Richard Holbrooke passed away earlier this evening in Washington, D.C. I refer you to the New York Times for the obituary.
He will forever be remembered as a peacemaker. As far as I am concerned, there is no higher honor. Rest in Peace, Ambassador.
UPDATE: Touching words from John Kerry. If Kerry won in 2004, Holbrooke may very well have become his Secretary of State.
“This awful news is almost incomprehensible, not least of all because I cannot imagine Richard Holbrooke in anything but a state of perpetual motion. He was always working. He was always a man on a mission, the toughest mission, and that mission was waging peace through tough as nails, never quit diplomacy – and Richard’s life’s work saved tens of thousands of lives.
“Richard never shied from the tough assignments, and he undertook his last one with the same determination that enabled him to – through sheer will – broker the peace agreement among the warring factions in Bosnia that resulted in the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995. He will always be remembered as a warrior for peace.”
I wrote about Holbrooke in 2000, when he was U.N. ambassador — a stage of his career that has gotten relatively little attention in the initial raft of obituaries, perhaps because no one was shooting at anyone else at the time. Holbrooke had been dealt a terrible hand: The United States had fallen so far behind on its annual dues payments that it could have been suspended from membership, but the Republican-controlled Congress was refusing to pay up unless the United Nations accepted a series of onerous “reforms” and agreed to a reduction in U.S. dues. Holbrooke visited every right-wing nut on Capitol Hill in order to persuade them that the United Nations was, in his formulation, “flawed but indispensable.” At the United Nations, he never argued that the United States ought to be paying less; he honestly told his fellow diplomats that this was the only way to bring the United States back into the fold, and admonished them to think less about justice and more about success. He did much less bullying than seducing, for the simple reason that bullying wouldn’t have worked. He was extremely popular in the hallways of the United Nations — because he could deliver the Clinton White House, because he threw great dinner parties where the ambassadors could meet network news anchors, and because diplomats actually like candor. Washington was much harder going.
In January 2000, Holbrooke persuaded the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold a hearing on the United Nations in New York. This afforded him a pretext to offer Sen. Jesse Helms, the yahoo isolationist who chaired the committee, the opportunity to address the Security Council. U.N. diplomats regarded Helms as the devil incarnate, but they behaved themselves impeccably while Helms heaped abuse on them. And at the hearing the next day, Holbrooke gave Helms a comically — and, to some, nauseatingly — disingenuous introduction. Helms, by now charmed, briefly donned a blue U.N. cap. That was the emblematic moment; soon thereafter, Congress agreed to appropriate the dues, and the United Nations agreed to a reformulation of dues payments. The Dayton talks ending the Balkans war may have been more dramatic, but the Miracle of Turtle Bay was every bit as impressive an achievement.