Page 4 of 5   <       >

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 graduated in 1962 with a history degree from Brown University, where he was the editor of the Brown Daily Herald. He had wanted to be a newspaper reporter, but when the New York Times turned him down, he joined the Foreign Service.

His marriages to lawyer Larrine Sullivan and television producer Blythe Babyak ended in divorce. In 1995, he married Kati Marton, a writer and journalist, who once said she found in Mr. Holbrooke "this great, wonderful physicality, this very tactile big-bear quality."

Besides Marton, survivors include two sons from his first marriage, David and Anthony Holbrooke; two stepchildren, Elizabeth and Chris Jennings; a brother, Andrew Holbrooke; and four grandchildren.

Mr. Holbrooke was sent to Vietnam in 1963, assigned to the lower Mekong Delta as a field officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development, a post that would later give him unique perspective on reconstruction efforts and provincial stabilization in Afghanistan.

His insights drew the attention of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, and he was soon moved there to serve as a staff assistant to two ambassadors, Maxwell D. Taylor and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.

In 1966, he joined the Vietnam staff in the Johnson White House, where he had a front-row seat for what came to be considered an unwise escalation of U.S. military forces based on deceptive assessments.

"Our beloved nation sent into battle soldiers without a clear determination of what they could accomplish and they misjudged the stakes. And then we couldn't get out," he said this year at a State Department conference on the American experience in Southeast Asia. ". . . We fought bravely under very difficult conditions. But success was not achievable. Those who advocated more escalation or something called 'staying the course' were advocating something that would have led only to a greater and more costly disaster afterwards."

He quickly developed a reputation for writing brash but influential memos, earning the nickname "the Bulldozer." In November 1967, Mr. Holbrooke drafted one such document, a 17-page paper for President Lyndon B. Johnson in the name of Nicholas Katzenbach, then the undersecretary of state, that argued that North Vietnam was winning the battle for public opinion in the United States.

"Hanoi uses time the way the Russians used terrain before Napoleon's advance on Moscow, always retreating, losing every battle, but eventually creating conditions in which the enemy can no longer function," he wrote. "For Napoleon it was his long supply lines and the cold Russian winter; Hanoi hopes that for us it will be the mounting dissension, impatience, and frustration caused by a protracted war without fronts or other visible signs of success; a growing need to choose between guns and butter; and an increasing American repugnance at finding, for the first time, their own country cast as 'the heavy.' "

Mr. Holbrooke was a junior member of the U.S. delegation to the Paris peace talks aimed at ending the war, and he wrote a chapter of the Pentagon Papers, the government's secret history of the conflict.

By 1970, he moved on - first to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, where he was a fellow, and then to Morocco, where he served as Peace Corps country director - but the searing lessons of the war remained. "Leaving Vietnam behind did not mean getting it out of one's system," he said.

In 1972, he helped found Foreign Policy magazine and was its managing editor for almost five years. After serving as a campaign adviser to Jimmy Carter, he was appointed, at age 35, as the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

<             4        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company