12.15.10

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy In Remembrance Of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery

MR. LEAHY.  Mr. President, it is with deep sadness that I speak today in memory of a dear friend, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who died on Monday at the far too early age of 69. 

I first met Dick years ago, long before he held his most recent post of Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We had many conversations over the years, as Dick’s career progressed and particularly during the war in the former Yugoslavia. 

Dick’s skillful diplomacy that ended the siege of Sarajevo and finally the war itself is legendary.  He was motivated above all by compassion, intent on stopping the suffering of innocent people who were being terrorized for no other reason than their ethnicity. 

He combined the force of his convictions with the force of his personality, along with his boundless energy, to do what others had been unable to do.  He did not accept no for an answer.

I remember meeting Dick by coincidence in 1999 on a foggy, rainy day – he coming from Kosovo and me on my way there from Macedonia.  Our cars stopped on a narrow, slippery road, with a several hundred foot drop off on one side, and he described what he had observed and told me what he believed needed to be done.  

And it is fair to say we took advantage of that unlikely meeting to reminisce, and laugh, about other times and other places.  

It was one of those rare conversations in an unlikely place that makes an unforgettable impression on you – most of all because it was Dick Holbrooke.  He was so passionate, so animated, yet with a determination and sense of humor that made the challenge of solving the thorniest problems hard to resist.    

It was in his latest position that I heard most often from Dick, when he would call me, as Chairman of the Department of State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, to keep me appraised of his efforts to try to get the most out of our aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It was not an easy task, but Dick was not one to take on easy tasks.   

Dick led the reshaping of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan during a difficult transition period.  Among other things, he was concerned that too much of our aid was going to big for-profit contractors, which it was, and that too little was reaching the Afghan and Pakistani people directly.  He tried to change that, and I know how difficult that was and continues to be. 

Dick charged head first into the maelstrom of Afghanistan and Pakistan seven years after the conflict began, raising key and sometimes unpopular questions about our efforts there.  Not infrequently, the press would report about his combative style, and another heated exchange with some foreign leader. 

Yet in Dick’s final hours, his wife Kati Marton received calls of sympathy from Afghan President Karzai and Pakistani President Zardari, which says a lot about Dick’s ability to be tough as nails at the negotiating table but at the end of the day to have earned the respect of his counterparts.

My thoughts and prayers are with Kati and Dick’s sons and step-children, and with Dick’s loyal staff at the Department of State, during this sad time.  I and others here have lost a dear friend. We will miss him deeply. 

The American people have lost one of the greatest diplomats of our time – an extraordinary man who loved this country, and devoted his life to it, as much as any person could.

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