WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2010 — Defense Department leaders today joined the president, vice president, secretary of state and others in mourning the death of U.S. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke.
Holbrooke was serving as special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan when he died last night from a tear in his aorta. He fell ill during a Dec. 10 meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the State Department and was taken to a hospital here, where he underwent two lengthy operations over the weekend, according to a State Department news report released this morning.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates released a statement today calling Holbrooke “one of the most formidable and consequential public servants of his generation, bringing his uncommon passion, energy, tenacity, and intellect to bear on the most difficult national security issues of our time.”
Gates went on to say that none of Holbrooke’s high-profile diplomatic assignments was more difficult than his last mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Still, he said, Holbrooke tackled the task “with the same drive that characterized everything he did during nearly five decades of public life. Richard’s talents and efforts were critically important to achieving our goals in that part of the world.”
On a personal level, Gates said, “I first started working with Richard in the Carter administration and long considered him not only a colleague, but a friend, and I will miss him.”
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a statement from Iraq, where he was traveling as part of the USO holiday tour for troops. Holbrooke, he said, “never lost time fighting for ideals he believed in. He never lost touch with the problems faced by millions of people he never knew. And he never lost hope that those same people could live in peace, security and safety. Indeed, he shared their vivid aspirations.”
“More critically,” the admiral continued, “Richard never lost his sense of loyalty to country, to friends, or to his family. He was fiercely devoted to those he cared about as he was to his principles, even more so.”
Mullen called Holbrooke “a big man in every sense of the word, a cherished friend and true patriot.”
“We also will miss him at the table as we finish this week the president’s review of our Afghanistan strategy, a strategy he helped write and one he deeply believed in,” the chairman said. “That we have been making steady progress in this war is due in no small measure to Richard’s tireless efforts and dedication. Few have done as much to achieve success; none have done more.
“I know he would want our work to continue unabated,” Mullen added. “And I know we will all feel his bully presence in the room as we do so.”
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, released a statement from Afghanistan calling Holbrooke’s death “a tragic loss for our country, this region, and our world.”
“Richard Holbrooke was a true titan in the diplomatic arena and a central figure in the effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan. … It was with considerable pride that we called him our ‘diplomatic wingman,’ ” Petraeus said. “He was, in short, a tremendous diplomatic partner, a great American, and a good friend.”
President Barack Obama, who appointed Holbrooke to his final diplomatic assignment, released a statement praising the ambassador’s contributions to the nation. “Like so many presidents before me, I am grateful that Richard Holbrooke was on my team, as are the American people,” the president said.
Obama noted that Holbrooke was the child of refugees, and he credited him with progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as many other parts of the world. He memorialized Holbrooke’s diplomatic achievements that began with the Paris peace talks that ended the Vietnam War, and included normalizing relations with China, bringing Europe out of the Cold War, and, most notably, being the chief architect of the Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnian War 15 years ago this week.
“There are millions of people around the world whose lives have been saved and enriched by his work,” Obama said of Holbrooke. “The United States is safer and the world is more secure because of the half century of patriotic service of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.”
In a separate statement, Vice President Joe Biden said Holbrooke “was a larger-than-life figure who, through his brilliance, determination and sheer force of will, helped bend the curve of history in the direction of progress.”
In a statement released last night, Clinton said that “America has lost one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants,” noting that Holbrooke represented the United States “in far-flung war zones and high-level peace talks, always with distinctive brilliance and unmatched determination.”
Like others, Clinton noted the tough diplomatic style Holbrooke was known for.
“He was the consummate diplomat, able to stare down dictators and stand up for America’s interests and values even under the most difficult circumstances,” she said. “He served at every level of the Foreign Service and beyond, helping mentor generations of talented officers and future ambassadors.
“Few people have ever left a larger mark on the State Department or our country,” Clinton added.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
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