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Remembering Holbrooke and Bosnia

Richard Holbrooke, described by President Obama as a "true giant of American foreign policy," has died following heart surgery. He was only 69, but his career covered nearly fifty years. From 1993-1994, he was the US Ambassador to Germany and founded the American Academy in Berlin.

Ambassador Holbrooke died on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, which was the biggest of his many accomplishments and ended more than three years of bloody war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

NATO published a three-part mini video documentary "From Peacekeeping To Partnership":

Part I: Building Peace tells of NATO's gradual engagement in support of United Nations' efforts to end the Bosnian War (1992-1995) and the deployment of its first peacekeeping force in December 1995. NATO's mission continued for nine years until responsibility for security was handed over to the European Union in December 2004. 

Part II: Reforming the Military shows how NATO's support for essential defence reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina has helped downsize the armed forces and turn them into a single military force under state-level control. Progress made allowed the country to join NATO's Partnership for Peace in 2006.

Part III: The Road to Integration highlights the country's deepening partnership with NATO and provides an insight into the challenges ahead on the road to the country's possible membership of the Alliance.

Richard Holbrooke's book about Bosnia "To End a War" (, is my favorite foreign policy memoir. It is so well written that it reads like a good thriller. I was very inspired when I read his book during my Political Science studies in the late 90s. Richard Holbrooke was an inspiration to many other German students as well.


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David on :

According to the WaPo, Holbrooke's last words - spoken to a Pakistani doctor - were "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan." Without Richard Holbrooke, it will be much harder to make that wish come true.

Pat Patterson on :

And for those of us less gullible in believing that the front man, still widely hated in Serbia, for the war in Afghanistan and Iraq suddenly had a moment of clarity and begged that the war be declared nolo contendere for those still having buyer's remorse for voting or campaigning for Pres Obama. "I should note that a lot of media coverage this morning about the interaction between Ambassador Holbrooke and his medical team as he was preparing for surgery for Friday - I've consulted with a number of folks who were in the room. There was a, you know, lengthy exchange with Ambassador Holbrooke and the medical team, probably reflecting Richard's relentless pursuit of the policy that he had - he had helped to craft and was charged by the president and the secretary with carrying out. At one point, the medical team said, "You've got to relax." And Richard said, "I can't relax. I'm worried about Afghanistan and Pakistan." And then after some additional exchanges, you know, the medical team finally - finally said, "Well, tell you what; we'll try to fix this challenge while you're undergoing surgery." And he said, "Yeah, see if you can take care of that, including ending the war." James Crowley, State Department spokesman.

Joerg Wolf on :

David, the Wash Post author is now also providing more context: "As Dr. Jehan El-Bayoumi was attending to Holbrooke in the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital, she told him to relax and asked what she could do to comfort him, according to an aide who was present. Holbrooke, who was in severe pain, said jokingly that it was hard to relax because he had to worry about the difficult situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. El-Bayoumi, an Egyptian-American internist who is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's physician, replied that she would worry for him. Holbrooke responded by telling her to end the war, the aide said. The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke's exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent." [url][/url] Anyway, Holbrooke's job was to end wars. He worked on that in Vietnam (incl. the Paris negotiations), in Bosnia, Afpak. Preventing and stopping/ending wars in a responsible manner is (or at least: should) be a diplomat's primary objective. Holbrooke cared about his work so much. Probably more than about his health. Therefore he joked to his medical team that they should fix the problem for him.

Pamela on :

Ach. A fine man. Never agreed with him about much, but what a mench. I'm sorry that his final hours entailed so much suffering - for him and his family. To get an idea of the world he lived in, you might benefit from a conversation with his wife, Kati Martin. Hungarian. She has lived it. Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America RIP Holbrooke. May he rest in the ultimate peace.

Joerg Wolf on :

The Economist: "HIS favourite book was Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick”, and it was pretty clear why. He cited Ishmael’s confession near the beginning of his memoir of the 1995 Bosnian peace talks, “To End a War”: “as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.” For Richard Holbrooke the remote, the forbidden and the barbarous were as likely to be found at negotiating tables, in cold hotel rooms, or in windowless government offices where men and women struggled to sort out the world, while he banged heads."

Pat Patterson on :

You'd think he would see more of himself in either Ahab or Starbuck. But I guess the conceit of the powerful is to remain an innocent.

Joe Noory on :

People complain and imply that there are conspiracies lurking in the shadows - that the Pentagon is doing statecraft. The only reason this has been necessary, is because of the failure of diplomacy, and the failure of a generation of diplomats, including the man you're eulogizing.

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