Remarks at Memorial Service for Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I apologize for speaking out of turn, but I have one more stop to go that makes it necessary for me to do so, and I would not have missed this for the world. So I am delighted to have had the opportunity to hear everyone else, and I regret that I won’t hear the remaining speakers.
But I want to start by thanking Gary Smith for the work you’ve done to realize the vision that the Academy represents and what Richard certainly hoped for. Gahl, thank you, for the instrumental role you played. And, of course, Kati, it would not even have the meaning it does without the partnership and support that you gave Richard all those years. And I’m delighted that Sarah and three of Richard’s grandchildren, Beatrice, Kathryn, and William are here as well.
It is so fitting that we would have this, most likely, last memorial service and remembrance of Richard in a place that he loved so much, not only here at the Academy, but Berlin and Germany. It is a fitting place to tell these stories, and I only wished that we had arranged it so that it was somewhere relaxed in this beautiful building with a giant panettone – (laughter) – and lots of good Riesling and other treats to keep us going, because the stories would never have ended. That was the thing about Richard, every story that I’ve heard has prompted even more in my own mind to come to the surface.
And Richard thrived on conversation. He was an absolutely relentless conversationalist, as any of us who have engaged in conversation with him understand and remember. And Les Gelb, one of his dearest friends, said that a conversation with Richard meant listening . . .
(In progress) A conversation with Richard meant listening to a breathless monologue, which you could only engage by interrupting. And I know, the story that Gahl told about Richard following John Fuegi into the men’s room was so familiar. (Laughter.) He followed me onto a stage as I was about to give a speech, he followed me into my hotel room, and on one memorable occasion, into a ladies room in Pakistan. (Laughter.) So these are all now very fond memories.
And this American Academy meant the world to him. He talked about it, along with all of his other passions, starting with Kati, endlessly. And it was, I think, a way for him to embody his love of Germany and his belief that Germany and the United States had to be indispensably linked together, going forward into the unknown future. As John Kornblum famously said, “living humanity” is what Richard Holbrooke was all about. And the American Academy is a living example, an essence of his life’s work.
When my husband asked him to be Ambassador to Germany, I think he was a little disappointed at first. Let’s be honest. (Laughter.) And I can remember the conversation. Bill said to Richard, “You know, Richard, we don’t know what’s going to happen in Europe now.” I think the point that Ambassador Kornblum made is worth remembering – what looks now to have been inevitable was not in any way preordinated.
So watching Bill Clinton and Richard Holbrooke have a conversation was truly like watching two bull elephants circle around, trumpeting their positions – (laughter) – looking for openings, pawing the ground, and luckily, finally, coming to an understanding.
But what Richard so quickly and very importantly grasped was that, yes, the Cold War era was over and, yes, the Berlin Wall had come down, and yes, the last of the Berlin Brigade would be leaving, including 5,000 American troops. But there was nothing that made it at all sure that this relationship that had been based on the past would continue into the future.
So Richard believed we needed to create an entirely new relationship, one based not just on strategic necessity, but on friendship, shared vision and shared values. He was absolutely convinced that the United States and Germany had to form the core of a permanent transatlantic community, and that led him to the extraordinary effort about enlarging NATO, which as I was listening to John, I thought of all of the bitter arguments that were held over those years about what that would mean.
Now, there are many ways to describe Richard, and we’ve heard some wonderful descriptors. You can describe him by the many hats that he wore, not just hats, but caps and helmets. You can see him wearing a cap as a development officer or a Peace Corps director or an ambassador, a magazine editor, a presidential advisor, a peace negotiator, an AIDS activist, a banker, a diplomat, and someone who believed always in the power of ideas. He’s also been described by numerous political labels. He’s been called a liberal interventionist, a neoconservative, a multilateralist, a liberal hawk, and those are some of the nicer things that have been said about him. (Laughter.) He is certainly referred to as a thinker, an idea generator, a man of serial enthusiasms, a voracious reader, a prolific writer, a prodigious intellect, and a great friend.
But instead of talking about who he was, what we’ve heard today is what he stood for and what he did. He was, of course, a man of powerful convictions, but he was a pragmatist and he never saw any contradiction between the two. He believed in doing what was right for America and right for the world, and he actually thought those two intersected more times than not. He spent his life grappling with two of the hardest questions in international relations. The first was when and how to use military force. Sometimes, of course, nations must act unilaterally to protect their security.
But there are also times, which he knew, when nations are called to join together to defend common principles, stop humanitarian crises, and act on behalf of those shared values. He believed totally in building international coalitions. When he was appointed to be the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, he was the first of a kind. By the time he finished, Vali, there were, what, 42. He reached out and included Muslim-majority nations, and his successor, someone who had worked with Richard, Ambassador Marc Grossman, went to a recent meeting of the special representatives sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. And as Marc told me later, it was so clearly the work of Richard.
He understood that at times, one had to use military force. But he also fought hard about how to end it and what tools were necessary to do so. He knew that you had to deal with some fairly unlikable characters from time to time. After he visited Bosnia as a private citizen, he came back totally convinced that the world – not just Europe – but the world had to act, because he watched in horror one day as Serbian soldiers rounded up Bosnian Muslims, and it was, for him, a terrible, eerie echo of what had happened 50 years before.
When Richard took on the State Department’s European Bureau in September 1994 after leaving Germany as ambassador, it was, as has been described, a time of a lot of uncertainty. And in the article that was written and published in the spring 1995 Foreign Affairs issue, he laid out so many of the concerns and suggested actions that we have been following ever since. And when he did the extraordinary work that Kati has provided an inside look to all of us for the Dayton Peace Accords, he was not only professionally engaged, but personally committed. Because the part that Kati didn’t tell you is that his three colleagues died on that road after Milosevic had refused to allow them safe passage and made them ride that road that was ringed by Serbian snipers. And yet, despite that loss, Richard was relentless in his pursuit of peace and absolutely convinced he would get Milosevic to the final line.
When he was asked by President Obama to serve in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he took on the challenge with relish. He was very clear-eyed, but he did say on more than one occasion, “I thought Dayton was pretty difficult at the time. This is a lot tougher.” He set to work the only way he knew: full-bore, with everything he had, relying on the principles that have always guided him.
He mapped out three mutually reinforcing tracks: a military offensive, which he, along with the rest of us, were working with President Obama, who inherited a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, a Taliban with an enormous sense of momentum. And waiting on the President’s desk that first day were requests for troops that had not been in any way discussed or acted on by the prior administration.
At the same time, Richard was probably the most relentless and passionate advocate for a civilian campaign. When Richard became SRAP, there were 300 American civilians, including the Embassy in Kabul, in all of Afghanistan. They were largely on six-month tours, and many of them spent a third of that time on R&R outside the country because it was really hard.
And finally a third track was an intensive diplomatic push. Now, those who found negotiations with the Taliban distasteful got a very powerful response from Richard. Diplomacy would be easy, he would say, if you only had to talk with your friends. And negotiating with your adversaries wasn’t a disservice to people who had died, if by talking you could prevent more violence.
He saw the regional implications, and as Vali Nassar said, he dove into Pakistan with all his Richard-ness. After the devastating floods that affected almost 20 million Pakistanis last year, he went to visit a dusty refugee camp not far from Karachi. As usual, he arrived in a way he hated. He hated having security, he hated the armored cars, and he if could duck his entourage, he always did, and then, of course, I would get the phone calls. (Laughter.) He slipped, alone, into a tent occupied by two refugees from the floods, a father and his young son. He just wanted to hear their story.
He also loved breaking protocol. He may have been the first person who told me the joke that –“What’s the difference between a terrorist and a protocol officer? You can negotiate with a terrorist.” (Laughter.) And so the protocol officers would say, “Do not wear the USAID hat. If you go to this region, you will be a target and you will also be considered somewhat undiplomatic.” Well, all over The New York Times were pictures of Richard in his USAID hat.
He did make a big impact in a very complex situation, and in two countries that no one should pretend to understand. But he built a foundation for us to build on. He formed friendships and alliances. He broke a lot of pottery. He brought together an exceptional team of people. Vali described them as sort of a silicon company start-up. I thought of it more as the bar scene in Star Wars – (laughter) – because Richard was intent upon doing something that all governments and every bureaucracy hates. He wanted to break down all of the barriers.
So this was going to be a whole-of-government commitment, which I certainly thought it was and what I thought we were being asked to do. He wanted people from every agency in the government. So you try calling the Department of Agriculture and saying we want some agricultural specialists to work with us in the State Department on helping improve agriculture in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. Very tough negotiations. But in the end, Richard got his way.
Now, I think that part of what we will miss about Richard is that as we have seen the actions and events of the last months, many of us have thought, “What would Richard have said?” We didn’t have Richard to advise us in Libya but we had his principles to guide us. And we did work hard to bring the international community together – and quickly.
The world did not wait for another Srebrenica in a place called Benghazi. Instead, we came together in the United Nations, a place where Richard served as our ambassador, to impose sanctions, a no-fly zone, and an arms embargo, and protecting civilians. In a single week, we prevented a potential massacre, stopped an advancing army, and expanded the coalition.
And as Colonel Qadhafi continues attacking his own people, we are gaining even more partners in our efforts.
There will always be conflicts as long as there are human beings, as long as there are power-mad egomaniacs running countries – which, of course, never happen in democracies, thank goodness. (Laughter.) And we will have to navigate them without Richard, but not without his insight.
I want to finish by reading something he wrote not long after the Dayton Accords were signed:
“There will be other Bosnia’s in our lives,” he wrote. They will “explode with little warning, and present the world with difficult choices – choices between risky involvement and potentially costly neglect.”
He concluded: “Early outside involvement will be decisive.”
That doesn’t mean we don’t need patience. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have to continue to do the hard work that tries to avoid conflicts. But we do need to remember Richard’s plea for principled interventionism. He lived those ideals, and perhaps better than any other diplomat of his generation, he made them real to so many of us.
We have a lot to learn from Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke, as advisor, counselor, teacher, but above all else, dear friend. I can see in this room on the faces of so many of you the kind of memories that we all have of this extraordinary man. And let us give thanks for him. (Applause.)
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