troops were mired down.

He rose quickly to key posts in president Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration during the trauma of that war.

When the Democrats took back the White House in 1977, president Jimmy Carter appointed him assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs at age 35.

It was not until July 1994, when he was named assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs under president Bill Clinton, that the outspoken Holbrooke emerged as a prominent public figure as he took on the conflict in former Yugoslavia.To End a War, in which he argued the case for a robust U.S. foreign policy that includes a readiness for military action to prevent possible genocide.

While considered a heavyweight with a first-class intellect, Mr. Holbrooke’s intense, blunt personality made him few friends at the State Department.

Mr. Holbrooke reportedly clashed at times with Bill Clinton’s inner circle, including then secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

Mr. Holbrooke has also had a lucrative career in the private sector.

During the 1980s he earned more than a million dollars a year at the now defunct Lehman Brothers brokerage house and served at Credit Suisse First Boston as vice-chairman of the U.S. unit, even as he continued to serve as consultant to the White House and the State Department.

His links with the Swiss bank raised concerns in Congress, where the Senate first blocked his appointment in 1999 as ambassador to the United Nations.

The nomination was stalled for more than a year as Holbrooke faced a federal ethics probe.

He had long been tipped as a possible candidate for the top diplomat’s job, and was expected to become secretary of state if Democrat Al Gore had won the presidency in 2000. He was again a front-runner for the job when Democrat John Kerry ran for president in 2004.

Mr. Holbrooke, who has two sons, married in 1994 his third wife, Kati Marton, a writer and former journalist.


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