Holbrooke’s Last Words Resonate: ‘You’ve Got to Stop This War in Afghanistan’

December 14, 2010

(ChattahBox US News)—Richard Holbrooke, the late U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, described, as a “lion of U.S. diplomacy,” spent decades serving our country, globe-trotting to the farthest reaches of civilization to meet with world leaders, tribal warlords and poverty-stricken Pakistanis. But he took the anguish of one of his toughest assignments, forging peaceful stability and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to his grave. According to the Washington Post, before undergoing surgery for a torn aorta on Friday, he uttered his last words to his Pakistani surgeon: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”

Holbrooke’s crowning foreign achievement was the brokering of the Dayton Peace Accords that resulted in peace in Bosnia and the end to years of murder through genocide and ethnic cleansing. He hoped to wrangle a similar result in the mire of tribal politics, government corruption and the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. And Holbrooke, who also once served as the Ambassador to the U.N., believed the path to success in Afghanistan was on the civilian side, with international aide and reconstruction efforts and not with the war effort.

Despite the many obstacles and infighting with military advisers, Holbrooke achieved quite a bit in just two years in the muck of Afghanistan

“In the nearly two years that Mr. Holbrooke held the post of the president’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, he reorganized diplomatic structures, overhauled U.S. reconstruction programs and pressed the Afghan government to do more to tackle corruption and provide essential public services.”

Holbrooke used his early achievements to push for a civilian and diplomatic solution.

“Mr. Holbrooke had his own frustrations with internal sniping, congressional reluctance to fund the diplomatic and economic sides of the war effort, and the increasing power of the military to influence policy.” […]

“He was a strong advocate of major increases in development and governance aid. Under his direction, the number of U.S. civilian officials in Afghanistan has more than tripled, to exceed 1,000.”

So, what do his last words mean? Did he want the Americans and NATO to completely abandon all efforts in Afghanistan? The military campaign, yes.

Foreign Policy Magazine, co-founded by Holbrooke, quoted at length from Bob Woodward’s latest book, “Obama’s Wars.” Leaving out all of the insider Beltway gossip, name-calling and the obsession with the meme that President Obama and Holbrooke didn’t get along, one quoted passage from Woodward’s book stands out:

“The war — or the American role in the war — would not end in a military victory, but nearly all the focus had been on the military. There had been little discussion of reconciliation — how the warring parties could be brought together diplomatically. That might be far off, but it had to be planned. How could the Taliban insurgents be lured off the field? Maybe it was a fantasy. But they had to sincerely try.”

“The Saudis were already acting as secret intermediaries with elements of the Taliban, but the White House was not seriously engaging the issue. This was the only end for the war in Holbrooke’s estimation. How could they not at least consider it?”

Richard Holbrooke gave his blood, sweat and tears to ending the bloody mess in Afghanistan and ultimately lost his life to the grueling effort. Shouldn’t we all; the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, the American people, now all wake up and take stock of our failing military efforts in Afghanistan and listen to the dying words of the one man in the world, who was in a position to know the truth?

“You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan,” said Holbrooke as he was wheeled off to surgery never to regain consciousness. Yes we do, we certainly do.

Photo Source: White House Flickr


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