The Diplomat and How to Make Peace in a Troubled World

Richard Holbrooke was an American Diplomat. Most of us have never heard of him, he died of literally a broken heart in 2010 while trying to contain the chaos in Pakistan and Afghanistan. To call him just a diplomat is to leave out that he was also an author, a professor, a peace corp. official, a magazine editor and an investment banker. Holbrooke worked to negotiate peace between the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).   At one point Holbrooke gave his new wife Kati her first assignment as a diplomat: to get Milosevic and Izetbegovic to talk, which she did. Eventually the agreement was signed. Izetbegovic’s son said it would not have been done without Holbrooke.

Izetbegovic published a manifesto entitled the Islamic Declaration, expressing his views on relationships between Islam, state and society. The authorities interpreted the declaration as a call for introduction of Sharia law in Bosnia, and banned the publication. The declaration remains a source of controversy. Serbs, who were opposed to Izetbegovic, often quoted the declaration as indicative of intent to create an Iranian style Islamic republic in Bosnia. (1)

I flipped on HBO the other day there was a documentary about his life being presented called The Diplomat. It was to mark the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Accords, a peace agreement between the Serbs and Muslims of the former Yugoslavia.  It was written and directed by his son David Holbrooke. What I know about the Balkan war you could fit on the head of a pin. It went on in the 90’s, and most of the time I believed it was a Yugoslavian civil war. I know the term ethnic cleansing, as it was a new one that came out the conflict. It was a term used to define the annihilation of the Muslim population of Bosnia. The Serbians believed they were fighting ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’.  The Bosnian war was distinguished by bitter fighting, shelling of towns and cities, ethnic cleansing, and mass rape. This was perpetrated by mostly Serb forces, but to a lesser degree, Croat and Bosnian forces.  It was the first case of genocide since WWII.

Mr. Holbrooke, a diplomatic troubleshooter who worked for every Democratic president since the 1960s, was widely known to be in conflict with the Obama administration. He was quoted saying, ” The White House he believed, was too willing to listen to the military and too often mistook domestic political calculations for strategic thinking.  They don’t have a deep understanding of the issues themselves, but increasingly, they’re deluding themselves into thinking they do.” (2)

What I saw about Holbrooke is that he really stood for peace. I watched as he got Milosevic and Izetbegovic together there was no judgement; there was no declaration of who was in the right. There is only a true attempt at finding ground to make peace.  It made me rethink how I feel about all the conflicts. I still see people say the U.S. funds ISIL, Assad is at fault. Today Russian planes were shot down by Turkey. I realize it doesn’t matter any longer. What matters is that we find a way to forge peace.  What I was most touched by,is this man  tried to make things better, to find a solution. I think that is the side I would most like to be on now.  So how do we find peace in all this?

1. Binder, David, Alija Izetbegovic, Muslim Who Led Bosnia, Dies at 78, The New York Times, Oct 20, 2003,

2.  Rosenberg, Matthew,  Richard C. Holbrooke’s Diary of Disagreement with Obama Administration, The New York Times, April 22, 2015,


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