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POLITICS

Afghanistan Envoy Holbrooke Dies

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Richard Holbrooke was hailed as a diplomat and a fighter.(ARMIN WEIGEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Updated at 8:01 a.m. on December 14.

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.

 

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

Just hours before his death, President Obama commemorated the diplomat at a State Department reception attended by Holbrooke's family.

"Richard Holbrooke has been serving this nation with distinction for nearly 50 years -- from a young foreign service officer in Vietnam to the architect of the accords that ended the slaughter in the Balkans, to advancing our regional efforts as our Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and countless crises and hot spots in between," Obama said. "He is simply one of the giants of American foreign policy."

 

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." In a statement Monday evening, Vice President Joseph Biden described Holbrooke as "a great friend" and called him "a tireless negotiator, a relentless advocate for American interests, and the most talented diplomat we’ve had in a generation."

Holbrooke was perhaps the best-known 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 Madeleine 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. 

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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 Papers describing U.S. decisions in Vietnam, which were later leaked.

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