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Richard Holbrooke dies: Veteran U.S. diplomat brokered Dayton peace accords

Leaders and officials around the world have hailed late U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke as "best and brightest."

Mr. Holbrooke approached the dispute not as a principled ideologue but as a pragmatic mediator who kept his gaze constantly on what was possible. Some criticized him for interacting closely with the then-president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic. But Mr. Holbrooke said he had no moral qualms about "negotiating with people who do immoral things."

"If you can prevent the deaths of people still alive, you're not doing a disservice to those already killed trying to do so," he said.

Mr. Holbrooke, who described the negotiations as "unbelievably difficult," had been a fierce critic of the international community's reluctance to take a more active role in addressing the conflict during its early years, calling it "the greatest collective failure of the West since the 1930s."

Sen. John F. Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Mr. Holbrooke's "life's work saved tens of thousands of lives."

(See photos of Mr. Holbrooke throughout his diplomatic career.)

Although Mr. Holbrooke was a liberal whose Vietnam War experience defined his approach to the world, he supported American intervention in discrete cases. The United States' role in ending the war in Bosnia, he said later, made American foreign policy "more assertive, more muscular."

The same success eluded him in Afghanistan, where Taliban leaders have not been willing to negotiate despite the presence of almost 100,000 U.S. troops. But his mission was far broader than just working on a peace deal: He was charged with revamping the entire civilian assistance effort, a critical component of the overall U.S. counterinsurgency strategy.

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.

Although he was generally upbeat about progress in his public comments, he was deeply frustrated with President Hamid Karzai and his administration, as well as with many officials in the U.S. government - all of whom he thought were not acting with sufficient alacrity.

Karzai, whose aides accused Holbrooke of paying more attention to Pakistan and India than to their own country, offered a subdued statement of condolence at the diplomat's death, saying he "served greatly the government and the people of the United States."

Despite the many parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam, Mr. Holbrooke remained convinced that the two conflicts were not analogous and that a combination of the right strategy and resources would be able to turn around the Afghan war.

Although his active involvement in Democratic Party politics meant he was sidelined during Republican administrations - often using those years to publish blistering critiques of foreign policy under those presidents - he nevertheless elicited praise and respect from his political opponents.

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