US loses ambitious, brash giant of US diplomacy
ANKARA- Hürriyet Daily News | 12/14/2010 12:00:00 AM | ÜMİT ENGİNSOY / First person
Having heard about the unexpected and untimely death of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, I immediately recalled my first contacts with the giant American diplomat in Cyprus 12 years ago.
Having heard about the unexpected and untimely death of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, I immediately recalled my first contacts with the giant American diplomat. The first time was in Cyprus 12 years ago; most recently I listened to his keynote lecture on Turkey in 2007. Recollections of both events shed light on today’s complex world.
Holbrooke, the man known in many capitals in the world as the architect of Bosnian peace, the man who secured agreement among Bosnian President Alia Izetbegovic, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, took on a new peacemaking task three years later. He accepted U.S. President Bill Clinton's 1997 offer to become special U.S. envoy for Cyprus.
In early May 1998, Holbrooke was in Nicosia, Cyprus, for talks with Turkish Cypriot President Rauf Denktash and Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides. I was covering Holbrooke's talks on the island's Turkish Cypriot part on behalf of the French news agency Agence France-Presse.
After a shuttle between Nicosia's two sectors for talks with Denktas and Clerides, Holbrooke stormed out of Denktash's office on May 3 with an angry face. At that moment one female Turkish reporter jumped in front of him. "Mr. Holbrooke, Mr. Holbrooke, do you know what the Greek Cypriots did to us? They didn't let us in," she said. With a helpless expression on his face, Holbrooke opened his hands and replied: "What can I do?" Then he jumped into his car and left.
A few moments later, a smiling Denktash was heralding to journalists the collapse of Holbrooke's talks on the island. "This series of shuttles by Mr. Holbrooke is over. He will leave Cyprus tomorrow and won't come back any time soon," Denktash said. He and Holbrooke apparently disliked each other. The unsuccessful talks also effectively marked the end of Holbrooke's job as special U.S. envoy for Cyprus.
At the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, in the United States in November 1995, Holbrooke, who was then the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, reportedly told Milosevic, Izetbegovic and Tudjman that the three men would not be able to leave Dayton before reaching a conclusive deal. Then came the Dayton framework agreement that effectively put an end to the three-and-a-half year Bosnian war.
At Dayton and in a room, Holbrooke literally forced the three former Yugoslav leaders to accept peace. He thought he could use the same tactics to force the Cypriot leaders to agree to the island's reunification. But Nicosia was not Dayton, the conditions and the world pressure were not similar, and Denktas and Clerides felt free to insist on their own terms and reject what Holbrooke had offered them.
[HH] Washington days
Later, in more than 10 years of work as a journalist in Washington, I encountered Holbrooke several times. A lifelong Democrat, Holbrooke stayed out of the Republican President George W. Bush's administration. But as a "security-minded" Democrat, Holbrooke supported the Iraq war, at least initially.
When Barack Obama was elected U.S. president in the November 2008 elections, many in Washington expected Holbrooke to become secretary of state. But then Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's former Democratic rival in the elections, also volunteered for the job, and the new president opted for Clinton. Holbrooke was offered a job as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he accepted.
Many at the State Department sighed with relief when it became clear that Holbrooke would not become their secretary, because the man widely was known as extremely hardworking, self-confident, egocentric, demanding, and according to some claims, unkind and brash to his inferiors.
"He was very ambitious and hardworking. It won't be wrong to say that work killed him at the age of 69," one Washington insider said.
Holbrooke served under every Democratic president since John F. Kennedy. An Associated Press commentary said he brought a lion's appetite for difficult work, from Indochina and the Pacific to Europe, Africa and, in his last incarnation, South Asia.
After stints in and out of government – including as Peace Corps director in Morocco, editing positions at Foreign Policy and Newsweek magazines and adviser to Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign – Holbrooke became assistant secretary of state for Asian affairs from 1977-81. He then shifted back to private life and the financial world, at Lehman Brothers. He later worked for Credit Suisse First Boston and Perseus LLC. At the end of Bill Clinton's term, he briefly was U.S. ambassador the the United Nations.
In the 2000s he frequently made public speeches, one at the annual Sakıp Sabancı Lecture in Washington in 2007. At that speech he praised the pro-Western vision of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, saying: "Almost no one in the last century anywhere in the world fused political skills and vision so brilliantly and left such a lasting impact as Atatürk."
He said: "With the European Union's confirmation in 2004 that Turkey's progress toward meeting the Copenhagen Criteria justified the start of negotiations on membership, those roots bore fruit. That fruit will ripen in due course but only if Turkey keeps its face turned firmly westward."
Holbrooke's warning that Turkey should keep its face turned squarely to the West came only a couple of years before criticism started emerging in the West that Turkey may be losing its pro-West orientation.
According to highly classified U.S. diplomatic documents recently released by WikiLeaks, former U.S. ambassador to Ankara James Jeffrey said in a commentary in a Jan. 20 cable that Turkey’s foreign policy was becoming more Islamic, but that this would not mean that the NATO ally altogether would abandon the West.
"Does all this mean that the country is becoming more focused on the Islamist world and its Muslim traditions in its foreign policy? Absolutely. Does it mean that it is abandoning or wants to abandon its traditional Western orientation and willingness to cooperate with us? Absolutely not," he said. Jeffrey said this situation "called for a more issue-by-issue approach, and recognition that Turkey will often go its own way."