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Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, died last night. Holbrooke held a string of high profile diplomatic positions in a career that spanned nearly five decades. But he'll be best remembered as the man who brokered peace in the Balkans in 1995. Holbrook, who was 69, suffered a torn aorta and collapsed on Friday.
NPR's Jackie Northam has this remembrance.
JACKIE NORTHAM: Richard Holbrooke was a man who could fill a room, not just by his imposing physical presence but also through his personality, his energy and drive. Holbrooke loved the limelight and moving amongst the world's powerful elite, says Daniel Serwer, who served under Holbrooke during the war in the Balkans.
Mr. DANIEL SERWER (Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies): He was a guy who liked to control all the levers of power. And it was an extraordinary virtuoso performance when he did that. Now, a lot of us will remember him in his harsher moments, of course, but the fact is that he could be extraordinarily charming as well.
NORTHAM: It was that blend of tough and gentle that helped Holbrooke evolve into a world-class negotiator. He first entered government service in 1963. At 22 years old he was sent to Vietnam as a Foreign Service officer. Serwer, now with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, says the Vietnam War had an enormous impact on Holbrooke.
Mr. SERWER: This was formative for him, that the Americans had failed in Vietnam and they had failed partly because they had not used their power appropriately.
NORTHAM: Holbrooke went on to be a member of the U.S. delegation at the Vietnam peace talks in Paris. He also served as ambassador to Germany, assistant secretary of state for Europe and East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Here, Holbrooke describes how his father, a refugee from Nazi Germany, took him to see the U.N. complex in New York when he was just a young boy. His father told him the U.N. would be instrumental in preventing future wars.
Mr. RICHARD HOLBROOKE (U.S. Diplomat): My father did not live to see how his dream for the U.N. dissolved in the face of the harsh realities of the Cold War and the inadequacies of the U.N. system itself. But I never forgot the initial visit and my father's noble if overly idealistic dream. Despite its many problems and failures, I still believe in the importance, indeed the necessity, of the United Nations.
NORTHAM: While Holbrooke held many diplomatic and foreign policy positions over the years, arguably the height of his diplomatic career was the 1995 Dayton Accords. Holbrooke brought all sides in the Bosnia conflict to the negotiating table and orchestrated the effort to draw up a peace agreement to end the bloodshed in the Balkans. Holbrooke spoke shortly after the accords were signed.
Mr. HOLBROOKE: On every page of the many complicated documents and annexes initialed here today lie challenges to both sides to set aside their enmities, their differences, which are still raw and open wounds. They must work together.
NORTHAM: Steve Clemons, with the New America Foundation, says it took Holbrooke's strong nature to work on the Bosnia negotiations. Clemons, who knew Holbrooke for about 15 years, says he was very ambitious and would bulldoze his way to results.
Mr. STEVE CLEMONS (American Strategy Program, New America Foundation): I think Richard was used to dealing with tough neighborhoods and tough personalities, monstrous people. And he was tenaciously committed to results. He would focus on those results and he would do nearly anything to achieve those results.
NORTHAM: Clemons says history will be kind to Holbrooke over the Dayton Accords, but maybe not on his last position as U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Clemons says he thinks the history books there will be mixed. He says Holbrooke made some strides trying to build up civil society in Afghanistan but hit many brick walls and clashed with many of the key players.
Mr. CLEMONS: Of all the things that he might've been given by the Obama administration, they gave him just about the very worst portfolio. I think that had he continued to be with us, I think that he would have found a way to at least force his portfolio into a win.
NORTHAM: Clemons says Holbrooke was trying to be innovative in his role as special representative, and he opened up the possibility of negotiating with the Taliban as a way of ending the conflict in Afghanistan. But he understood the dynamics were much more difficult there, as he indicated last month during an interview with NPR's MORNING EDITION.
Mr. HOLBROOKE: Each negotiation has its own dynamic, and this one is unique. It's not going to end at a place like Dayton, Ohio, where you get all the combatants behind a high barbed-wire fence and don't let them out until you have an agreement.
NORTHAM: Holbrooke is survived by his wife, Kati Marton, and two sons.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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