‘Larger than life’: U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke dead at 69

December 14th, 2010 - 12:01 pm ICT by BNO News  

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the president’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, died at a hospital in Washington, D.C. on Monday. He was 69.

Holbrooke was rushed to George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. on Friday after he collapsed on the seventh floor of the U.S. State Department building. He then underwent a 21-hour operation to repair a tear in his aorta and had since remained in a critical condition.

On Saturday, several senior U.S. officials visited Holbrooke in hospital. Among those were U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) Admiral Michael Mullen and U.S. National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon.

The following day, Holbrooke underwent an additional procedure to improve circulation following Saturday’s surgery. His listed condition was upgraded to ’stable but critical’, although his condition did not actually improve.

On Monday evening, Holbrooke passed away while surrounded by his wife Kati, his sons David and Anthony, his step-children Elizabeth and Chris Jennings, his daughter-in-law Sarah, and the rest of their family.

Family members said Holbrooke’s final words were to his Pakistani surgeon, according to the Washington Post. “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan,” his last words were.

Within hours of the diplomat’s death, who was well known across the world, condolences began to pour in from officials across the United States.

“Michelle and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Richard Holbrooke, a true giant of American foreign policy who has made America stronger, safer, and more respected,” said President Barack Obama, who gave a toast to the diplomat’s life during a dinner with senior staff. “He was a truly unique figure who will be remembered for his tireless diplomacy, love of country, and pursuit of peace.”

Holbrooke worked as a young foreign service officer during the Vietnam War and supported the Paris peace talks which ended that war. And as a young U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, he helped normalize relations with China. As U.S. Ambassador to Germany, he helped Europe emerge from a long Cold War and encouraged NATO to welcome new members.

As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, most notably, Holbrooke was the tireless chief architect of the Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia in 1995, saving countless lives. As U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Holbrooke helped break a political impasse and strengthen America’s relationship with the UN and elevated the cause of AIDS and Africa on the international agenda.

Holbrooke’s style, described as forceful, earned him nicknames such as ‘The Bulldozer’ and the ‘Raging Bull.’ “He’s the most egotistical bastard I’ve ever met,” U.S. Vice President-elect Biden told President-elect Obama when Hillary Clinton announced her envoy choice for Afghanistan and Pakistan. “But maybe he’s the right guy for the job,” Biden added.

“When I became President, I was grateful that Richard agreed to serve as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Obama, who appointed Holbrooke to that position in January 2009. “The progress that we have made in Afghanistan and Pakistan is due in no small measure to Richard’s relentless focus on America’s national interest, and pursuit of peace and security.”

Obama met with Holbrooke’s wife Kati and their family after the diplomat had passed away. “I expressed to them the gratitude of the American people for his lifetime of service. They are in our thoughts and prayers tonight. Tonight, there are millions of people around the world whose lives have been saved and enriched by his work,” the President said, adding that the United States and the world is safer and more secure because of Holbrooke’s work.

U.S. Secretary of State Clinton also praised Holbrooke for his decades of service. “He was one of a kind - a true statesman - and that makes his passing all the more painful,” she said through a statement released by her office.

Clinton said the diplomat’s passing is a ’sad day’ for not only America as a whole, but also for her personally. “I had the privilege to know Richard for many years and to call him a friend, colleague and confidante,” she said.

Hillary Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, was also saddened by Holbrooke’s death. “In a lifetime of passionate, brilliant service on the front lines of war and peace, freedom and oppression, Richard Holbrooke saved lives, secured peace, and restored hope for countless people around the world,” Bill Clinton said. “Tomorrow marks the 15-year anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Accords - the agreement Dick negotiated which stopped the killings in Bosnia and paved a path to peace in the Balkans that endures today.”

“For the last two years, he worked hard to counter terrorism and to build a secure, democratic future for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our nation is safer, and our world stronger, because of the work he did. I will miss my friend very much. My thoughts and prayers are with Kati, his sons, and legions of friends during this difficult time,” Bill Clinton added.

And despite Biden’s somewhat critical remarks before Holbrooke’s appointment, he hailed the diplomat as one of America’s ‘greatest warriors for peace.’ “Richard 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,” Biden said. “He touched so many lives and helped save countless more. He was a tireless negotiator, a relentless advocate for American interests, and the most talented diplomat we’ve had in a generation.”

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