Photo of Holbrooke and Russian General by Estonian Foreign Ministry, licensed by creative commons
President Barack Obama has named senior statesman Richard Holbrooke to be the diplomatic shepherd of American foreign policy interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Ambassador Holbrooke has a wealth of experience and international stature, which will serve the administration well in its effort to achieve maximum impact through renewed diplomacy.
The conflict in Afghanistan, now in its eighth year, is likely to rise in priority as the United States draws down the number of troops needed in Iraq and redeploys some of those forces to Afghanistan. The last two years have also seen a resurgence of Taliban and anti-government forces, threatening to undermine the coalition efforts to support national government authority and regional stability.
President Obama has already begun planning for troop and supply increases to aid the coalition in Afghanistan. Holbrooke will be deeply involved in supporting and assessing the “smart power” marriage of development, governance and cultural progress with security and offensive war-fighting operations.
Holbrooke has extensive State Department experience in Asia and Europe, culminating in positions as Ambassador to Germany and subsequently to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton. He promoted the expansion of NATO and its participation in the 1990s’ conflict in Bosnia.
Recognizing, the symbolic power of American leadership was at stake in the intervention, Holbrooke stated“[this] will be the key test of American policy in Europe. We must therefore succeed in whatever we attempt.” He brokered the lasting peace deal in the Bosnian conflict which resulted in the Dayton accords.
In 2001, as Holbrooke left the post of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, he said, “Iraq will be one of the major issues facing the incoming Bush administration at the United Nations.”
Further, “Saddam Hussein‘s activities continue to be unacceptable and, in my view, dangerous to the region and, indeed, to the world, not only because he possesses the potential for weapons of mass destruction but because of the very nature of his regime. His willingness to be cruel internally is not unique in the world, but the combination of that and his willingness to export his problems makes him a clear and present danger at all times.”
More recently, in the face of ongoing violence in Iraq, Holbrooke called for a “new diplomatic offensive in the Gulf region to help stabilize Iraq.”
Holbrooke’s negotiating experience with parties in armed conflict may help navigate the complex issues Pakistan adds to Afghan regional security. In the last two years, Taliban insurgents have relied on supply and manpower from neighboring Pakistan to renew and sustain offensive operations.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has had growing political instability and violence as a result of its own extremist factions. Recent terrorism in Mumbai, India, further illustrates that Pakistan is exporting terrorism beyond its borders and that the government has been unwilling or unable to effectively police insurgents.
Holbrooke will begin intensive discussions with the recently elected leadership in Pakistan on a wide range of security issues.
Also regarded as forward-thinking, Holbrooke was among the first to focus official U.N. consideration on AIDS/HIV in African programs in 2001. Subsequently, the Bush administration embraced a major commitment to AIDS/HIV treatment, widely regarded as one of the administration’s most successful humanitarian achievements.