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By Natalie Koshkina | Josef Stalin once said, “A sincere diplomat is like dry water, or wooden iron.” Stalin, though every inch the evil dictator, was quite an adroit judge of human nature, and no one bears out his characterization of diplomats as well as the late Richard Holbrooke did.
No matter one’s personal feelings concerning Holbrooke, it is undeniable that he lived a very full life. Born in New York City in 1941 to two non-practicing Jews, he received his university education at Brown before entering the United States Foreign Service in 1962. As a Foreign Service Officer, he served in Vietnam when it most certainly was a hardship posting.
(Within the Foreign Service, at least today, there are places categorized as hardship posts due to various factors: violence, disease, lack of adequate medical care, or even all of the above.)
Holbrooke was also an editor at the magazine Foreign Policy in the 1970s and was an Assistant Secretary of State under Jimmy Carter. Under Clinton, he was the ambassador to Germany and later ambassador to the United Nations, and under Obama he was appointed special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And all along, interspersed throughout his government positions, he worked in banking.
But it is as Balkan envoy that Richard Holbrooke will be remembered as best (and for good reason, as he wrote numerous articles, including this sob story blaming Radovan Karadzic for the death of three colleagues, and even a book about his whole Balkan experience).
Holbrooke, perhaps more than anyone, was responsible for destabilizing the Balkans and contributing to the demonization of Serbia. He forced the Dayton Accords on the warring parties (Serbs, Croats, and Muslims): sure, that ended the civil war for the time being, but the Dayton Accords also created the artificial state of Bosnia, whose Muslim and Croat populations continued to energetically engage in ethnic cleansing against Serbs. Of course, the Dayton Accords, in attempting to satisfy everyone, ended up satisfying no one, making the agreement very shaky so it is remarkable that the state of Bosnia has survived in its present form.
Symbolically, Holbrooke delivered the ultimatum to then-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic before the NATO bombing campaign in 1999 – an unnecessary bombing campaign whose sole aim of which was to break Serbia. And all along, Holbrooke was a vocal advocate for an independent Kosovo, which is one of the most destabilizing factors of the Balkan region. If Milosevic was the “Butcher of the Balkans,” then Holbrooke was the “Balkan Bully,” a moniker he lived up to a lot more than Milosevic did his.
Holbrooke’s role in the Balkans probably would have gone, at best, vaguely, though positively remembered if it were not for one man, Radovan Karadzic. Karadzic, the former leader of Republika Srpska who is currently on trial in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity, spoke out after his July 2008 arrest, saying that he and Holbrooke had signed an agreement promising Karadzic immunity in exchange for a withdrawal from politics.
It’s not just Karadzic who has asserted the existance of this agreement: Mohammad Sacirbey, the former Bosnian foreign minister, seconded Karadzic’s claim. Holbrooke denied the rumors until the end of his life, despite the fact that Karadzic’s story actually does make a lot of sense: according to Karadzic, in exchange for being absent long enough for the Dayton Accords to be implemented, Karadzic was promised immunity from prosecution. Indeed, Karadzic was not present at the signing of the Dayton Accords – Slobodan Milosevic represented the Bosnian Serb interests.
Karadzic should have studied his Stalin before placing trust in a diplomat as Holbrooke. Natalie is a university student studying history and the Russian language. She is the author of the blog birdbrain.