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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened 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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid