Obama Memorializes Holbrooke as Diplomatic ‘Leading Light’

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)

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