News / USA

Holbrooke Death Leaves Vacuum at Center of Afghan Policy

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (file photo)
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (file photo)
TEXT SIZE - +
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 Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid