Tributes to the Man on a Mission

U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke was a team player with a strong moral compass. Wesley Clark, Paul Begala, David Axelrod and more remember his astounding career.

12.14.10 8:59 AM ET

David Gergen

“He was a sort of force of nature. He was to diplomacy what Lyndon Johnson was to politics. And you had this sense of, ‘We’re just not going to meet this kind of guy again. And I just, I just thought he was indestructible.

“He was a man that if you were president and you had to face somebody who was a criminal or one of the really bad guys out there, you called Dick Holbrooke.”—On Parker Spitzer

Paul Begala

“What I think was unique about Holbrooke was this: A lot of people in diplomacy at his level are very bright. And a few people are very tough. But it’s never the same person. Richard was always both, the toughest and the smartest guy in the room.”—On Anderson Cooper 360

Hillary Clinton

“He was the consummate diplomat, able to stare down dictators and stand up for America's interests and values even under the most difficult circumstances. He served at every level of the Foreign Service and beyond, helping mentor generations of talented officers and future ambassadors. Few people have ever left a larger mark on the State Department or our country. From Southeast Asia to post-Cold War Europe and around the globe, people have a better chance of a peaceful future because of Richard's lifetime of service."

President Obama

"For nearly 50 years, Richard served the country he loved with honor and distinction. He worked as a young Foreign Service officer during the Vietnam War and then supported the Paris peace talks which ended that war. As a young assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, he helped normalize relations with China. As U.S.ambassador to Germany, he helped Europe emerge from a long Cold War and encouraged NATO to welcome new members. As assistant secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, he was the tireless chief architect of the Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia 15 years ago this week, saving countless lives. As ambassador to the United Nations, Richard helped break a political impasse and strengthen our nation's relationship with the U.N. and elevated the cause of AIDS and Africa on the international agenda. And throughout his life, as a child of refugees, he devoted himself to the plight of people displaced around the world."

Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan's Ambassador to U.S.

"In Richard Holbrooke's passing, the world has lost a great diplomat while I have lost a personal friend and professional role model. Ambassador Holbrooke showed great compassion for the people of Pakistan and was a strong supporter of Pakistan's progress and security as a modern Muslim democratic country. His attitude toward diplomacy was reflected in his response to my question at our breakfast on Thursday about how long he planned to keep working. He said 'As long as I can make a difference.' His greatest asset was his ability to be a personal friend and diplomatic interlocutor at the same time."

Photos: Richard Holbrooke’s Incredible Career

John Kerry

"This awful news is almost incomprehensible, not least of all because I cannot imagine Richard Holbrooke in anything but a state of perpetual motion. He was always working. He was always a man on a mission, the toughest mission, and that mission was waging peace through tough as nails, never quit diplomacy—and Richard's life's work saved tens of thousands of lives. We loved his energy, we loved his resolve—that's who Richard was, and he died giving everything he had to one last difficult mission for the country he loved. It is almost a bittersweet bookend that a career of public diplomacy that began trying to save a war gone wrong, now ends with a valiant effort to keep another war from going wrong."

Joe Lieberman

“From Vietnam to the Balkans and now Afghanistan and Pakistan, the history of our nation's foreign policy over the last 40 years is inseparable from Richard's own remarkable and courageous life—which was spent, both inside and outside government, in the distinguished service of the country he loved and in pursuit of the most noble ideals for which it stands.”

David Axelrod

“He was an unforgettable, larger than life personality, who not only cited major historical events, but helped shape them.  I learned a lot from him, and will miss him.”— to The Daily Beast

General Wesley Clark

“He really epitomized everything that is great and good about American diplomacy and about the United States of America. He had a tremendous vision of what Europe was all about. It was Richard Holbrooke who pushed for NATO enlargement. Labor Day weekend, 1994, he was with the vice president. He was in Berlin and the cables flew back and forth. It was Richard Holbrooke against half the State Department and all the Pentagon and he won. And the United States policy shifted from no NATO enlargement to support for NATO enlargement, and of all the things he did, including peace in the Balkans, maybe in the long term, the vision he had for U.S. diplomacy and leadership was the most powerful gift he left us with.”

“It was not just that he was a problem solver, he was a real visionary. I can tell you from working side by side with him in some terrible problems that he always could step back from a problem: He could write the cable, he could cast it in ways that communicate exactly what the issues were, put the right recommendations in front of national leaders.”

Bruce Riedel

“The decision to send more troops and more resources are very much his recommendations. He is one of America’s premier diplomats. He gave it a stamp of legitimacy that very few others could. He is very much a father of what the president is trying to do in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He will be sorely missed.”

Peter Galbraith

“What he was was a masterful three-dimensional chess player, and that’s what made him so effective.  But here’s something else about him—at the same time he had a real moral compass. He cared deeply about corruption in Afghanistan but perhaps the most visible case is in Bosnia. He went to Bosnia at the beginning of the war. People weren’t going there then, and he went to a terrible concentration camp near Banja Luka—this was as a private citizen and his view of that country was very much colored by that experience.

“Richard was, although not everybody in Washington thought this, he was a team player and he understood that that was the way you were effective as a diplomat, and that’s your obligation as a diplomat. And so his style was to express his views forcefully in the internal process of the U.S. government and then to carry out the decision. But there is no doubt that he was a big skeptic of the strategy that is now being followed and certainly the thing he was skeptical of was that the strategy requires an Afghan partner and he had gone to Afghanistan many times before undertaking this assignment, again as a private citizen. He thought early on that Hamid Karzai was corrupt, ineffective, and incapable of reform. He wanted to do much more about the fraudulent presidential elections, but in the end he was overruled by the higher ups in the Obama administration. But like any good diplomat should, he carried out the instruction he was given.”

HBO Executive Richard Plepler

“He was a huge early cheerleader of mine, and I’ve never forgotten that.”

John Shattuck, Former Assistant Secretary of State

“He was always a larger-than-life figure. As a diplomat, I think he thought constantly outside of the box. He had a longstanding commitment and has a longstanding commitment to human rights and justice.”