News / USA

Holbrooke Death Leaves Vacuum at Center of Afghan Policy

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (file photo)
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (file photo)
Gary Thomas

The sudden death of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke comes at a crucial moment in U.S. policymaking in South Asia, just when the Obama Administration is wrapping up its review of strategy in Afghanistan. Holbrooke was at the center of piecing together a strategy and policy for Afghanistan and left his biggest challenges unfinished.

Richard Holbrooke was known in some circles as "the Bulldozer" because of his ability to get warring parties to sit down and settle their dispute.

Undoubtedly, his crowning achievement was the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia.  Through his relentless prodding and cajoling, an agreement was signed Dec. 14, 1995.  He died one day short of the 15th anniversary of that achievement.

Watch Ravi Khanna's Companion TV Report:

U.S. Army War College professor Larry Goodson says there were hopes that Holbrooke could bring those same skills to bear on the knotty interlocked problems of Afghanistan and its neighbor, Pakistan. "A lot of people thought that the skill set that he demonstrated in regard to the Dayton Accords or at the United Nations - at several points in his career, but most especially with regard to Dayton - that those were the kinds of things that he could have brought or was bringing or might yet have brought to Afghanistan in a useful way," he said.

But could Holbrooke have brokered a peace deal in Afghanistan as he did in Dayton?  Not likely, says former deputy assistant secretary of state Teresita Schaffer.

"In the Balkans you could identify the three biggest thugs you could put into a room and butt heads.  In Afghanistan, there are far more moving parts than that, and I think he found this a real challenge.  I understand he said as much to other people.  So I don't know if he would have figured out a way of sort of forcing the issue.  But Afghanistan is notoriously resistance to forcing," she said.

Afghanistan is at something of a crossroads as the U.S. looks to begin withdrawing or at least redeploying some of its forces next year and increasingly hand over security responsibilities to Afghans.  But officials have said the training of those police and soldiers has been slow.  In addition, talk has been increasing of a political settlement between President Hamid Karzai and at least some elements of the Taliban.

Holbrooke could be dazzling or abrasive, according to published reports and political sources.  He is reported to have clashed with President Karzai, especially when Holbrooke pushed the Afghan leader to crack down on corruption, as well as with President Obama's then-national security advisor, James Jones.

In January, 2009, Holbrooke was named to the newly-created post of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It was an ill-defined job overseeing problems of immense complexity, but analysts say he made it his own.

Larry Goodson says what he called this "towering figure" was awkwardly caught between embassies in Kabul and Islamabad and reporting directly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"I think that he had a certain latitude. But at the same time, I think that they were really building the structure of this as they went along because you have the Afghan mission [embassy], the Pakistan mission [embassy], and now you have this almost larger than anyone else figure of American diplomacy being given the responsibility to sort of do something kind of undefined in the middle," he said.

Teresita Schaffer says Holbrooke will be missed as he was the glue holding together much of the day-to-day mechanics of U.S. Afghan and Pakistani policy.

"I think the biggest impact of the loss of Holbrooke is actually going to be on the way the U.S. government organizes for this enterprise because he was such a dominant presence.  He controlled all assignments; he did resource allocation; he did resource mobilization; he pulled the policy process together.  And while I'm sure that a lot of that will all go on, there won't be one of these towering figures making it all happen," she said.

It is not known when a permanent replacement for the Special Representative post will be named.

You May Like

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs