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    A Coda to the Death of Ambassador Holbrooke

    Most readers of this blog will not require an introduction to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. And most are probably aware that he died today, following surgery for a torn aorta. 

    It is reported by the AP that Ambassador Holbrooke's final words were "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan." (h/t HuffPo)

    It is reported by Leslie Gelb that President Obama will announce later this week that the war will continue indefinitely. (h/t The Daily Beast)

    Richard Holbrooke will be sorely missed, for his sanity, and his courage, as much as for his effective diplomacy.



    From Gelb's article:

    So, President Obama decided that U.S. forces would continue to bear the brunt of the fighting for four more years and gradually turn over the battles to Afghan forces. In effect, he reaffirmed last month’s NATO communiqué wherein this approach was labeled a “transition” policy. Perhaps this was the most he could get from General David Petraeus, the U.S./NATO commander in Afghanistan, whose views are much more hawkish than the president’s.

    Les Gelb is probably about as wired in to what is going in US foreign policy decisionmaking circles as it is possible to get without serving in the Obama Administration (although I want to hear Steven Clemons' take on this as well).  So when he speculates--and that is what this is, let's be clear--that "perhaps this was the most he could get from General David Petraeus", this reinforces the sense from Woodward's book that what Obama does is negotiate with the senior military officials who under our Constitution are supposed to be subordinate to him as the Commander-in-Chief.  What am I missing here?

    Afganization ??? Shades of Richard Nixon.

    A dying man's wish goes unheeded.

    The Washington Post did the original reporting of Holbrooke's dying words. I'm not a big fan of editorializing based on the last words of a guy with insufficient oxygen flow as the result of a fatal heart problem, compounded by sedatives designed to comfort you while your chest is being cut open and your heart fiddled with.

    The WaPo report said "As Mr. Holbrooke was sedated for surgery, family members said, his final words were to his Pakistani surgeon: 'You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan.'"

    So Holbrooke was asking his surgeon to stop the war? Doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

    If family members assert that these were Holbrook's final words, why should we doubt them? They might have preferred that his final words refer to his love for them, but that is even more reason to find their assertion credible.

    Are there any WikiLeak documents of Holbrook's work emails that would substantiate the ending of the war as his personal agenda and hope? If so, what a sadness for a seasoned, well-respected diplomat to die, effectively, of the stresses and strains involved in what appears to have been as much a hopeless cause as that being endured by our sons and daughters in the military.

    AD: very interesting observation you made about Obama feeling compelled to negotiate with those he ostensibly commands. We can't seem to win with our presidents on their father issues and war: George W. had to one-up his father; and apparently Obama, the fatherless child, must be "loved by" (and therefore to whom he thinks he must defer) those he considers to be Alpha males.  

    Wow. Three irresponsible conjectures in one comment.

    1. Holbrooke thought his own service in Afghanistan was a pointless effort in a futile war.

    2. Obama feels "compelled to negotiate" with his own generals, rather than conferring with them on options, in keeping with the process historically.

    3. Obama "must be 'loved by'" Alpha males (which he must not be because he's a wimp).

    Why don't you just say "Obama is a cowardly anti-colonial Kenyan" for God's sake? Maybe you could post clips from old black-and-white movies, the ones where the cannibals all get bug eyes and run away from the white explorers. Or how about a little Stepin Fetchit?

    The memes of the anti-Obama left are as racist as those of the anti-Obama right. Be ashamed. Be very ashamed.

    "The memes of the anti-Obama left are as racist as those of the anti-Obama right."


    Thanks. Needed that.


    Obama feels "compelled to negotiate" with his own generals, rather than conferring with them on options, in keeping with the process historically.

    That is "irresponsible conjecture"?  Really?  Have you read the Woodward book?  How would you characterize the relationship?

    I don't know who you're working for, but these kinds of accusations are totally reckless, cowardly and unprincipled.

    Essentially the same criticism as the one you are misrepresenting - that many elected Democrats are timid and insecure pleasers, desperate to be liked and eager to earn the praise and approval of people they perceive as representing an establishment or dominant class they aspire to join - has been leveled frequently before, at party leaders of all sorts and complexions.  The same criticism was a staple of the Iraq War debate, for example, and was aimed at many Congressional Democrats and liberal pundits during the debate.

    For example, some Democratic men go all to jelly when confronted with a men in uniform.  I remember when Dick Durbin, for example, raised some perfectly approrpiate questions about the behavior of our military in Guantanamo, and then was reduced within days to crying out a miserable, tearful apology because he had offended some of our soldiers.

    I don't know if Obama has that kind of insecurity about soldiers and masculinity,  but Obama does seem especially eager to prove that he's not one of those envious, low-life, class warrior, working-man types of Democrats, with an instinctual suspicion of concentrated wealth and power, but is a well-bred Harvard man with a genteel and worldly appreciation of the indispensible contributions and intrinsic superiorities of the established corporate and financial meritocracy.


    Your response to what were clearly conjectures on my part reminds me of the childrens' game of telephone: what you heard (evidence of "racism" -- huh?) is a conjecture of your own, for it was neither in what I actually said, nor, fyi, in thoughts unsaid. I'm therefore baffled by the quantum leap you made "on your end of the line". Never mind.

    Just an FYI .... don't bother. Dry hole.

    I read a story once about this fellow going to the afterlife only to find people bragging about their last words - many of which were reimagined for effect. It is possible that Holbrooke forgot who might be listening to him. It is also possible he was talking to Mr Brink (from On Borrowed Time).

    from ABC News The Note

    ABC's Jake Tapper reports that the last words of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who died last night at the age of 69 in Washington, DC hospital, were: "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan." According to Tapper: "The source says the context was important -- the words came at the end of a lengthy exchange with his surgeon. 'But it does show how relentless he could be in support of the policy that he helped create,' the source says. 'He always made sure he had the last word.'"

    It would be good to know more about that context.  From the quoted words one doesn't know if Holbrooke is expressing a fervent wish to end the US involvement in the strife there, or whether he supports and end to the violence involving other parties besides the US (meaning what role, if any, for the US going forward?).  I would think there are people familiar with Holbrooke's views who could fill in some of those blanks, which in any case are probably a much more reliable indication of his views at the end of his life and involvement with that conflict than his dying words.


    Don't look now, but the State Dept. and Gibbs are on it:

    Holbrooke Afghanistan

    Administration officials sought to clarify that, according to people who were present, Holbrooke's final words, "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan," were part of a jovial back-and-forth with the medical staff.

    "At one point, the medical team said, You've got to relax," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on Tuesday, relaying what he said he had heard from people who were in the room with Holbrooke at George Washington University Hospital. "And Richard said, I can't relax, I'm worried about Afghanistan and Pakistan. After some additional exchanges, the medical team finally said, Tell you what, we'll try to fix this challenge while you're undergoing surgery. And [Holbrooke] said, Yeah, see if you can take care of that, including ending the war."

    Added Crowley: "But certainly, it says two things about Richard Holbrooke in my mind. Number one, he always wanted to make sure he got the last word. And secondly, it just showed how he was singularly focused on pursuing and advancing the process and the policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan to bring them to a successful conclusion."

    During Tuesday's White House press briefing, spokesman Robert Gibbs provided a similar response following a reporter's question. Gibbs likewise said Holbrooke's comments demonstrated his commitment to his work.

    In the meantime, Holbrooke's remarks have ricocheted around the Internet and in the media, striking a chord with many who have reservations about the war and President Barack Obama's stated plan to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011 to prepare for a full handover to Afghan security forces in 2014."

    ---Amanda Terkel, Huffpo

    The meeting to spin that must have been strange.  I confess I'm not quite as enamoored of Holbrooke as you all, but it does appear he at least was more honest in calling out Karzai, even if it did backfire.

    The meeting to spin that must have been strange.

    Good grief, what meeting to spin it? What spin? I was hearing about the humorous context of Holbrooke's final words yesteray on CNN, shortly after this post went up.

    Is everything the government says or does automatically nefarious and dishonest in your book? If so, dispense with the "analysis" and state your desire for anarchy plainly.

    Let's see what we have here, Wally-Oh:  Stardust sees that Holbrooke's final words (quoted by his family)  "you've got to end this war in Afghanistan" are being torqued and spun by the White House Press Secretary into a humorous quip in an attempt to neutralize their effect (which I believe would be negligible anyway) somehow equals that Stardust FAVORS ANARCHY?   

    Stardust complies with Wally's illogical conclusion, and busts out into a full-throated version of "The Fish Cheer", takes a toke off a reefer, and tosses an empty beer bottle beside the trash barrel, proving the love of ANARCHY!   Stardust then hurries home to cut off the 'Do not remove this tag under penalty of law" tags off the pillows and mattresses in the house.  Not yet satisfied, Stardust grabs the gallon jar of pennies on the dressing table, runs outside and throws them all over the driveway, yelling, "Take that, you fucking pennies!  You cost more to produce than a penny, and I HAVE HAD IT WITH YOU!  You can just act as more gravel to keep the mud off my shoes! Why won't they vote to end the penny???"  And thinks: "Later I may write WITH INK on a few dollar bills; I love anarchy in the winter time!

    Funny stuff, your reply (not to confuse that with a "response").

    I've been noticing that your opinion of government is exceedingly low, no matter which thread one follows you on. Your melodrama is in keeping.

    My opinion of government is low---but with all due respect, your thinking and conclusions don't really get you where you want to go in a discussion.  I'm going with DanK on this, and wondering if someone is paying you to be a shill. 

    Of course my response was the only possible kind to a charge that I should admit to being an anarchist.  You remind me of the Mormon missionaries who come to my door often; they are so woefully unprepared to be effective at their missions that they don't even know that other relligions besides Christianity believe in one God.  Your simple view of politics mirror theirs on religion.

    I was interested to see you sign on to Donal's less cranky communication, though; luckliy it was after you called me an anarchist, which I loved.  Saddest part to me is that the attrition of the middle and lower classes in terms of justice and economics in favor of Wall Street is exactly what will drive anarchy and rebellion in this country, a future which I am trying so hard to avert.

    To your original point, which you reprised this way:

    "Stardust sees that Holbrooke's final words (quoted by his family)  "you've got to end this war in Afghanistan" are being torqued and spun by the White House Press Secretary into a humorous quip in an attempt to neutralize their effect (which I believe would be negligible anyway)..."

    Spin. You own it.

    You're saying you know more about Richard Holbrooke's last words and the circumstances and demeanor of their utterance than the White House.

    Your spin. Amazing.

    Holbrooke or Milosevic: Who is the Greater Murderer?

    Diana Johnstone, writing at Couterpunch, has a more critical view of Holbrooke

    Diana hearts Slobodan Milosovic. Not so much Holbrooke.

    Yeah, that Sloby, he was a swell guy, wasn't he?  Maybe some unresolved anger management problems (what was the phrase that used to be used before that one came along--SOB? Bastard? Or, to move away from excessive focus on characteristics of one's genetic origins, asshat?).  But, hey, nobody's perfect, right?   

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