WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2011 — President Barack Obama today praised “the extraordinary life” of veteran U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke.
Obama and other dignitaries were among hundreds who gathered to honor Holbrooke during a memorial service at the Kennedy Center here.
Holbrooke, special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, died Dec. 13 following two operations to repair a torn aorta he suffered Dec. 10. He was 69.
The president said the list of places Holbrooke served and the things he did “reads as a chronicle of American foreign policy.”
“In many ways he was the leading light of a generation of American diplomats,” the president said, adding that Holbrooke “understood that America could not retreat from the world.” “He recognized that our prosperity is tied to that of others, that our security is endangered by instability abroad, [and] most importantly, that our moral leadership is at stake when innocent men, women and children are slaughtered through senseless violence, whether it’s in Srebrenica or Islamabad,” he said.
In undertaking his last mission, the president said, Holbrooke understood the fortunes of Afghanistan and Pakistan are tied together. “In Afghanistan, he cultivated areas like agriculture and governance to seed stability,” Obama said. “With Pakistan, he created new habits of cooperation to overcome decades of mistrust.”
The president addressed the young men and women in the audience who had known Holbrooke as a mentor. “Stay in public service,” Obama told them. “Serve your country. Seek the peace that your mentor so ardently sought.”
Holbrooke’s work improved thousands of lives, the president said.
“His legacy is seen in the children of Bosnia, who lived to raise families of their own; in a Europe that is peaceful and united and free; in young boys and girls from the tribal regions of Pakistan, to whom he pledged our country’s friendship; and in the role that America continues to play as a light to all who aspire to live in freedom and in dignity,” Obama said.
The president said he is personally grateful to Holbrooke’s family. “I know that every hour he spent with me in the situation room, or spent traveling … was time spent away from you,” Obama said. “You shared in his sacrifice. And that sacrifice is made greater because he loved you so. He served his country until his final moments.”
Obama urged the mourners to continue Holbrooke’s work. “He made a difference,” he said. “Let us now carry that work forward in our time.” Holbrooke’s career took him to Vietnam as a Foreign Service officer in the 1960s, followed by service as Peace Corps director in Morocco and eventually assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the 1970s.
In the 1980s, Holbrooke left government service for a stint in finance, returning to diplomacy in the 1990s as ambassador to Germany, then as assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, where he earned what may be his most lasting fame.
Holbrooke was the chief U.S. negotiator for the 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, known as the Dayton Accords. Discussions for the agreement took place over three weeks in November at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. Holbrooke is widely credited for bullying and cajoling the warring parties until they hammered out a workable document.
The agreement, initially signed by the Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian presidents and later by U.S., British, French, German and Russian heads of state, ended more than three years of war in Bosnia.
Holbrooke later served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and in 2009 accepted a presidential appointment to what would be his final position, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The president announced the creation of an annual Richard C. Holbrooke Award to honor excellence in diplomacy.
The State Department has instituted an annual lecture series in his honor. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton inaugurated the series with a lecture on U.S.-China relations this morning.
Holbrooke is survived by his wife, Kati Marton, his sons, David and Anthony, his step-children, Elizabeth and Chris Jennings, his daughter-in-law, Sarah and four grandchildren.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)