Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

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Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke

Birthplace: New York, New York, New York, United States
Death: December 13, 2010 (69)
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Dr. Dan Abraham Holbrooke and Trudi Kearl Holbrooke
Husband of Kati Marton
Ex-partner of Diane Sawyer
Brother of Private

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke (April 24, 1941 – December 13, 2010) was an American diplomat, magazine editor, author, professor, Peace Corps official, and investment banker.

He was the only person to have held the position of Assistant Secretary of State for two different regions of the world (Asia from 1977 to 1981 and Europe from 1994 to 1996).

From 1993 to 1994, he was U.S. Ambassador to Germany. Long well known in diplomatic and journalistic circles, Holbrooke achieved great public prominence when he, together with former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, brokered a peace agreement among the warring factions in Bosnia that led to the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, in 1995. Holbrooke was a leading contender to succeed the retiring Warren Christopher as Secretary of State but was passed over as President Bill Clinton chose Madeleine Albright instead. From 1999 to 2001, Holbrooke served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

He was an adviser to the Presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry in 2004. Holbrooke then joined the Presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and became a top foreign policy adviser. Holbrooke was considered a likely candidate for Secretary of State had Kerry or Hillary Clinton been elected President. In January 2009, Holbrooke was appointed as a special adviser on Pakistan and Afghanistan, working under President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a frustrating assignment which was said to have caused his health to deteriorate. He served until he died from complications of an aortic dissection on December 13, 2010.

Holbrooke's unfulfilled ambition was to become Secretary of State; he along with George Kennan and Chip Bohlen, were considered among the most influential U.S. diplomats who never achieved cabinet rank. Several considered Holbrooke's role in the Dayton Accords to merit the Nobel Peace Prize.

Early life

Holbrooke was born on April 24, 1941, in New York City, to Dan Holbrooke and Trudi Kearl (née Moos); his brother, Andrew, survives him. Holbrooke's mother, whose Jewish family fled Hamburg in 1933 for Buenos Aires before coming to New York, took him to Quaker meetings on Sundays. His mother, a potter, has stated: “I was an atheist, his father was an atheist... We never thought of giving Richard a Jewish upbringing. The Quaker meetings seemed interesting.”

Holbrooke’s father, a doctor who died of cancer when Richard was 15 years old, was born of Polish Jewish parents in Warsaw and took the name Holbrooke after migrating to the United States in 1939. The original family name was Goldbrajch.

After Scarsdale High School, Holbrooke earned a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University in 1962, attending on a full-tuition scholarship. He was later a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, leaving in 1970.


Vietnam (1962–1969)

In 1962, Holbrooke graduated from Brown University, where he was inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s call to service to enter government work. A few weeks after college graduation, Holbrooke entered the Foreign Service. A year later, after Vietnamese language training, he began six years of service in and on Vietnam. He served first in the Mekong Delta, as a civilian representative for the Agency for International Development working on the rural Pacification Program. This involved supporting the South Vietnam government with economic development and enacting local political reforms. Holbrooke then moved to the US Embassy, Saigon where he became a staff assistant to Ambassadors Maxwell Taylor and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. During this time, he served with many other young diplomats who would play a major role in American foreign policy in the decades ahead, including John Negroponte, Anthony Lake, Frank G. Wisner, Les Aspin and Peter Tarnoff. As the Vietnam War escalated, President Lyndon Johnson formed a team of Vietnam experts to work in the White House under the former head of the Phoenix Program, R.W. Komer, in an operation that was separate from the National Security Council. As a rising young diplomat with significant experience in the country, Holbrooke was asked to join the group when he was only twenty-four years old.

Following his time in the White House, Holbrooke served as a special assistant to Under Secretaries of State (then the number-two position in the State Department) Nicholas Katzenbach and Elliot Richardson. In 1968, Holbrooke was asked to be part of the American delegation to the 1968 Paris peace talks, which was led by former New York Governor Averell Harriman and Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance. He also drafted a volume of the now famous Pentagon Papers, a top-secret report on the government’s decision-making in Vietnam. Following these assignments, Holbrooke spent a year as a mid-career fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

Morocco and Foreign Policy (1970–1976)

In 1970, at his own request, Holbrooke was assigned to be the Peace Corps Director in Morocco. After two years, he left the Foreign Service to become the managing editor of the magazine Foreign Policy from 1972–1976. At the same time, from 1974–1975, he was a consultant to the President’s Commission on the Organization of the Government for the Conduct of Foreign Policy and was a contributing editor to Newsweek International.

Carter Administration (1977–1981)

In the summer of 1976, Holbrooke left Foreign Policy to serve as campaign coordinator for national security affairs to Governor Jimmy Carter (D-GA) in his bid for the White House. During the campaign, Holbrooke helped Carter prepare for his foreign policy debates with President Gerald Ford. After Carter's victory, Holbrooke followed in the footsteps of such diplomatic mentors as Philip Habib, Dean Rusk and Averell Harriman and, on March 31, 1977, became Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, making him the youngest person ever to hold that position, a post he held until 1981. While at State, he was a top adviser to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. During his service, he oversaw a warming with Cold War adversaries in the region, culminating in the normalization of relations with China in December 1978. He was also deeply involved in bringing hundreds of thousands of Indochinese refugees to the United States, thus beginning a lifelong involvement with the refugee issue.

East Timor controversy

In August 1977, then Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke traveled to Indonesia to meet with President Suharto in the midst of one of the Indonesian military’s brutal counterinsurgency campaigns in East Timor, in which tens of thousands of East Timorese were being killed. According to Brad Simpson, director of the Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project at the National Security Archives, Holbrooke had visited officially to press for human rights reform but, after meeting Suharto, had instead praised him for Indonesia’s human rights improvements, for the steps that Indonesia had taken to open East Timor to the West, and for allowing a delegation of congressmen to enter the territory under strict military guard, where they were greeted by staged celebrations welcoming the Indonesian armed forces.

Wall Street years (1981–1993)

In January 1981, Holbrooke left government and became both senior advisor to Lehman Brothers and vice president of Public Strategies, a consulting firm he formed with James A. Johnson, a former top aide to Walter Mondale. From 1985 until 1993, Holbrooke served as managing director of Lehman Brothers. During this time, he co-authored Counsel to the President, The New York Times best-selling memoirs of legendary Democratic wise man and Defense Secretary Clark Clifford, published in 1991. He was a top policy adviser to then-Senator Al Gore (D-TN) during his 1988 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. And four years later he advised Bill Clinton, in his quest for the White House.

Holbrooke also remained deeply engaged in prominent foreign policy issues. He visited Bosnia twice in 1992 as a private citizen and a member of the board of Refugees International, witnessing firsthand the damage and devastating human costs of the conflict. This experience committed Holbrooke to pursuing a more aggressive policy in Balkans and, in a memo to his colleagues, he urged that "Bosnia will be the key test of American policy in Europe. We must therefore succeed in whatever we attempt."

U.S. Ambassador to Germany (1993–1994)

In 1993, after Bill Clinton became President, Holbrooke was initially slated to be Ambassador to Japan due to his depth of knowledge and long experience in Asian affairs. However, this appointment eventually went to former Vice President Walter Mondale, and Holbrooke unexpectedly was appointed Ambassador to Germany. In 1992, Holbrooke was also a member of the Carnegie Commission on America and a Changing World and Chairman and principal author of the bipartisan Commission on Government and Renewal, sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation and the Peterson Institute. He was Chairman and principal author of the “Memo to the President-Elect: Harnessing Process to Purpose,” a blue-ribbon Commission report sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Institute for International Economics.

Holbrooke served in Germany during a dramatic moment: only a few years after German reunification, he helped shape U.S. relations with a new Germany. A highlight of his tenure was President Bill Clinton’s visit to Berlin in July 1994, when thousands of Germans crammed the streets to welcome the American leader. While in Germany, Holbrooke also was a key figure in shaping the U.S. policy to promote NATO enlargement, as well as its approach to the war in Bosnia.

In 1994, while serving as U.S. Ambassador to Germany, he conceived the idea of a cultural exchange center between the people of Berlin and Americans. With Richard von Weizsäcker, former President of Germany, and Henry A. Kissinger as co-Chairman, this institution—The American Academy in Berlin—was announced on September 9, 1994, the day after the U.S. Army Berlin Brigade left Berlin. The American Academy in Berlin opened three years later in a villa on the Wannsee once owned by the German-Jewish banker Hans Arnhold. When Holbrooke left the U.S. government in 2001, he became Chairman of The American Academy in Berlin. It is now one of the most important links between Germany and the United States. Its Fellows have included writers (including Pulitzer Prize winning authors Arthur Miller and Jeffrey Eugenides), economists, government officials, and public policy experts such as Dennis Ross and former U.S. Ambassador to The Peoples Republic of China, J. Stapleton Roy. In 2008, The American Academy in Berlin awarded its annual Henry A. Kissinger Award for Transatlantic Relations to George H. W. Bush. In 2007, the Award's first recipient was former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (1994—1996)

In 1994, Holbrooke returned to Washington to become the assistant secretary for European and Canadian Affairs, a position he held until 1996, when he resigned for personal reasons (he had recently married the author Kati Marton and wished to return to New York). While assistant secretary, Holbrooke led the effort to implement the policy to enlarge NATO and had the distinction of leading the negotiation team charged with resolving the Balkans crisis. In Paris in December of 1995, he was the chief architect of the Dayton Peace Accords which ended a three and a half year long war in Bosnia. In 1996, he was awarded the Manfred Wörner Medal, awarded by the German Ministry of Defense for public figures who have rendered "special meritorious service to peace and freedom in Europe."

Balkan envoy (1996—1999)

Upon leaving the State Department, Holbrooke was asked by President Clinton to become, as a private citizen, a special envoy to the Balkans given his distinguished service in the region. Holbrooke left his post as assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs and joined Credit Suisse First Boston, eventually taking the position of Vice Chairman. In 1997, Holbrooke became a special envoy to Cyprus and the Balkans on a pro-bono basis as a private citizen. During 1998 and 1999, in his capacity as special presidential envoy, Holbrooke worked to end the conflict between the armed forces of Serbia and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), who were fighting for an independent Kosovo in the Kosovo War. Holbrooke returned to Bosnia two years later to the town of Sarajevo. Ordinary Sarajevans came up to Holbrooke and because they had not forgotten what he had done. The men and women had tears in their eyes as they thanked America through Holbrooke for restoring honor and humanity to their country. In March 1999 he traveled to Belgrade to deliver the final ultimatum to Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević before the NATO attack began. Holbrooke has written numerous articles about his experiences in the Balkans, and in 1998, published the widely acclaimed book, To End a War, a memoir of his time as the chief negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords, ending the Bosnian civil war. The New York Times ranked the book as one of the eleven best books of the year in 1998.

According to Radovan Karadžić and Muhamed Sacirbey, ex-Bosnian Foreign Minister, Holbrooke signed an agreement with Karadžić that if the latter withdrew from politics he would not be sent to the Hague tribunal. Holbrooke denied these terms, saying Karadžić's statement was "a flat-out lie."

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (1999—2001)

In August 1999, Holbrooke was sworn-in as the 22nd U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, replacing Bill Richardson. During his tenure, Holbrooke was known for innovation and for achieving diplomatic breakthroughs that settled a series of longstanding tensions in the United States' relationship with the UN. His highest-profile accomplishment was negotiating a historic deal between the United States and the UN's then 188-Member States to settle the bulk of arrears owed by the United States to the United Nations. The deal, achieved with the agreement of the UN's entire membership in late December 2000, lowered the rate of UN dues paid by the United States to the UN, fulfilling the terms of a US law championed by Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Joseph Biden (D-DE). In return for the reduction, the US paid the UN over $900 million in back dues. Holbrooke secured a reduction in US dues to the UN despite a booming American economy by enfolding the US position within a broad push to update the UN's long-outdated financial system. As negotiations reached a critical phase in the fall of 2000, Holbrooke bridged a gap between what the US was legally permitted to pay and the amounts the rest of the UN membership were willing to shoulder by securing an unprecedented contribution by billionaire Ted Turner, founder of the UN Foundation. Holbrooke and his team received a standing ovation in the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee when the terms of the deal were presented.

Holbrooke's other achievements as UN Ambassador included getting the United Nations Security Council to debate and pass a resolution on HIV/AIDS, the first time that body had treated public health as a matter of global security. In January 2000, Holbrooke used the United States' presidency of the UN Security Council to spotlight a series of crises in Africa, holding six consecutive UN debates that brought together leaders from the region and the across the globe, including former South African President Nelson Mandela and then U.S. Vice President Al Gore, to catalyze more effective UN interventions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and elsewhere. Holbrooke decried a "double standard" whereby African conflicts received insufficient global attention. In 2000, Holbrooke led a UN Security Council delegation in a series of diplomatic negotiations throughout Africa, including to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Uganda. Holbrooke also secured membership for Israel in the UN's Western European and Others regional group, ending Israel's historic exclusion from regional group deliberations and allowing it to, for the first time, stand for election to leadership positions in UN sub-bodies. During the final weeks of his term, Holbrooke secured consultative status at the United Nations for Hadassah, the Jewish women's service organization, overcoming strenuous objections from certain Arab delegations.


In January 2000, when the United States was in the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, Ambassador Holbrooke held an unprecedented meeting of the Security Council to discuss AIDS in Africa. No Security Council session in the history of the UN had ever been devoted to a health issue prior to this historic meeting. Vice President Al Gore presided over the Security Council and declared that AIDS was a security threat to all nations.

Upon leaving the UN a year later, Holbrooke took over a nearly moribund NGO that was intended to mobilize businesses and corporations in the fight against AIDS. At the time, it had 17 members. Over the next six years, Holbrooke turned this organization—originally called the Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS—into a worldwide organization with over 225 members. It expanded to include malaria and tuberculosis, becoming the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2006. In 2011, the organization became GBCHealth and expanded its mandate to include an array of health issues. GBCHealth is the official focal point for mobilizing the business community in support of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and has grown into an important part of the ongoing war against these three diseases.

Special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (2009—2010)


In January 2009, Holbrooke was appointed by President Obama as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. In that position, he helped kill an initiative to "back the creation of a new UN special envoy empowered to pursue peace talks with the Taliban." He also asserted that

"one of the most cost-effective steps Washington could take would be to boost the agriculture sector of Afghanistan, which in years past had been a productive and profitable source of exports. Replicate the past success, he said, and Afghans would have money and jobs—and that, in turn, would create stability in the country. He called for 'a complete rethink' of the drug problem in Afghanistan, suggesting that draconian eradication programs were bound to fail."

However, "Holbrooke's skill set did not lead to much accomplishment in Afghanistan. He never worked out a productive relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai . . . He butted heads with other administration officials and was dismissed by European colleagues. He brokered no breakthroughs."

Other activities

Holbrooke was the vice chairman of Perseus LLC, a leading private equity firm. From February 2001 until July 2008, Holbrooke was a member of the Board of Directors of American International Group. During his time as a member of the board of directors of AIG, the firm engaged in wildly speculative credit default insurance schemes that may cost the taxpayer hundreds of billions to prevent AIG from bringing down the entire financial system. He was a member of the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and formerly served on the Advisory Board of the National Security Network. Holbrooke was also a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Citizens Committee for New York City, and the Economic Club of New York. He was a member of the Trilateral Commission, and he has been listed on their membership roster as one of their "Former Members in Public Service". He was the Founding Chairman of the American Academy in Berlin; President and CEO of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, the business alliance against HIV/AIDS, until his appointment as a special envoy by President Barack Obama; and Chairman of the Asia Society. Holbrooke's other board memberships included the American Museum of Natural History, Malaria No More (a New York-based nonprofit that was launched at the 2006 White House Summit with the goal of ending all deaths caused by malaria), Partnership for a Secure America, and the National Endowment for Democracy. Holbrooke was also an honorary trustee of the Dayton International Peace Museum, as well as professor-at-large at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, his alma mater. Additionally, Holbrooke was an Advisory Board member for the Partnership for a Secure America, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recreating the bipartisan center in American national security and foreign policy.

Holbrooke also served as vice chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston, managing director of Lehman Brothers, managing editor of Foreign Policy, and director of the Peace Corps in Morocco.

He wrote numerous articles and two books: To End A War, and the co-author of Counsel to the President, and one volume of The Pentagon Papers. He received more than a dozen honorary degrees, including an LL.D. from Bates College in 1999. He wrote a monthly column for The Washington Post and Project Syndicate.

On March 20, 2007, he appeared on The Colbert Report to mediate in what Stephen Colbert (or rather, his television alter-ego) saw as Willie Nelson infringing on his ice cream flavor time. Holbrooke was the 'ambassador on call' and after a short mediation process the two parties agreed to taste each other's Ben and Jerry's ice cream to make amends. He subsequently sang "On the Road Again" in a trio with Colbert and Nelson.

Holbrooke was an Eminent Member of the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation until his death.

In June 2008, Conde Nast Portfolio reported that Holbrooke and his son allegedly got multiple below-rate loans at Countrywide Financial because the corporation considered them "FOA's"—"Friends of Angelo" (Countrywide Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo).


In January 2001, Holbrooke said that "Iraq will be one of the major issues facing the incoming Bush administration at the United Nations." Further, "Saddam Hussein's activities continue to be unacceptable and, in my view, dangerous to the region and, indeed, to the world, not only because he possesses the potential for weapons of mass destruction but because of the very nature of his regime. His willingness to be cruel internally is not unique in the world, but the combination of that and his willingness to export his problems makes him a clear and present danger at all times."

On February 24, 2007, Holbrooke delivered the Democratic Party's weekly radio address and called for "a new strategy in Iraq", involving "a careful, phased redeployment of U.S. troops" and a "new diplomatic offensive in the Gulf region to help stabilize Iraq."

During the 2008 South Ossetia war between Russia and Georgia, Holbrooke said during a CNN interview that he had predicted the conflict in early 2008.

Personal life

Holbrooke was married three times. His first wife was Larrine Sullivan, whom he married in 1964; Holbrooke and Sullivan divorced. He later married Blythe Babyak, a reporter for MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, on January 1, 1977; they divorced. He was married to Kati Marton from 1995 until his death.


On December 11, 2010, Holbrooke was admitted to George Washington University Hospital in Washington after falling ill at the State Department's headquarters. While there, he underwent twenty hours of surgery to fix an aortic dissection, a rare condition.

Holbrooke died on December 13, 2010, from complications of the torn aorta. Holbrooke's last words before being sedated for surgery, which have been clarified to have been a comical interchange with his doctor, were: "You've got to end this war in Afghanistan."

Frank Rich of New York Times wrote: "His premature death — while heroically bearing the crushing burdens of Afghanistan and Pakistan — is tragic in more ways than many Americans yet realize."

On January 14, 2011, Holbrooke's memorial service was held at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.


1991: Clifford, Clark, with Richard Holbrooke. – Counsel to the President: A Memoir. – New York, New York: Random House. – ISBN 978-0-394-56995-6.
1998: To End a War. – New York, New York: Random House. – ISBN 978-0-375-50057-2.
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Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations's Timeline

April 24, 1941
New York, New York, New York, United States
December 13, 2010
Age 69
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States